Robyn Hitchcock has a reputation. He's that quirky English eccentric. The Lewis Carroll of rock and roll, anthropomorphizing sea creatures, balloons, and insects in his darkly comic ditties. If Syd Barrett and Bob Dylan had been trapped on the Yellow Submarine, their songs would have sounded like Hitchcock's.
But for his new album (Spooked, on Yep Roc), the master of the non sequitur has turned to some unexpected collaborators: Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. These Americana sweethearts actually aren't such odd bedfellows for this set of twilight-hour, acoustic-centered tunes.
Not that this old Soft Boy has gone all sensitive. Subtly unsettling songs like "Demons & Fiends," "Creeped Out," and "We're Gonna Live in the Tree" cloaks Spooked in an eerie air. Hitchcock, however, hasn't forsaken his trademark offbeat humor. "Television" stands out as a gorgeous-sounding "love song" to that ubiquitous home-entertainment device, which he calls the "devil's fishbowl," and the spoken-word quickie "Welcome to Earth" is prime Hitchcock absurdity. Live, his hilarious song intros are the stuff of legend -- surreal roller-coaster rides through his delightfully cracked cranium (Being Robyn Hitchcock, anyone?). He's still crazy after all these years.