Friday, November 6, 2020

Certain Songs #1952: Robyn Hitchcock – “Uncorrected Personality Traits” | Medialoper

Album: I Often Dream of Trains
Year: 1984

After his fine solo debut album, Robyn Hitchcock went straight back into the studio and made one of the worst records of his career, 1982’s Groovy Decay, which had a couple of decent songs, but that’s pretty much it. Which sucks, because that’s a great album title. And in fact, he had such a terrible time recording it, he quit the music biz for a couple of years.

Uncorrected personality traits that seem whimsical in a child
May prove to be ugly in a fully grown adult
Lack of involvement with the father, or over-involvement with the mother
Can result in lack of ability to relate to sexual peers

Luckily, it was only for a couple of years, because he kept writing songs, and rather than sully them with a band, recorded them by himself in mostly acoustic arrangements — mostly piano and acoustic guitar — and the result was his first solo masterpiece, and one of the greatest albums of the 1980s, I Often Dream of Trains.

And in homosexual leanings, narcissism, transexuality
(Girls from the waist up, men from the waist down)
Attempts to be your own love object
Reconcile your parents to you by becoming both at once!

By turns whimsical and experimental, dissonant and lovely, “I Often Dream of Trains” was the kind of record that could feel off-putting at first, until you notice that the songs stuck around in our head. Like the early stunner, the all a cappella “Uncorrected Personality Traits.”

Even Marilyn Monroe was a man, but this tends to get overlooked
By our mother-fixated, overweight, sexist media
So, uncorrected personality traits that seem whimsical in a child
May prove to be ugly in a fully grown adult

As sung by a choir of overdubbed Robyns, “Uncorrected Personality Traits” combined a gorgeous melody, lovely singing and utterly twisted lyrics that felt at first like he was reading them from a psychological handbook, but as he got further and further in, things got weirder, and funnier.

If you give in to them every time they cry
They will become little tyrants but they won’t remember why
Then when they are thwarted by people in later life
They will become psychotic and they won’t make an ideal husband or wife

There’s a sight gag in Life of Brian that I often think about: Brian volunteers to write “Romans Go Home” on a wall, and while the verbal gag revolves around how to properly write it in Latin, eventually you see the wall where its written dozens of times. And what makes is truly work for me is realizing that somebody actually had to go to all of that work for a throwaway gag. It was part of what made the Pythons great.

The spoiled baby grows into
The escapist teenager who’s
The adult alcoholic who’s
The middle-aged suicide.


The same thing goes here: Robyn had to overdub himself several times for “Uncorrected Personality Traits” to properly work. And he also had to come up with that piss-taking “OY!” as well, which is everybody’s favorite part of the song.

So, uncorrected personality traits that seem whimsical in a child
May prove to be ugly in a fully grown adult

Obviously, “Uncorrected Personality Traits” was never a single or anything like that, but it’s popular enough with his fanbase that Rhino named a best-of after it, and it’s always a treat to see and hear live.

“Uncorrected Personality Traits”

“Uncorrected Personality Traits” Live in 2008

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