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Robert Wyatt - Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard CD (album) cover


Robert Wyatt


Canterbury Scene

3.48 | 113 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!!

How in the world could've Wyatt topped the fabulous Rock Bottom, the album that personify individual intimacy, complete lunacy and at the same time come out as a cure for his sanity?? Would his next album suffer from aridity, after having been drenched in tears, probably exhausting its reserve of emotions? Obviously he couldn't and probably didn't try, opting for a very different direction in the manner of a pure assemblage of individual songs, but wouldn't keep it to that: he divided the album into two halves, the first side containing different-sounding tracks not linked to each other; while the second half is a very weird chain of songs linked with his Muddy Mouse pieces. For some reason, unknown to me, the Cd reissue inverted the side sequence, which throws a bit off my theory that the Ruth side (first in the album title and on the vinyl) was indeed stranger than the Richard side, second in the album title and on the vinyl. I will review the Cd order, since I never owned the vinyl.

Comparably to his previous two solo albums, Robert doesn't write all or most of the songs, as here, there are a bunch coming from the other musicians involved, a stellar cast of Windo, Frith, Eno, Feza, Manzanera, Hopper, Sinclair, Greaves, McCormick and Nisar Ahmad Khan. Self-produced (except one song by Nick Mason), this album sports an extremely strange animal masks artwork that made its sleeve remarked on the record store walls. The opening Soup Song (Hopper/Wyatt written) is a prog blues extravaganza with Windo going nuts on the sax, but even though it's fun, it's nowhere near what we'd expect from Wyatt. The same can be said of the Feza-penned instrumental jazzy reggae Sonia, with its fun horn section, fun but missing the point. Both tracks have the usual Canterbury humour (Sonia could even compare with Caravan's Clear Blue Sky -, in 79) and the gloomy Charlie Haden cover For Che instrumental (let us not forget that Robert is a confirmed communist) is again not bad in itself, but not really what you'd expect from Wyatt. The only track offering a bit of prog interest is Team Spirit (a Manzanera/McCormick composition), a difficult to classify proggy jazz with tons of effects on the horns of Windo and Feza. With this track, we return to RB spirit and even threw a hint of TEOAE, this could've been on a Mole or Hatfield album. Team spirit is easily the opening Richard side's best track, and the only barely strange one.

The Ruth flipside is where we see how schizophrenic this album is (definitely holding a more RIO stance, probably due to Frith's presence) with the Muddy Mouse pieces, which are uneasy Frith/Wyatt composition, where Robert's voice is unsettlingly bare and IMHO, purposely badly recorded. The same remark goes for the album closer Muddy mouth, retaining the same formula than the Mouse pieces, but Wyatt's voices being tortured throughout a series of effects, filters and wah-wah pedals.

Solar Flares being an instant classic with fans, with a typical minimalist keyboard that was already present in TEOAE Carla, Marsha And Caroline and now fast becoming a Wyatt signature. The tension travelling throughout this track is pure bliss, as the bass/clarinet beat contrast so well with the organ/voice melody, leaving the piano, percussions and a crazy sax all the room to cast a hypnotic spell on us. With this track in mind, it is now easy to see just how much Picchio Dal Pozzo's third album, Abbiamo, evolved the way it did. Also clearly in the line of fire is News From Babel's Letters album, even if Frith is not there. 5 Black Notes And 1 White Note is the third (and last) highlight on the album, an Offenbach theme with some melancholic sax duo (Windo and Feza I suppose switching from his usual trumpet) over an almost-annoying Eno synth hi-freq tone. The track is slowly dying with Eno sustaining the suspense just long enough to overstay its welcome. Excellent.

RISTR is indeed a strange "thing" which probably didn't receive the same kind of welcome than its predecessor, driving Wyatt into a semi-retirement for the rest of the decade, if you'll except an invisible single in 78. His two Virgin albums are very different, but if you include his debut, you've got one of prog's most eclectic individuals, one that never fails to mix humor, politics and depressive moods in his album, no matter where they lay musically-speaking. However, this album will have the merit of having fans accepting the wider scope of pure songs, even though the majority of the ones here aren't from Wyatt himself.

Sean Trane | 3/5 |


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