Cock Robin: Analysis of a Reformation

When Cock Robin announced their reformation in the early 2000’s, I was in two minds about it. On the one hand, I was grateful they were having another go, on the other I couldn’t see the point. They had after all delivered one of the finest swansong albums in modern music with their Rhett Davies produced third disc ‘First Love, Last Rites’ at the end of the eighties. Even if only the French knew about it, and even they were beginning to wane by that point.

I even went as far as to e-mail Anna to offer an alternative solution, to do it under a different name. ‘Protect the body of work you have’ I said, ‘..leave the trilogy in tact.’ But that was never likely. Part of the reunion was – in the main – to market the band, to tour and that could only be done under the Cock Robin brand. Anna was not enthused at my suggestion, to the extent we haven’t spoken since.

So, while I was waiting patiently for Peter Kingsbery’s fifth solo album, the announcement came via a fan site that the next album would be Cock Robin’s fourth and first new album in over a decade. Excited yes, but the air of trepidation hung thick. How could it possibly match ‘First Love..’? Well, it never could of course. One look at the cover and I was already disappointed.

Desert landscapes are almost happenstance with Cock Robin releases. With six albums to their name, four utilise the sparse dry imagery as a front window to the music inside. Although it’s grown on me a little since, this one felt ill advised, with mediocre type. Not the sophisticated dark photograph that bore the front of its predecessor; an audiovisual march forward for the band.

The back photo is better presenting the duo of Peter and Anna, as was, same people just a little older. And that nugget of info leads nicely to my next observation. One of the things I like most about Cock Robin is they are ‘real people’ and that comes through in the music. Sometimes it all goes swimmingly, sometimes they have a bad day at the office, which in turn leads my analysis of those reunion recordings.

Unlike their eighties trilogy, ‘I Don’t Want To Save The World’ (2006) and its sister ‘Songs From A Bell Tower’ (2010) are not produced by big name producers. Nor are they as immediate but this is normal in artists who know their craft and have ventured beyond the boundaries of radio playlists. There is also a live album featuring many alternative arrangements of both album and rare cuts which add a further dimension to them, especially so on Open Book.

To some ‘Superhuman’ is quintessential Cock Robin, the point where music becomes art; and its emotive qualities run high through its chorus, possibly as emotionally intense as they’ve even been – ‘how could you never wanna feel this way again?’ Strangely enough I don’t. It could be that the verses are too grey and the aforementioned emotional punch is too much – obviously the draw card for most.

The following title track (I Don’t Want To Save The World) is like an old friend calling after many years which feels great! Also wonderful, if not pictured, original guitarist Clive Wright is back on board, at least for some of the ride.

Anna’s ‘Bo’ sounds familiar yet I can’t quite put my finger on it. Electric piano, country tinged AOR, a lighter more girly Sheryl Crow maybe. It’s nice though, perhaps a cooler day in the dust bowl where she lives. Not sure about the dog barking though – what is that for?

Italian Soul is a Peter paean directed at Anna herself! And one on which she duly responds, ‘and here I am back in your life.’ See what I mean about them being real!? Lyrically nude here. Anna is half Italian by the way.

The idyllic free-wheeling optimism of The Valley Below is a romantics dream tune. Initially coming across like an alternative version of The Littlest Hobo theme, its hedonistic verse flows thus.. ‘flying high above the valley below/I see all the colours of the rainbow/cover me with flowers from the garden that we grow/and I swear I’ll marry you tomorrow.’

After its intro, ‘Dominoes’ delivers a fresh winded seventies feel and this spills into or onto their next and final studio recording. Remember that the members of all those cool new bands of the eighties were teenagers in the seventies, so it isn’t altogether surprising to see this levitate to the surface on their new found melodic and label freedom.

‘Now and Then’ kicks off like a burst of automatic sunshine streaming through open curtains; a near perfect analogy between the music and lyrics. Again optimism plays a pivotal role in its brass fuelled path. ‘Every now and then I wake up stronger than before/closer towards the door/that’s opening. Through the never ending break up/knowing there is more/more than yesterday was offering.’ Next to Stumble and Fall (lyrically speaking, a complete antitheses), it ranks as a particular high point of all the album openers.

cock robin-bell tower

‘Bell Tower..’ is also, in my opinion, the strongest of their second coming. And, the cover is more considered too. Perhaps someone had picked up on and suggested to them, the poster for the IDWTSTW shows with its red type made a better front than the obligatory desert landscapes. Following on from Now and Then is ‘Part of Your Tribe’ which launches at us like a rocket directly out of 1972, when Peter would have been a fresh faced 20 year old, and here he sings with as much vigour yelling ‘I DON’T WANT TO BE PART OF YOUR TRIBE.’

A Natural Affair is – for those that have heard her belated 1992 release ‘Eat Life’ – similar to her cover of Pete’s Blinded. This time round it’s a piano led ballad for the sum part of 1.55 before the hopscotch jazz kicks in. As with the aforementioned Bo, it’s light on the ear and seemingly so, a woman’s song. Not that that’s bad by the way. Far from it.

Grand meanwhile won the distinction of being the only song selected for radio play and while there are others I prefer, it’s a difficult record to extract any one track. The word grand is something of an Irish saying ‘you’ll be grand’ and I don’t know if they got there but interestingly, while The Promise You Made stalled in the latter twenties at home, it was a near top 10 in the emerald isle.

The jazzy shuffle of Checkered Past showcases Pete’s lyrical prowess at his dazzling best; I got the one big scene/I got the checkered past/I got a pain in my spleen/I got the wind at my back/I got the full length feature?/Without the Persian cat/I got some x-ray vision/And I’m dreaming in black and white.’

Janice (probably one of my favourites of the latter batch) finds itself sandwiched between Inside Our Cage and Caught In Your Stream. ‘Poor Janice, she can’t help it.’ With ever intelligent word play, the other two hint at sex, the erotic and the internet. All three represent the combined vibe of a blurred time frame; musical dispatches from the past 40 years running right up to the present in their lyrical interplay.

A high tinkling piano and a sombre key birth the title song though it engages via its chord progression into warmer terrain and eventual burst into life courtesy of Peter’s ‘..showing me the waaaay, hey heeeeeeeeey’ which is coupled with a great sax, something akin to what Bowie may have used during his own golden years.

Indeed if you like the sound of the seventies with a modern technological skew then ‘Songs From A Bell Tower’ is a definite edition for you. It’s conclusion ‘Ligne de Chance’ rekindles the darker hues of Peter’s Pretty Ballerina with a low murmuring organ guiding us through its bilingual prose like a map of Paris in the shadowy night.

It seems likely that Cock Robin will get their wish, they will never save the world but they have furnished it with a mighty fine catalogue of songs. Peter Kingsbery no longer has to prove himself worthy, he just is. That they should remain as unknown as they are could be considered criminal, or, for those of us in the know – fortuitous.

They are and will always be on our side, real people who made real music and although the second batch of recordings received even less attention than the first, they await discovery, each listen revealing another layer which is just as well because there might not be another one after here. Last rites may well have been served. I am still waiting for Peter’s fifth solo album.

You Tube video Nashville reunion March 2003 (recording 4th album) shot by the band.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzkPeJF8b2E

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