After the debacle that was the making of 1982's Groovy Decay, Robyn Hitchcock briefly retired from music, and when he returned it was with an album that offered a thoroughly uncompromised vision of Hitchcock's imagination. Released in 1984, I Often Dream of Trains was a primarily acoustic set with Hitchcock handling nearly all the instruments and ...
After the debacle that was the making of 1982's Groovy Decay, Robyn Hitchcock briefly retired from music, and when he returned it was with an album that offered a thoroughly uncompromised vision of Hitchcock's imagination. Released in 1984, I Often Dream of Trains was a primarily acoustic set with Hitchcock handling nearly all the instruments and vocals by himself; the tone is spare compared to the full-on rock & roll of his recordings with the Soft Boys or his solo debut, Black Snake Diamond Role, but the curious beauty of Hitchcock's melodies is every bit as striking in these stripped-down sessions, and the surreal imagery of "Flavour of Night," "Trams of Old London," and the title song comes to vivid and enchanting life. Hitchcock's off-kilter wit has rarely been as effective as it is on this album; the jaunty harmonies of "Uncorrected Personality Traits" are the ideal complement for the song's psychobabble, "Sounds Great When You're Dead" manages to be funny and a bit disturbing at once, and the drunken campfire singalong of "Ye Sleeping Knights of Jesus" was joyously sloppy enough to inspire a cover by the Replacements. There's a slightly ramshackle quality to these recordings, but Hitchcock was rarely in more uniformly fine form as a songwriter, and there is a consistency of tone to the disc that makes it all the more effective, drawing listeners into a curious world of its own and allowing them to explore the surroundings and their quiet splendor. And Hitchcock has rarely recorded a song as luminously gorgeous as "Autumn Is Your Last Chance." Hitchcock would pick up his electric guitar and reunite with his band the Egyptians in 1985, releasing two fine albums in one year, but I Often Dream of Trains was a simple and marvelously effective return to action that's all the more winning for its subdued, tentative tone. [Yep Roc reissued I Often Dream of Trains in 2007 in a new and expanded edition. Although 18 of the 19 songs that had been available since the album first appeared on CD appear on this edition, "Mellow Together" has been scrapped for some reason, and the other four tracks that were added for the first compact disc release have been moved to the end of the disc with the new bonus tracks, rather then being integrated into the lineup as they had on earlier digital editions. In addition, the five demos that were included on Rhino's 1995 version of I Often Dream of Trains have been replaced with different solo recordings, including a different take of the title tune, though some of the material doesn't appear to have been recorded at the same time as the rest of the album, and frankly doesn't stand beside the original disc in terms of quality. Finally, Hitchcock contributes a short story to the liner notes that embraces some of the themes and situations of the songs and will certainly please his fans. However, those who have the original Midnight Music edition of I Often Dream of Trains or the Rhino reissue have a superior version of this disc, despite Yep Roc's handsome new packaging.] ~ Mark Deming, Rovi