Robert Wyatt - Rock Bottom

Rock Bottom 1998 Re-Issue

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1. Sea Song (Wyatt)

2. Last Straw (Wyatt)

3. Little Red Riding Hood Hit The Road (Wyatt)

4. Alifib (Wyatt)

5. Alifie (Wyatt)

6. Little Red Robin Hood Hit The Road (Wyatt)

 

 

Produced By Nick Mason
Virgin, 1974

 

Robert Wyatt makes friendlier records than anyone else I can think of. From the first
Soft Machine album through Matching Mole and the CBS solo venture 'End Of An
Ear', everything's that Robert's been involved in has seemed both immediate and warm.
Much of this quality I'm sure is rooted in the nature of that absolutely unaffected, if
determinedly uncultured voice.
Anyone who sings with dropped aitches can't be all bad, and with Robert this serves
only to underline the honesty and straightforwardness of his lyrics matter. Indeed,
Wyatt's near total lack of pretension leads one to overlook the fact that he does tend
to wear his heart on his sleeve to an extent unmatched by even the most egocentric of
Laurel Canyon singer/songwriters. Historically, we know that Robert's "Got a yellow
suit that's made by Pam" (Soft Machine Volume One), and that he "Love(s) you still
Caroline" (Matching Mole). Most of this album is for Robert's current material partner,
Alfreda Ellidge (nee Benge), who designed the sleeve of 'Rock Bottom', who talks on
side two track two, 'Alifie', and who's sung about specifically on and generally just
about everywhere else.
'Sea Song' is one of those classic Wyatt love songs, as beautiful as 'Oh Caroline', and
ought to be a number one single throughout the world, but probably will not. Certainly
the line "When you're drunk, you're terrific" shames most of our world-be poet laureats
Stylistically, I suppose 'Rock Bottom' falls mid-way between the Giorgio Gomelsky
"bootleg" Rock Generation albums and 'End Of An Ear' in as much as it is the most
songful album that Wyatt has done in seven years. Musically, it has much of that
gently creeping seductive quality that characterised the best bits of 'Ear', especially
"Las Vegas Tango, Part II". What's strange is that with only the most primitive of
percussion instruments - a tray, a battery (?) and a kind of "tourist bongo", the old
Wyatt drum style is still somehow there if only by implication. There's still that same
sense of space, as , on "Alife", a tape loop of a sigh sounding like backward hi-hat
cymbals serves to punctuate the song.
On keyboards, Wyatt is progressing in leaps and bounds. On this showing he's
sounding like Thelonious Monk, Dave Sinclair and 16 r.p.m. Cecil Taylor: a very
healthy combination. Robert's also surrounded himself with a bunch of great back up
musicians.
Most of the spade-work is done by Hugh Hopper, of Isotope, and Richard Sinclair of
Hatfield And The North, England's premier bassists and long-time Wyatt associates.
There is also brief but valuable appearances by Henry Cow's Fred Frith, hot from his
MM Jazz Poll triumphs on viola, Mongezi Feza (pocket cornet), Gary Windo (tenor sax
and bass clarinet), Laurie Allan (drums) and Mike Oldfield (guitar).
The final track climaxes with a recitation by Ivor Cutler of a poem by Robert that's
almost as silly as Cutler's own verse, and a fittingly light-hearted way to wind up the
proceedings.
'Rock Bottom' isn't an album that will pin you to the wall with dazzling pyrotechnics,
but it is one that you'll be playing again and again, long after most of '74's superheroes
have proved to be mere transient fads. Invest wisely.

 

Steve Lake, Melody Maker, August 3, 1974

 

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