March 2, 2018 Robyn Hitchcock & Egyptians – Globe of Frogs 30 Years Later
The legacy of the English Singer-Songwriter and Guitarist Robyn Hitchcock stretches far back to his tenure as the frontman/leader of the 1976-forming The Soft Boys (“The Queen of Eyes”). Despite its being short-lived – disbanding in 1980 after releasing only two albums, 1979’s A Can of Bees and 1980’s Underwater Moonlight – the English band became a forerunner of ’70s Neo-Psychedelic/Art Rock/New Wave, alongside the likes of Sparks (“Talent Is an Asset”), Roxy Music (“Bitters End”), and The Teardrop Explodes (“Bouncing Babies”).
Immediately after the demise of The Soft Boys in 1980, Hitchcock embarked on an enduring and very prolific career – backed up by The Egyptians, from 1985 to 1993; by The Venus 3, from 2006 to 2010; or solely by himself, intermittently from 1981 to the present. To date, he has released a total of 21 albums! (This is not counting the ones he released with The Soft Boys). From 1981’s Black Snake Diamond Röle to 2017’s self-titled, Hitchcock’s corpus laboris is steeped with commercially successful albums, one of which was 1988’s Globe of Frogs, which has just turned 30.
Globe of Frogs was released on Monday, February 15, 1988 on A&M Records. The third album of Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians, and Hitchcock’s overall sixth effort, it opened with the upbeat, bouncy, and jangly “Tropical Flesh Mandala,” which immediately displayed Hitchcock’s trademark cool, half-spoken, half-sung vocal swagger. This was followed by the hypnotic, looping rhythm of “Vibrating,” harking to the Neo–Psychedelic Rock styling of his outputs with The Soft Boys. The listener was then treated to Globe of Frogs’ most poppy, happy, and tuneful beat – the chart-topping, lyrically surreal radio staple “Balloon Man.” Hitchcock then turned sentimental and romantic with the slow, sparse, and atmospheric ballad “Luminous Rose.”
With “Sleeping with Your Devil Mask,” the sound then became slightly wiry and metallic and the theme sinister and satirical. The ensuing “Unsettled” was a trek back to the sunny vibes and clapping beats and rhythm of ’60s Psychedelic Folk/Pop – most likely a homage to some of Hitchcock’s early influences, like The Byrds (“The Bells of Rhymney”), The Monkees (“Last Train to Clarksville”), and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd (“Arnold Layne”).
Hitchcock’s penchant for shiny, subtly spiky, and folky guitar plucks was best exhibited in “Chinese Bones” – a guitar styling that remained apparent in many of his subsequent releases. The percussive and angular as well as vaguely jazzy title track served as an effective ear-catcher near the end of the set.
The penultimate track, “The Shapes Between Us Turn into Animals,” was definitely the driving stomper of the lot, led by the menacing crunch of the distorted guitar, which foreshadowed Hitchcock’s foray into an edgier but still-melodic type of Alternative Rock in the decade that followed.
Finally, Hitchcock and The Egyptians – The Soft Boys’ Andy Metcalfe (bass, keyboards) and Morris Windsor (drums) along with Roger Jackson (keyboards) – wrapped up the globe with the New Wave/Pop saccharine groove of the oddly titled “Flesh Number One (Beatle Dennis),” which featured Peter Buck of R.E.M. (“So. Central Rain”) on guitar and Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze (“Bang Bang”) on second vocals.
Thirty years on, Globe of Frogs remains one of Hitchcock’s creative highpoints. Thus, if you want to pay homage to the living musical genius and legend such as Hitchcock by engaging in a marathon discography-listening challenge, then you might as well begin with this quirky yet accessible and delightful 30-year-old sonic jewel. You will surely rediscover Hitchcock’s ‘perspex island’ both in a familiar element of light and in a fresh perspective.