“More Than This”
Madonna of the Wasps 12”, 1989
Robyn Hitchcock is an artist I find difficult to write about. I both know too much and have no remove; for several decades he’s been my favorite artist, and I’ve accumulated piles of ephemera, 100s of hours of recordings, and zero ability to extricate myself from the entanglements with all of the above. But at the same time, I feel an almost compulsive need to share my love for all things Hitchcock, so over and over I try to grapple with my personal issues and give some insight into why I’ve been obsessed for all these years.
I started college in Williamsburg, VA, in the fall of 1991. There I encountered many people from the DC suburbs, and on trips to the 9:30 Club for shows I was introduced to the one and only WHFS. This independent alternative radio station had been a supporter of Robyn’s music for several years and, when combined with his many appearances on MTV’s 120 Minutes, had helped cement his quirky charms in the minds of many of my new friends. But it wasn’t the college rock hits like “Balloon Man” or “Madonna of the Wasps”, or the soon to be Modern Rock chart topper “So You Think You’re In Love” that WHFS and my friends always played. It was this b-side cover of a 1982 Roxy Music hit, recorded at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, CA on July 30, 1988. I don’t know which DJ was responsible for “More Than This” being put into semi-regular rotation, but it had a profound effect on my friends, and through them, on me.
I’ve listened to this hundreds of times over the years and it still holds a certain magic for me that it must have held for that DJ 20-odd years ago. It’s Robyn at both his most and least Hitchcockian; his elliptical take on Phil Manzanera’s original guitar line is so typical of his style as to be almost a trademark, but the way he sings is so atypical that when he does break out his normal nasal hum for emphasis it seems both powerful and almost jarring in it’s effect. His singing here is soft, breathy, a murmur, a stage whisper, a thought from the mind more than a sound from a throat. Here he takes a lyric with a certain bravado, a distinct definitiveness, and questions that very assumption. He’s almost begging to be told there is more, that there has to be.
I was lucky enough to hear him play this once, about a decade after this version was recorded. The guitar line was similar, but it was Robyn in full voice. Still a powerful song, as is the Roxy Music original, but missing something he captured that night at McCabe’s.