HERE'S TO YOU, MR ROBINSON
It Both Ways
TO UNDERSTAND "Having It Both Ways" you have to know your musical history.
Way back in 1978, Tom Robinson released an album called Power In The Darkness.
An authentic expression of the zeitgeist of the late Seventies, it articulated
the nature of the erosion of civil liberties, the proliferation of racism,
the rise in unemployment and social unrest which came to the fore under
the oppressive aegis of a deeply unsympathetic Margaret Thatcher-led Tory
government. Famously, too, Tom Robinson was homosexual and a vociferous
champion of gay rights. Power In The Darkness, an awesome document of
its times, was rightly considered a classic.
To some extent, the rest of Robinsons career was eclipsed by that explosive
debut. As Thatcherism started to win all the battles and oppositional
forces disappeared from view, Robinson briefly hit the spotlights again
when the immaculate War Baby went to number one in the singles charts
in Britain, but the FM sound of the album it came from alienated many
of his fans. Robinson, it seemed, was doomed to occupy that marginal ground
between jazzy stubbornness and sensible AOR.
Unbelievably, however, almost two decades on, Tom Robinson has come up
with the goods again. For, make no mistake, Having It Both Ways is the
true successor to Power In The Darkness, as relevant to now as that debut
album was to then.
To begin with, the old anger is back and it has a sharp renewed focus
and drive. There's not a weak track in sight: all are as good as anything
Tom Robinson has ever composed before. There's the personal politics of
the reggae-like "Disrespect", that gets to the core of the loss of self-belief
in all communities that have been ravished of hope and opportunity. Or
the achingly sad "The One", that could be about any lonely person you've
ever set eyes on whose life has passed them by.
Don't kid yourself that you're immune
The 21st century will be here soon
Fucked in a gutter, howling at the moon
And begging on the cold cold ground.
Having It Both Ways shimmers with intelligence and commitment. It is
a superior work by an exceptional songwriter, one of those rare records
that astonishes from the very first listen. If Bob Dylan, Neil Young or
Bruce Springsteen released an album like this, you'd have been informed
it was a solid gold masterpiece. But Tom Robinson has always had either
no image at all, or one that was too ambiguous to ever court world-conquering
appeal. But I guarantee you'll have to go a long way to hear a more vital
record this or any other year.