Cock Robin: My Childhood Crush Through a Middle Aged Windscreen

cock robin-chinese

Like many of their eighties peers Cock Robin (and/or Peter Kingsbery) albums appear every five years or so. This one has taken a while to reach us via an aborted landing and continues in the vein of his 95-97 period plus Cock Robin’s post-millennial albums (see Analysis of a Reformation). In other words there’s something for everyone; if you want alternative-electro Pete that’s here, if you want standard Pete and his trusty piano that’s also here, whether you want originals or covers they’re here too. The only thing that isn’t here is Anna LaCazio or new girl Coralie Vuillemin, so it’s a halfway house kind of record which gives Kingsbery’s passion for harmonics new impetus with female turns from Julie Wingins, daughter Shannon and best of all Agathe Cagin who like LaCazio thirty-odd years previous Kingsbery discovered in her teens, though you wouldn’t know it to hear her rich vocals, more on that coming up.

To begin with is that monochromatic cover shot, Kingsbery at 63 years old still looking very much the cool guy on a Hotel bed with a mic draped between his feet. The typography bears resemblance to the band’s debut in 1985 and the bed nods to the reflective ‘thinker’ from Pretty Ballerina nearly twenty years ago. Keeping in mind the theme of meditative imagery its Portrait that kicks things off with Kingsbery declaring earnestly that he will never change which for us admirers is good news. The majority of CR/PK albums are bolstered by title songs and the aptly named Chinese Driver (where this humble author resides) is no exception. This one’s a swing cruise in grey and is as always lyrically pleasing, Shannon handles the chorus blending a cutesy child’s curiosity with an adults precision.

Kind of a Drag sounds like a typical Kingsbery title but isn’t, the piano led tune is the first of three covers and though pleasantly Beatlesque is pretty much what it says; just as well it only lasts two and a half minutes. Another noticeable factor about Chinese Driver is its lack of colour, now the ideology of a monochrome cover image makes even more sense. Joyce and Kate bucks the trend in warm hues of summery red and is one of those Americana style narratives that Kingsbery half borrows from Charles Bukowski, Raymond Carver or Jack Kerouac.

Reversing a year and a half we found Kingsbery collaborate with Danish remix artist Umpff resulting in the mini-album and film suite ‘Much Taller Than On The Internet.’ Only one of those songs makes it to Chinese Driver and it’s a resounding highlight! As ever the consummate re-arranger of his own material, Childhood Crush receives a significant make-over again with Cagin guesting in all her smoky glory like a French Adele. Its airy light is backed by a staccato beat with Nile Rodgers style funk guitar and horns that recall West End Girls, and speaking of Pet Shop Boys this is something they might have come up with had they collaborated with A-ha around the time of Move to Memphis but they were busy with Electronic instead.

The latter half of the drive delivers a slew of egg shell hues; beige-grey, blue-grey and pale blue. The Mermaid and Quicksand recall the late seventies, the latter’s combination of feminine voice and tinkling piano suggests the quieter side of Kate Bush or Stina Nordenstam while the former’s cheesy synth, distils Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time or Jona Lewie’s Stop The Cavalry with a southern American twang. Orbit is another that could have come out of ’79, its intro offers a shimmering mirage of Just Around The Corner, and the chorus again with Cagin a cloudier More Than Willing. The other covers are Make Your Own Kind of Music and my second favourite Baby, The Rain Must Fall.

So is Chinese Driver Kingsbery’s best album? No, it lies somewhere in the After Here are a Million Ballerinas who Don’t Want to Save the World-isphere. Nonetheless it shows him in fine voice, no less emotive or afraid to tread his unique path. Can’t wait for the next instalment in 2021, actually can we have it in 2020? It has a better ring to it. Beep your horn if you agree, plenty of Chinese Drivers do 😉

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