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Black Snake Diamond Role

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Album Review

The Soft Boys' fusion of the energy of punk and the baroque textures and melodic twists of psychedelia was ahead of its time, but for the group's leader, Robyn Hitchcock, that had become a problem. Brilliant as their music was, hardly anyone was listening when the Soft Boys released their masterpiece, Underwater Moonlight, in 1980 — so a year later the band was history and Hitchcock released his first solo album, Black Snake Diamond Role. While the other three members of the Soft Boys appeared on the album (guitarist Kimberley Rew, bassist Matthew Seligman, and drummer Morris Windsor) along with Vince Ely of the Psychedelic Furs, Knox from the Vibrators, and a then-unknown Thomas Dolby, Black Snake Diamond Role represented a subtle but clear shift away from the more aggressive tone of the Soft Boys toward a more pop-oriented sound. "The Man Who Invented Himself" is user-friendly in a way the Soft Boys had never been, and the production, while mostly straightforward, is more polished and professional. Even though the surfaces of this album are more welcoming than the Soft Boys, the surrealism of the lyrics and the trippy undertow of the melodies are in the same league as Hitchcock's earlier work, and while "Acid Bird," "Out of the Picture," and "Brenda's Iron Sledge" are newly catchy and engaging, the guitar work on "I Watch the Cars" shows Hitchcock's vision had changed very little, and the menace of "Do Policemen Sing?" is only slightly undercut by its wit. Black Snake Diamond Role staked out a distinct sonic territory for Hitchcock's solo career that still made room for the abundant talent he'd displayed in his years with the Soft Boys, and remains one of his most enjoyable efforts. [Yep Roc's 2007 reissue of Black Snake Diamond Role features eight bonus tracks, four of which appeared on Rhino's 1995 edition, though "Dancing on God's Thumb" from the Rhino release has vanished. Most of the bonus selections follow in the same vein as the album, albeit with a greater degree of eccentricity, as displayed on "Happy the Golden Prince" and "Give Me a Spanner Ralph." A glaring omission, however, is the mix of "The Man Who Invented Himself," with horns that appeared on the 7" single of the song. The Yep Roc edition also includes new liner notes from Hitchcock that discuss the album's history and the events surrounding it in typically witty but offbeat fashion.]

Customer Reviews

Robyn Hitchcock's musical influence has been immeasurable.......

A classic album which in my opinion defined what was later to become Indie / Alternative in the 90's. The creativity and expression mixed, on occassion, with curious humour and blues is a combination rarely seen. The album can be listened to deeply and pensively or left as inoffensive background music. In the latter case it may stir the occasional glance from its unwitting audience during some of the more humorous or upbeat tracks. Nevertheless there exists a certain individuality in each song that resonates differently to all who listen to the album. That is to say if you put five people in a room they will not agree on the tracks they like best but they will all adore at least three. I must admit that I have a personal affinity with track 10 as it was the first time I fell for someone, and it inevitably became our song! A little bit pathetic but I was young and innocent.


Born: 03 March 1953 in London, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Robyn Hitchcock is one of England's most enduring contemporary singer/songwriters and live performers. Despite having been persistently branded as eccentric or quirky for much of his career, Hitchcock has continued to develop his whimsical repertoire, deepen his surreal catalog, and expand his devoted audience beyond the boundaries of cult stature. He is among alternative rock's father figures and is the closest thing the genre has to a Bob Dylan (not coincidentally his biggest inspiration). Starting...
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