Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Certain Songs #1953: Robyn Hitchcock – “Sounds Great When You’re Dead” | Medialoper

Album: I Often Dream of Trains
Year: 1984

. . .

Of course, just because I Often Dream of Trains was recorded as a drumless album doesn’t mean that the arrangements totally reflected that. After all, up to that point, Robyn Hitchcock had always written music for a band to play behind him, and so there were several songs on the album where you could hear how a band could flesh them out.

That was part of the fun, actually: hearing in your head how some of the songs could have sounded with a band. (And, in fact, Robyn opened his first live album with an absolute killer arrangement of “Sometimes I Wish I Was A Pretty Girl” that we’ll get to in a few days.)

Your mother is a journalist, your father is a creep
They make it in your bedroom when they think you’re fast asleep
The scenes that they’re enacting now beside your little bed
Are never in your consciousness but always in your head

Like, for example “Sounds Great When You’re Dead,” which centers around a circular guitar riff that’s practically begging to have drums behind it. Instead, he uses the piano as the percussion instrument, playing chords for emphasis, and then explodes into a John Cale take on the chorus.

Baby, it might sound dodgy now
But it sounds great when you’re dead
It sounds great when you’re

The contrast between the guitar-led verses and the piano-driven choruses give “Sounds Great When You’re Dead” a punch-drunk, woozy feeling, especially when combined with Hitchock’s scarily etherial harmonies.

And while you could hear how the verses and choruses could be performed with the band, it all goes out the window in the middle, when Hitchcock goes off-script with a meandering piano solo that sounds almost classical as it wanders away from the rest of the song.

And while it eventually gets corralled, it’s definitely one of the reasons I’m glad that he chose to record it as a solo overdubbed song. Because it sounds great, whether you’re alive or dead.

“Sounds Great When You’re Dead”

“Sounds Great When You’re Dead” (Live)

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