Robyn Hitchcock’s “GoodNight Oslo” Meets A.C. Newman’s “Submarines of Stockholm”

It’s one of life’s great paradoxes that Robyn Hitchcock, perennial jokester, can also write the most emotionally breathtaking songs.  Going all the way back to his earliest days with the Soft Boys, Hitchcock’s shined underwater moonlight on creatures from the deep, as if afraid to deal with things on the surface, straight up with a frontal view.  Maybe it’s because when he looks at life head on, he captures it so beautifully.

It’s hard to go wrong with Peter Buck and Scott McGaughey in your band, though admittedly there are the usual batch of fish that should never have been landed, that flop around the dock.  I count six keepers, which is a pretty good catch in stormy seas. Still, while not as great a collection of songs as Ole! Tarantula was a few years back, Goodnight Oslo’s in the upper tier of Hitchcock’s solo work, with shimmering guitars and the Minus 5 glee club out in force. “I’m Falling” is as pretty a song as he’s written this century, as pretty as “Raymond Chandler Evening,” and the title track lingers in the mind like a painting by Edvard Munch.

In Get Guilty, A.C. Edward’s second solo album, the best song finds him chugging into the Stockholm harbor, running silently and deep as thrillingly as in any rock song reference to submariners since the Swell Maps.  Tulip Frenzy’s taken a while to write about this album because it disappointed, though it’s since grown on us, like a small tree emanating from our forehead.  Look, The Slow Wonder was such a magnificent work, a bridge between New Pornographer outings Twin Cinemas and Challengers, that we had really high expectations.  While The Slow Wonder never once seemed like these were songs to which Neko and the gang had shaken their heads, “uh, no,” there are moments when Get Guilty does seem like it could be a demo tape for the next New P’s outing.  A consumer report would clock this one as having maybe four really good songs, which is well below Carl’s standards.  But this is A.C. Newman we’re talking about, and when he’s good, he’s great.  “The Collected Works” ranks up there with “Fortune” and “Secretarial” and “Spanish Techno.” There are reasons to throw your hat in the air and whoop.  Just don’t do it in a submarine.

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