“Queen Elvis” by Robyn Hitchcock ‘n’ The Egyptians (No. 21)

Album cover: "Queen Elvis" by Robyn Hitchcock & The EgyptiansWatching “alternative” bands like The Cure, R.E.M., and U2 punch through to mainstream success, I had high hopes that Robyn Hitchcock would break through with Queen Elvis.

Released in March 1989, Hitchcock was opening for R.E.M. on the Green tour. Queen Elvis, by Robyn Hitchcock ‘n the Egyptians, was on a major label and they were putting money into videos for MTV. It seemed to me that the rest of the world would surely notice what they’d been missing so far.

By rights, Queen Elvis should have garnered more attention than it did. Musically, it’s phenomenal, and it’s one of Hitchcock’s most accessible (read: there are no songs about “furry green atom bowls,” or men with lightbulb heads) albums.

“Madonna of the Wasps,” is just as catchy and radio friendly as anything on Green, in my opinion. And no odder than “World Leader Pretend” or “The Wrong Child.”

“The Devil’s Coachman” has a lurching, back and forth rhythm to it, with whimsical little interludes. Buried in Hitchcock’s off-kilter lyrics are little truthful observations (“everything you say you won’t is what you will eventually“). I might be mistaken, but I think this is the first Hitchcock album with serious use of strings, and they come off quite nicely.

Andy Metcalfe’s subtle but superb bass work

Pay close attention to the bass on “Wax Doll.” It’s subtle, but it has a warm tone and drives the song. Andy Metcalfe’s bass work is more obvious on the next track, “Knife,” where it’s really at the forefront of the song. The guitar after the false stop, and the interplay between bass, drums, and guitar is frigging fantastic.

“One Long Pair of Eyes,” never fails to bring a smile to my face. It’s a great melody, and (once again) I keep finding myself drawn to the bass on this one.

Again, buried in the absurdity, “Veins of the Queen,” sparks some insights into what must be a lonely existence. “You might think you know your friends… but nobody really pretends… that they really know the queen.” (This is pondered after it’s wondered whether the queen chops logs or has frogs.)

“Freeze,” is an intense little number. It simmers for a bit before exploding into a diatribe against “Steve” who wrote the book of love and “put my name next to yours.” The breakdown at the end of this is pure joy. I’m unclear if the lead guitar work here is Hitchcock or Peter Buck. It’s possible that it’s Buck, but doesn’t quite sound like his usual.

If you’ve seen Hitchcock live, he will occasionally spin off into some rambling stories as part of the stage patter that usually amuse or at least confuse amusingly. You get a taste of this in “Autumn Sea,” with a mini-story narrated by Hitchcock in between verses.

What I really love about Queen Elvis is the fact that Hitchcock shows the musical sensitivity to write great rock/pop songs, but sticks to his muse as well. Normal is so boring, anyway.

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