After the debacle that was the making of 1982's Groovy Decay, Robyn Hitchcock briefly retired from music, and when he returned it was with an album that offered a thoroughly uncompromised vision of Hitchcock's imagination. Released in 1984, I Often Dream of Trains was a primarily acoustic set with Hitchcock handling nearly all the instruments and vocals by himself; the tone is spare compared to the full-on rock & roll of his recordings with the Soft Boys or his solo debut, Black Snake Diamond Role, but the curious beauty of Hitchcock's melodies is every bit as striking in these stripped-down sessions, and the surreal imagery of "Flavour of Night," "Trams of Old London," and the title song comes to vivid and enchanting life. Hitchcock's off-kilter wit has rarely been as effective as it is on this album; the jaunty harmonies of "Uncorrected Personality Traits" are the ideal complement for the song's psychobabble, "Sounds Great When You're Dead" manages to be funny and a bit disturbing at once, and the drunken campfire singalong of "Ye Sleeping Knights of Jesus" was joyously sloppy enough to inspire a cover by the Replacements.
After the stripped-back collection I Often Dream of Trains, Robyn Hitchcock slowly formed a backing band called the Egyptians with ex-Soft Boys Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor, and keyboardist Roger Jackson over the course of the next year. Fegmania!, the Egyptians' first album, was a distinct departure from both the Soft Boys and Hitchcock's previous solo work, featuring layered, intertwining guitars and keyboards that created lush and thick sonic textures. Even with the more detailed arrangements, the songs remained twitchy and off-kilter, with melodies that usually went in willfully unpredictable directions, yet remained catchy all the while. Fegmania! was Hitchcock's most consistent work to date, featuring such highlights as the Eastern-tinged "Egyptian Cream", and the creepy "My Wife & My Dead Wife", and the relatively straightforward "The Man with the Lightbulb Head".