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Robert Wyatt - EP's by Robert Wyatt CD (album) cover

EP'S BY ROBERT WYATT

Robert Wyatt

 

Canterbury Scene

3.14 | 12 ratings

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Syzygy
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This beautifully packaged 5 CD set gives a good overview of the solo career of Robert Wyatt, one of the most distinctive voices in English music and one of the most direct and emotionally honest performers of the last few decades. His voice is something of an acquired taste, and tends to divide opinion sharply. This collection also contains his re interpretations of other artists songs - the term 'cover version' really doesn't do them justice, as Wyatt is able to find things in songs that the writers never suspected were there. Check out his jaw dropping version of Chic's 'At Last I Am Free' for proof.

CD1 (tracks 1 - 5) gathers together some tracks from his brief flirtation with pop stardom in the mid 70s - the producers of Top Of The Pops were not happy about showing a wheelchair bound performer, so he only got to appear on the UK's longest running music show once, but the sight of him rocking in his chair to his unique rendition I'm a Believer (yes, the Monkees classic written by Neil Diamond) lives on to this day among music buffs of a certain age here in England. This release includes Fred Frith's manic viola solo, edited out of the original version. For good measure, we are also treated to his unreleased version of 'Yesterday Man', turned down by Virgin because it was 'too lugubrious'. The rest of the disc contains good live or alternate versions of Wyatt songs of the period.

CD2 brings us to the late 70s/early 80s. Following a few years of musical inactivity, he found a new deal and a new lease of artistic life with Rough Trade. Tracks 1 - 3 come from a 12" single which was a near hit. Shipbuilding was a song written by Elvis Costello (who released his own version) and Clive Langer in response to the Falklands war, the mournful tale of an unemployed shipbuilder who finds work thanks to the war, only for his son to die when the ship he helped to build was sunk. Eloquent and moving, it is one of the most poignant anti war songs ever. It was backed with his reading of a couple of jazz standards, Eubie Blake's Memories of You and Thelonius Monk's Round Midnight. The second EP is rounded off with another couple of Wyatt songs, including the musical reportage of 'Pigs in There'.

CD3 gathers some of his more explicitly political work from the mid 80s - his political beliefs never wavered throughout the Thatcher/Reagan years, which has to be respected whether you agree with his communist leanings or not. A couple of Spanish language songs are included, one of them by Victor Jara who was murdered by the Pinochet regime in Chile. Peter Gabriel's Biko is as intense and angry as the original, but also has an elgiaic quality which mourns Biko's passing as well as condemning the regime which was responsible. Amber and the Amberines is a song about the US invasion of Grenada.

CD4 is a version of his soundtrack to 'The Animals Film'. This was a grisly look at the way in which animals are treated before they wind up on supermarket shelves. The original tapes were lost, but an edited version had been released in Japan and is re released here. The music was quickly and cheaply recorded on a WASP synthesiser and was released on a poor quality pressing in the UK, and time has not improved it. For completists only, though there is a sort of charm in places.

CD5 contains remixes of songs from the Shleep album, which had recently been released to great critical acclaim and modest commercial success. The original songs were fine as they were, and while the remixes are well executed they also seem a little bit pointless, with the possible exception of the atmospheric 'A Sunday In Madrid'.

The whole thing comes in a box with 5 individual inner sleeves, all designed by Wyatt's wife and sometime lyricist Alfreda Benge, an exceptional painter who has been responsible for most of his cover illustrations since 'Rock Bottom'. For Wyatt fans this is an artefact to treasure, but it isn't really essential to the uninitiated.

Syzygy | 3/5 |

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