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Robert Wyatt - Cuckooland CD (album) cover


Robert Wyatt


Canterbury Scene

3.52 | 85 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Prog Archives is a remarkably broad Church. Spandex-clad minstrels rub shoulders with abstruse European avant-garde acts and cartoonesque prog-metal. Sometimes I don't know WHAT to think when I see the umpteenth review of yet another band which names its songs after minor characters from the Arthurian sagas or insists on putting that mummy from Hitchcock's PSYCHO on their record covers.

You could say a lot of things about Robert Wyatt (for many people, the main problem will inevitably be his voice) but he does deserve some applause because his recent songs are all firmly grounded in reality. CUCKOOLAND was recorded around the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a development which angered and upset Wyatt, so many of these songs sound ominous or sad. 'For Hamza', for example (about a mother's fears for her baby son's life during the bombardment of Baghdad) is one of the saddest things Wyatt ever wrote - but also one of the most beautiful. 'Beware' is another uneasy song, full of paranoia, which will be a treat to those who love Wyatt's work with Soft Machine and Matching Mole, since it features an exuberant example of his drumming.

Yes, on CUCKOOLAND Wyatt finally got drumming again (not just 'providing percussion', as he had done on a couple of Michael Mantler albums), and this was definitely a wise decision. On 'Old Europe' (a celebration of Juliette Greco's love affair with Miles Davis) Wyatt's drumming is wonderfully exciting, and on top of that he even joins sax-player Gilad Atzmon on trumpet: together they sound like a virtuoso jazz ensemble! In fact, Wyatt provides a lot of trumpet and cornet throughout this album. At the time of CUCKOOLAND's release he claimed he wanted to make up for the limitations of his voice; you get the impression passages he once used to scat are now performed instrumentally.

Not all of CUCKOOLAND is low-key. The album may sound less catchy than the gorgeous SHLEEP and is considerably more difficult to listen to, but tracks such as 'Trickle Down' and 'Lullaloop' (nightmarish, but with superb guitar by Paul Weller) seem wonderfully energetic. Gentler tunes such as 'Cuckoo Madame', on the other hand, feature Wyatt at his most surreal and may remind you of ROCK BOTTOM.

I have just two gripes with CUCKOOLAND. The first concerns the track 'Foreign Accents'. I must admire Wyatt for trying to write a protest song about Mohammad Mossadeq and Mordechai Vanunu, but agitating against the atomic bomb by endlessly repeating 'konnichiwa' and 'arigato' (Japanese for 'hello' and 'thank you') is beyond lame. Secondly, the washes of electronic keyboard on some tracks sound superfluous and dilute the force of the music. (Fortunately, this feature had almost completely disappeared by the time Wyatt came to record COMICOPERA in 2006 - 2007.)

Such minor defects prevent me from awarding CUCKOOLAND a full five stars, but all of them are forgotten as soon as I play 'Forest', the fourth track on the album, another superbly sad song (about European persecution of the Roma) featuring first-rate backing vocals by (among others) Brian Eno.

fuxi | 4/5 |


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