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Robert Wyatt - Rock Bottom CD (album) cover

ROCK BOTTOM

Robert Wyatt

 

Canterbury Scene

4.30 | 561 ratings

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Raff
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Enclosed in a distinctive, brightly-coloured cover showing two people diving at the bottom of the sea (courtesy of Alfreda Benge, Robert Wyatt's other half), this album does not make for comfortable listening - especially when one is aware of the circumstances behind it. Paralysed from the neck down after a fall from the fourth floor in 1973, Wyatt had to reconsider and rearrange his whole life with the knowledge he'd never be able to walk again, let alone be a drummer. This record tells the story of how he came to terms with this new situation, and survived - a story of triumph over adversity, a celebration of the strength and hidden resources of the human spirit.

"Rock Bottom" straddles the line between the Canterbury sound, with all its quirks and jazzy leanings, and the fully-fledged avant-garde tendencies that Wyatt would embrace later on in his career. The guesting musicians read like a roster of Canterbury and RIO aristocracy , with Richard Sinclair and Hugh Hopper sharing bass duties, Laurie Allan on drums and Henry Cow's Fred Frith, Mongezi Feza and Ivor Cutler appearing on some of the tracks. The music is at times a rather demanding listen, often hauntingly beautiful, often downright disturbing, almost atonal. It is intimate, poignant, sad, yet infused with a sense of being still alive and wanting to fight back, even in the toughest of situations. The lyrics veer from the pure poetry of "Sea Song" and "The Last Straw" to the sheer quirkiness of "Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road", down to the mixture of poignancy and nonsense that is "Alifib/Alife" - where Wyatt seems to revert to a sort of childish state and is severely, though affectionately, reprimanded by Alfreda, who tells him she's not just his provider of food ("I'm not your larder"), but rather his partner and lover. A skewed love song, perhaps, but very moving indeed.

The album opens with the ethereal, delicate, intensely lyrical "Sea Song", where Wyatt is accompanied by Richard Sinclair's precise, understated bass. The mood continues on the following "The Last Straw", where Hopper's dazzling bass work adds a more definitely jazzy feel. Then, things get increasingly crazier with "Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road", characterised by Mongezi Feza's distinctly avant-garde use of trumpet and Ivor Cutler's funny Scottish accent. "Alifib/Alife" starts with a droning keyboard intro over which Wyatt's heavy, rythmical breathing can be heard - disturbing for want of a better word - before his whining, nonsensical singing starts. Hugh Hopper's bass provides a solid backbone for this unique track, which sometimes feels as if one was looking at a very private moment in the life of two human beings bonded by love in the most difficult circumstances. Album closer "Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road" sees a brilliant guitar performance by guest star Mike Oldfield and more Scottish-flavoured madness courtesy of Ivor Cutler (who also plays concertina). Wyatt's vocals, though always an acquired taste for me, are at their most effective on this album - at turns plaintive, ironical, desperate, or just plain quirky, as in the closing section of "Sea Song".

"Rock Bottom" (excellently produced by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason) is certainly not an easy album to get into, nor will it be to many people's taste. It requires repeated listens in order to be properly appreciated, and the darkness of its subject matter is sure to put off those who prefer the fake angst of many Prog Metal bands, but cannot cope with real-life tragedy. However, for those who like to keep an open mind and explore every aspect of prog, it will definitely be a more than worthwile purchase.

Raff | 4/5 |

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