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Robert Wyatt - Rock Bottom CD (album) cover

ROCK BOTTOM

Robert Wyatt

 

Canterbury Scene

4.30 | 537 ratings

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zravkapt
Special Collaborator
Post Rock Team
5 stars "Jazz didn't teach me how to play drums; Jazz taught me how NOT to play drums." I read this quote from Robert in a book once, but as of June 1, 1973 Mr. Wyatt was no longer a drummer. It's a short story: Robert was intoxicated at a party and fell three stories out of a window. He's been in a wheelchair ever since. Such a shame for one of the more unique rock drummers of the time, yet this very event made Robert focus on what he became known for: odd but unique ways of singing and playing keyboards. Although the music here sounds sad and reflective it was actually written before Wyatt's accident. Although this is his second solo album, with Rock Bottom the former Soft Machine/Matching Mole drummer/singer made his first real statement as a solo artist.

The list of musicians who came out to help Wyatt with this project is impressive: Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper, Caravan/Hatfield bassist/vocalist Richard Sinclair, former Gong drummer Laurie Allen; Mike Oldfield adds guitar to one song and Henry Cow's Fred Frith adds viola to the same song. Pink Floyd's Nick Mason produced the album and although he doesn't play any drums here, he does on the single for the cover of the famous Monkees song "I'm A Believer" which was released around the same time as Rock Bottom. Compared to the debut End Of An Ear, this is less chaotic but also more minimalist. There is also nothing here that sounds like it could fit on a Soft Machine or Matching Mole album; Wyatt is basically in his own world here.

"Sea Song" is a terrific opener. The lyrics are nonsensical but are delivered in a serious manner. The synth appears to sort of solo. The piano playing becomes more dissonant and avant-garde for awhile. Love the part over halfway through with synth and some kind of synthetic choir vocals which leads to Robert scat-wailing. The percussion in this song works like a metronome. A classic Canterbury song that only Robert Wyatt could have created. "A Last Straw" starts with some light jazzy cymbal work and either a double-tracked organ or guitar. When Robert starts singing the song picks up and sounds somewhat like an early Soft Machine song. Robert does some altered "wah, wah, wah" scat singing which sometimes sounds like a rubber duckie in the middle. I like what sounds like a bluesy, Floydian slide-guitar near the end.

"Little Red Riding Hood Hit The Road" is probably the stand out track here. Featuring overdubbed trumpets that sound like you are at an ancient Roman game in the Colosseum...yet also sound jazzy. Interesting and hypnotic percussion and bass playing. The piano playing is superb and breathtaking; it fits Robert's vocals perfectly. The lyrics here seem more serious and are delivered in a more emotional way. Halfway through the song the vocals get reversed and played backwards. Yet, Robert's vocals do not lose any emotional impact! The vocals continue forward again. Ivan Cutler does some talking in a heavy Scottish accent and you hear non-vocal backwards sounds as the bass playing gets more busy. Echoed and/or looped trumpets to end it.

Robert (or someone else) repeats "alif" at the start of "Alifib" as some bass notes and avant-organ playing carry on underneath him. Melodic jazzy guitar joins in. Eventually the organ starts to sound like a smoke alarm going off. Robert starts singing the song like it's a lullaby...albeit a sad and depressing lullaby. Robert's vocals get double-tracked later. This continues right into..."Alifie." This features some percussion and skronky sax work. The creepy sounding organ works really well here. Altered vocals from Robert are almost talked. The organ playing gets looser and almost improvised at times. The sax almost does a 'normal' solo. Robert's future wife Alfreda Benge does some talking at the end with what sounds like distorted bass feedback. This track just builds in intensity and would be less powerful taken out of context from the album.

Album closer "Little Red Robin Hood Hit The Road" opens with Mellotron(?) and military drum rolls with Wyatt singing. Some Fripp-ish guitar playing from Mike Oldfield for a bit. The guitar starts imitating what Robert was saying. Loose drumming leads to some chanting. What sounds like bagpipes fade in as the rest of the music fades out. Ivan Cutler returns to recite his words from "Riding Hood" but in a different tone of voice. Harmonium and viola join in. A strange but wonderful ending to such a great album. Shortly after this Wyatt would release another album that consisted mostly of other people's songs(unlike here where he wrote everything). Then he would disappear until the 1980s. Rock Bottom is a one of a kind album, it could only have been made by those who made it when they made it. A classic. 5 stars.

zravkapt | 5/5 |

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