First things first: this is one of the most biased bits of writing I have headed in to. Everything about this bloody album is probably everything I love about life. And this, of course, could only be music created by Britain’s special songwriting gems – Robyn Hithcock. I Often Dream of Trains was Hitchcock’s third album, released in 1984. While there is a mountain of admirable work, this one particularly remains one of his finest moments. I did go through a period where I listened to nothing else but this album on constant repeat. From front to back. From “Nocturne (Prelude)” to “Nocturne (Demise).”
It’s almost a lonely sounding album in many respects, but I suppose that is his allusion to trains and dreams. This record also includes many of Hitchcock’s signature tracks like “Uncorrected Personality Traits” – an a cappella tune of gender norms and almost Freudian ideas.
When I did a little bit of reading, I came across the statement that this was an acoustic album. It took me a minute to understand that was actually true, but it hardly sounds like it. I usually find these sorts of albums to be utterly dull, but rarely do they fill the sound in this sort of way. Plus the book-ending of the “Nocturne”s is really a nice touch. I do love an instrumental leading into a song with a massive punch (and nothing really is more deserving than the ultra-strange “Sometimes I Wish I Was a Pretty Girl.”)
Without sounding too pretentious, this album remains one of the most mature albums I have heard. It is full of ideas, thoughts and sounds to grow into. Hitchcock always has unusual lyrics – he rarely sticks to traditional optics or tired lyrics. Each time I listen to this album, I always take something different away from it.
In many ways, it is like reading a great piece of literature: the meaning of the author is one thing, and important, but sometimes it is what the consumer takes from it too.
Hitchcock has long been a favourite, but he is so quintessentially British that it was always difficult to find any of his older albums in shops. Of course when I was in London for my undergraduate study abroad programme I bought everything of his I could find, but it was usually odd bits of things.
When I returned home to America after my studies, I was in a bit of a strange place. I was back in Wisconsin and felt entirely removed from myself when I wasn’t in England. But one day I went into a resale shop in my hometown for a quick look. It totally took me by surprise when I saw I Often Dream of Trains.
This is one of those “pieces” that are so worth owning on vinyl. The lyrics and Hitchcock’s own cartoon drawings are so interesting and special. Plus the cover work is just so intricate. All of these parts just create one really great whole.
Part of finding this album in Wisconsin makes it feel all the more special. On one hand finding it where it was produced would have been great, but I love knowing that someone else in my small hometown also had a connection with Robyn Hitchcock. Little bits like that make buying second-hand always feel that bit more personal.
I’d like to think whoever owned this copy before me got as much out of this album as I do. And when it is my turn to pass this on, I hope whoever receives it next knows that it has come from a line of people who really cherish the music etched in its grooves.