If you want evidence that life is unfair and that you don't always get what you deserve then check out Chronology a cracking compilation of the best songs from the 30 year career of the incomparable Robyn Hitchcock. Despite writing 'I Wanna Destroy You', one of the best psych pop punk songs ever, a song that surpasses anything released by his better known new wave contemporaries, and a back catalogue that must be the envy of his peers he has never achieved lasting, commercial success. A mystery the combined efforts of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Columbo would fail to solve.
Chronology takes in every aspect of Hitchcock's musical life from his time as a Soft Boy through his early solo years, his Egyptian phase and his Venus 3 period. The album kicks off with the aforementioned 'I Wanna Destroy You' a track which stands up to anything that the more commercially successful Psychedelic Furs ever released. It's a new wave classic which sounds as good today as the day it was released 32 years ago and a stunning start.
Tiptoeing through the album it is really hard to avoid comparisons between Hitchcock and Syd Barrett. If you didn't know better you could easily mistake 'I Often Dream Of Trains' and 'If You Were A Priest' for long lost Syd Barrett originals. Where Barrett wrote about knicker stealers, gnomes and scarecrows, Hitchcock's songs include cross dressing Elvis impersonators, trains to Basingstoke and rocket ships. A unique blend of the mundane, the strange and the futuristic. Even the song titles sound like refugees from The Madcap Laughs. 'Balloon Man' is a Barrett title if ever I heard one. Hitchcock himself acknowledges his debt to Barrett on his typically obtuse tribute 'The Man Who Invented Himself'.
Lyrically Hitchcock even manages to out strange Barratt. On the surface Kingdom of Love is an apparently straight forward rocker but listen closely and you'll find lyrics straight out of a Terry Gilliam nightmare. "You've been laying eggs under my skin/now they're hatching out under my chin/now there's tiny insects showing through/and all them tiny insects look like you" sure beats 'Baby, baby, baby oh I thought you'd always be mine'!
It's not just the eccentric and occasionally absurd lyrics and oddball song titles that beg comparison with Barrett it's the quirky spirit and idiosyncratic sense of humour that underpins the entire album. It's a peculiarly English humour perhaps best summed up by 'My Wife and my Dead Wife' which sounds like a song from a Monty Python rock opera written by Ray Davies. Maybe this is why Hitchcock has never been more than a cult figure.
It's a mystery why the world camped out on the doorstep of a reclusive Syd Barrett for years while ignoring the equally surrealistic, whimsical English eccentricities of Hitchcock. Restore some semblance of fairness to the world by seeking out Chronology and give Hitchcock the belated success he deserves.