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Robert Wyatt - Rock Bottom CD (album) cover


Robert Wyatt


Canterbury Scene

4.29 | 972 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars This is an album of fragile, shimmering beauty; quite possibly the most moving album by any artist in the Prog Archives.

But is this the sort of music most people would identify as Prog? It's got nothing in common with the flashy solos and pseudo-orchestral climaxes favoured by Yes or ELP. Although several well-known musicians from the Canterbury Scene participated in its making, their contributions tend to be subdued. Hugh Hopper plays the most wonderful bass solo of his life on 'Alifib', and Mike Oldfield's contribution to 'Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road' is the most heart-wrenching music I've ever heard from him, but there's no trace of Canterbury-style rock-jazz. I find it instructive to compare the original ROCK BOTTOM with Wyatt's live performance on THEATRE ROYAL DRURY LANE. On the latter, synths are virtually absent, instrumental improvisations are extended, the electric piano dominates, and the result sounds like ROCK BOTTOM as interpreted by Matching Mole.

Back in the 1970s, the friend who introduced me to this album, used to play 'Sea Song' and say, with a happy grin: 'Isn't that lovely? As sublime as anything by J.S. Bach!' I stilll agree. Few prog artists have come up with such a sad and delicate opening. (Where on earth did Wyatt get that unique keyboard sound?) No other prog vocalist ever wrote such mysteriously poetic lyrics (without a hint of pretension) or brought their opening number to a close with such original (but also unsettling) wordless scat-singing.

And 'Sea Song' is just one of ROCK BOTTOM's treasures. The album's second tune, 'A last Straw', starts with another great intro (piano, bass, cymbals, synths and possibly slide guitar - thank you, Nick Mason, for making the album sound superb!) and ends on what has to be the most astonishing anti-virtuoso piano solo in prog history. (Oh, how I love that solo!) Then comes 'Little Red Riding Hood Hits the Road', which I used to find too bright on LP, but it sounds wonderfully clean on CD and will make you see things no other music has shown you - and how many albums truly achieve that kind of effect?

Unexpected depths of pain are released on 'Alifib', which contains Hugh Hopper's aforementioned solo. Some listeners will find it hard to digest Gary Windo's jittery sax outburst on the next track, 'Alife', but its qualities are an integral part of the ROCK BOTTOM experience, and any irritation is soon dispersed by the majestic opening of the final piece, which (rather enigmatically) describes the experiences of English garden moles. Wyatt's repetitious singing, and the band's playing, then fade, making place for a droll ditty (very much like a nursery rhyme) sung by Ivor Cutler and beautifully accompanied on viola by Fred Frith. After the physical and mental suffering evoked on the previous two tracks, the ending comes as glorious relief.

fuxi | 5/5 |


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