Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3: Goodnight Oslo 

It's too tempting when discussing Robyn Hitchcock to marvel at how the 55-year-old English singer/songwriter continually reinvents himself without ever really straying too far from his deceptively dark, pop obsessions about life, sex and death. With a melodic defiance, Goodnight Oslo follows up 2006's delightful Olé! Tarantula by taking a frank look back at Hitchcock's addictive years. The Venus 3 has a ring of R.E.M. about it, considering the lead guitarist is Peter Buck and both bassist Scott McCaughey and drummer Bill Rieflin each have filled in for the Athens outfit. But that would deny Hitchcock's formidable shadow, which is established on the accusing opener "What You Is": "You might have been a villain with a capital V/You might have had a plane to catch and left your family." The closing, meditative title track practically crackles with Buck's plucking, which recalls pre-Warner Bros. R.E.M. yet shows that alt-rock veterans can stay fresh without losing their original charm. 4 stars.

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