Shufflemania! marks Robyn Hitchcock’s first full-length collection in over five years, the longest space between albums of the veteran artist’s shapeshifting six-decades-and-counting career. Recorded in locations around the world over the pandemic era, Shufflemania! offers up 10 gloriously ingenious new Robyn Hitchcock songs in just under 40 minutes – a “proper pop album” as nature intended. Songs like “Midnight Tram To Nowhere” and the optimistic, album closer, “One Day (It’s Being Scheduled)” are state-of-the-art Hitchcock, manifesting his signature wit, miraculous gift for melodic craftsmanship, and striking humanity in a world gone mad.
Having long kept up a remarkably prodigious work rate for much of his shapeshifting six-decades-and-counting career, Hitchcock found himself burned out following the completion of 2017’s acclaimed Robyn Hitchcock. A 2019 Christmas visit to the ancient palace of Quetzalcoatl in Tulum, Mexico brought forth from his guitar a long overdue new song, “Feathery Serpent God,” lyrically entire and musically intact, albeit in demo form. More new songs materialized as Hitchcock flew home to his adopted Nashville. His notebook began to fill with new lyrics, some accompanied by music, others reaching completion over the coming months.
With the muse upon him, and the pandemic descending, Hitchcock bought a 5-track recording device – not dissimilar to the 4-track cassette machine on which he wrote and arranged his landmark I Often Dream of Trains more than three decades earlier. He emailed his freshly recorded guitar-and-vocal songs to a star-studded selection of his (many) musician friends around the world, all of whom were also marooned at home with time to spare and much more sophisticated recording equipment than he himself was using, among them Johnny Marr, Sean Ono Lennon, Brendan Benson, Kimberley Rew, Morris Windsor, Kelley Stoltz, Anne Lise Frøkedal, Davey Lane (You Am I), Eric Slick (Dr. Dog), and Pat Sansone (Wilco, The Autumn Defense), all of whom proved more than happy to contribute.
As things opened up somewhat in the second half of 2020, Hitchcock and his partner Emma Swift returned to London, booking a final session at Abbey Road where they re-recorded most of his vocals, with Swift – a singer with an ear “far more acute than mine” – acting as producer. Stems for the whole project were then sent to longtime friend, producer/ engineer Charlie Francis (R.E.M., The High Llamas, Martin Carr), who mixed the album.
Having been formed in constant motion, the resulting Shufflemania! stands out among the most freewheeling works in Hitchcock’s already extensive canon, its songs and subject matter as diverse as the cast of musicians who assisted him in its creation, spanning, but not limited to, TV detectives, astrology, imaginary pubs, Greek philosophers, streetcars, sea creatures, recurring dreams, and of course, the aforementioned feathered serpent deity Quetzalcoatl.
“To me, most songs are about themselves and how they make you feel. What triggers them is mysterious. The songs on this record are a series of sub-personalities, fertilized by chance. You might even say they were cards, dealt to me by The Shuffle Man. Listening back now, to me Shufflemania! is a party record, direct from my unconscious to you. Even if you’re a party of one – have fun with it!”