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Robert Wyatt - Cuckooland CD (album) cover


Robert Wyatt

Canterbury Scene

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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
2 stars Again released on the Boyd-owned Hannibal records and again recorded in Manzanera's facilities, some six years after the sublime Shleep, Robert had ample time to write a normal album's worth of song, but he misses the mark a bit since he fills the Cd (1.5 album's worth) almost up to the brim. Hence he falls back on his eternal problem: he's just not a prolific songwriter for him deliver real strong albums of Shleep's caliber (or RISTR & RB), thus handing in a lukewarm oeuvre for fans expecting much more. Even the amateurish artwork is botched, and there is no obvious concept despite the album being cut in two distinct parts (separated by 30 seconds of blank) and the amalgamated tracks of both entities don't seem to add to anything immediately visible in terms of ambiances or message, outside maybe denouncing human atrocities to mankind, but then again it's 30 years ol'Rob's been denouncing such things. The man seems tired of mankind and this his protest is half-hearted, as if he knew it wouldn't help and it would be the last.

Returning to the songwriting issue, there are three tracks from collab Mantler and three covers and one from Wifie Alfie, the rest being Wyatt's usual depressive music, but without any kind of genius or even the slightest enthusiasm. The usual suspects are in to give a hand, but it doesn't seem to help either. I really have problems concentrating on this one because it goes in every musical direction possible extensively, but on the whole this makes a very patchy effort. This tedious effort sometimes veers into straight jazz songs rather tedious that even having Dave Gilmour (a nOObie ;-)) in aboard changes nothing for we cannot hear his typical style peaking through, while the torrid experimental and fusion-esque horns of Shleep are now blizzard-frozen into conventional use. Actually this album has a very soppy mushy side to it, containing some strange (and deformed) forms of jazz (Mister E, Insantez, Old Europe etc), while the most biting "rockier" tracks (Lullaloop, Trickle Down & the album-best Beware) have a hard time matching the calmer Shleep tracks. One of the only tracks where Wyatt shows his emotions is in the cello/strings-laden minimalist Foreign Accents track. Lovely emotive clarinet on the closing La Ahada Valam.

On the whole, if this had more of a focus, beit musical or conceptual, Cuckooland might have deserved another star; but let's face it, even Wyatt can't win them all. Some four years later would appear Comicopera that would partially copy the mood from this album, but I found more "classic astounding Wyatt sounds" in that one, than in the present. Rarely have I met an album facing such unfavorable comparison and suffering from neighborhood of a predecessor. Avoid is my advice.

Report this review (#29857)
Posted Monday, April 19, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars I consider this as one of the best albums of the time being, and masterpiece for Wyatt personally. In my opinion it is clearly five stars. This music is flowing from the bottom of one´s heart. I was really surprised listening to Cuckooland, 30 years after his first Wyatt´s album was issued his melodies to natural, vital, striking... Nowadays very rare musician is able to achieve such an open-minded mixture, remaining being oneself. After this album I regard Mr. Wyatt as one of the most outstanding figure in 2000´s music as well. Recommended!
Report this review (#29858)
Posted Friday, October 8, 2004 | Review Permalink
3 stars I wanted to love this album, since all of the necessary items are "present and accounted for". Unfortunately, there is one element that should have been left on the cutting room floor. Mr. Wyatt has decided he can play the trumpet, and that he should play it on almost every song. There are several tracks here that would've been great, were it not for the inclusion of the aforementioned affliction. He even includes a trumpet part on a song that's mainly spacy syntesizers, ruining the effect completely. A few tracks survive intact, making it a worthwhile (but ultimately disappointing) album.
Report this review (#29859)
Posted Wednesday, April 27, 2005 | Review Permalink
Cesar Inca
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Business as usual, yet still sounding fresh and stimulating: that's a proper way to describe the musical essence of Robert Wyatt's "Cuckooland" in a few words, without wasting too much breath or ink. Following in the same path of introspectiveness that had been so magically stated in his "Dondestan" album, "Cuckooland" offers a more abundant and exuberant instrumentation, even more than on the preceding album "Shleep". Wyatt himself puts himself in charge of trumpet and cornet with unhidden enthusiasm and sufficient skill, in addition to his usual vocal / drumkit / piano / percussion duties. Of course, when it comes to Wyatt's stuff, the use and arrangement of adornments does not translate into pomposity - Wyatt's writing style remains the same, that is, upon the basic harmonization of a few basic chords that serve as a foundation for the compositions, the twists and added musical colours that get developed along the way provide a clever use of juxtaposed textures and inventive leads - either on guitar or wind instruments - that keep themselves constrained enough lest the introspective solemnity gets broken. Lifelong partners Brian Eno and Jamie Johnson and good old friend David Gilmour are among the relatively long list of illustrious collaborators for this album. Each individual piece in "Cuckooland" is an excellent example of joint painting shared by the involved musicians, all of them committed to a comprehension of what Wyatt is trying to say. Even though the repertoire is divided into two sections [respectively titled 'nor here..' and 'neither there'] but the listener should take this scheme as a chair in the middle of an exposure room, just a place to rest for a few seconds; the material is patently cohesive all the way from the opening track to the closing one. I don't really have a fave track from this album, since it is designed to be enjoyed as a fluid whole, but I will mention some numbers that call most of my attention every time I listen to this recording: among the more extroverted songs - 'Beware' and 'Trickle Down'; among the more melancholic ones - 'Forest', 'Lullaby for Hamza', 'La Ahada Yalam'; among the more ethereal ones - 'Just a bit', 'Tom Hay's Fox', 'Cuckoo Madame', 'Brian the Fox'. Always a sucker for Latin American Creole folklore, Wyatt includes a lovely cover of the bolero 'Insensatez', preserving its romantic nuances while re-accommodating it into his jazz-oriented introspective guidelines. In conclusion, this is a very exquisite item, especially recommended for prog lovers with jazz sensibilities - its delicacy is very demanding, it compels the listener to focus their attention on it 100 % so the experience may be properly rewarding.
Report this review (#46968)
Posted Saturday, September 17, 2005 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#156039)
Posted Thursday, December 20, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars This is the first Wyatt album I've listened to. I must say I liked some parts a lot, but sometimes things bored me a bit.

Highlights were forest and beware. I thought the first part was better than the second.

I really like the mix between jazz and psychedelics.

But, there is something missing.

I don't think their is really enough innovation to keep your attention. Their are just some parts which are nice, but nothing more like that. The ambience is nice but I sometimes miss a climax or something like that. When you are listening to forest and beware, this is not the case. I do hear that Wyatt has is own way of composing, but I think I'd be better of listening to Rock Bottom. I still liked it, though

In general this album is nice, but nothing more like that, three stars.

Report this review (#182790)
Posted Thursday, September 18, 2008 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
3 stars Like Wyatt's previous album "Shleep", this was recorded at Phil Manzanera's studio. Again Manzanera and Eno help out along with many other guests including David Gilmour on one track. Man this is a long one, at over 75 minutes this would have been a double album back in the day. All you have to do is read my reviews of Wyatt's solo albums to know i'm a huge fan, but this one and "Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard" are the two I like the least.

"Just A Bit" is a slow moving track with some atmosphere. What stands out the most on "Old Europe" is Wyatt's voice and the horns. "Tom Hay's Fox" is interesting with the dark piano melodies that are joined by horns and spoken words. "Forest" is one of my two favourite songs on the album. The vocals, piano and drums sound really good. Guitar from Gilmour 1 1/2 minutes in. The double bass stands out after 4 1/2 minutes. Clapping and piano 7 minutes in. Wyatt's wife and Eno help out on vocals too. "Beware" is a cool song with the synths, harmonica, percussion and drums. The vocals sound different. Trumpet comes in late.

"Cuckoo Madame" is a song I find humerous.The focus is squarely on Wyatt's vocals. "Raining In My Heart" is an instrumental of piano melodies. "Lullabye For Hamza" features some accordian early and late. Trombone too. "Trickle Down" is the start of part two of the album. Lots of horns and double bass on this one. "Insensatez" opens with vocals right off the hop and they are the focus. Female vocals help out. "Mister E" opens with trumpet as vocals arrive after 1 1/2 minutes. "Lullaloop" is different, that's all i'll say. Haha. "Life Is Sheep" features harmonica and trumpet with vocals coming in later. "Foreign Accents" is interesting lyrically with Robert repeating "Hiroshema Nagasaki". Some trombone on this one. "Brian The Fox" is probably my favourite. Quite dreamy, I really like it. "La Ahada Yalam" is a gentle melancholic track with flute, acoustic guitar and clarinet. It does come to life somewhat before 3 minutes though.

Unlike most Wyatt records this was long on minutes, but short on charm.

Report this review (#186635)
Posted Tuesday, October 21, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "Cuckooland" is the 7th full-length studio album by UK progressive/experimental rock artist Robert Wyatt. The album was released through Hannibal/Rykodisc in October 2003. "Cuckooland" is a rather ambitiuos 75:19 minutes long affair seperated in two parts by 30 seconds of silence. There doesn´t seem to be an overall concept to the album though and why it´s seperated in two parts is a bit of a mystery to me unless the intent is literally what Robert Wyatt says on the back cover: "A suitable place for those with tired ears to pause and resume listening later". It´s of course very considerate of him to care about the listeners tired ears but the pause does seem a bit odd to me.

Besides the odd pause which I suspect is some kind of joke there´s really not much to laugh about on "Cuckooland" when it comes to the mood/atmosphere on the album. Robert Wyatt´s music has always been melancholic yet with a humourous twist. That humourous twist is completely gone on "Cuckooland" and it´s replaced by bleak melancholy. The lyrics are extemely dark. Listen to tracks like "Forest" with lyrics about a forgotten Nazi death camp in the Czech Republic which was designed to exterminate Gypsies or how about a track like "Lullaby for Hamza" with lyrics about giving birth in Baghdad while the American bombs are falling and subsequently having to feed your children valium to get them to sleep at night. What a wonderful world we live in! I´ve never heard Robert Wyatt this gloomy before and while I enjoy his humour very much I actually enjoy this more serious and dark side of him equally much.

Deeply melancholic or not the music is unmistakably the sound of Robert Wyatt. Lots of atmospheric keyboards/synths/percussion/trumpet/cornet by Robert Wyatt in addition to his fragile and distinct sounding vocal style. Robert Wyatt is joined on vocals by Karen Mantler on a couple of tracks which provides the album with some variation in the vocal department. There are also the usual jazzy parts on the album with brass arrangements. Brian Eno, David Gilmour and Phil Manzanera are the most prominant guests on the album but when you listen to this album there is no doubt that it´s Robert Wyatt that is the star. He is just incredibly talented and approach writing and playing music in a very unique fashion.

The sound production is more clean sounding than anything Robert Wyatt has done before. I noticed the use of more contemporary synths on "Cuckooland" than on his earlier output which is something I think suits the sound on this album very well. "Cuckooland" is all in all a brilliant album release by Robert Wyatt and most definitely a more interesting release than it´s predecessor "Shleep (1997)". If you want to experience Robert Wyatt at his most serious and melancholic, "Cuckooland" is recommended. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

Report this review (#232188)
Posted Tuesday, August 18, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars I've manage to find the Cuckooland album by one of the prog founders Robert Wyatt in a local store, what happens less and less recently. Situation of "real" local stores is getting worse as times goes by. The seller likes this album a lot, and maybe this is one of the reasons for keeping this album in stock. So I entered into Wyatt Cukooland, a weird land which contains concentration camps, atomic bombs, and more of this kind. This is a very political album, like some other Wyatt works, and while it is hard to disagree with RW attitude, after all no decent person could really claim to like concentration camps, atomic bombs or other bombing acts, still there is a room for a little different point of views, a little less black-or-white view.

Musically, there is an excellent crew here: Gilad Atzmon on saxophone and clarinet deliver big, prominent sound and good roles, and Yaron Stavi on contrabass, both are Israeli origin. Karen Mantler, on vocals and harmonica, also contribute one of the best songs in this album, 'Life is Sheep'. Along with other players, plus Wyatt himself on vocals, percussion and trumpet, they component an interesting mosaic of musical ideas and sonorities.

The songs are very good, but none of them is really a breakthrough or candidate for one of my personal classics. My preferred ones are 'Old Europe', features lovely acoustic vintage feeling and wonderful wind instruments, inspired from old jazz orchestras, 'Cuckoo Madame', with its intricate melody, 'Foreign Accents' with its minimalistic approach and problematic political connections, I like it as it is, though, and the mentioned above 'Life is Sheep', for its wonderful melody and interesting chord progression. Each song is well crafted, intriguingly harmonized, and get a particular arrangement and distinct sonority.

In all, it's a lovely album in my opinion. Apologize if 'lovely' seems an unsuitable description for this political, melancholic and gloomy album, but that's what comes to my mind while listening to this one.

BTW, the vocals sounds a little bit creak and plugged, but it doesn't disturb too much to the final result, after all this is still Robert Wyatt.

Report this review (#255813)
Posted Sunday, December 13, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Cuckooland is as close to business as usual as you really get with Robert Wyatt; you have Alfreda Benge (spouse, collaborator, cover artist and inspiration for Rock Bottom) along for the ride, you have a combination of jazz artists and old pals from Wyatt's 1960s and 1970s glory days (usual suspects Brian Eno and Phil Manzanera are on board, of course, and they've brought David Gilmour with them), and the compositions are typically challenging.

This time around Wyatt steers the ship a bit closer to the more electronic or ambient side of his output, as expressed on parts of Rock Bottom, in contrast to the busier songs on Shleep or Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard - the presence of Eno no doubt helping Wyatt to incorporate more modern synth and ambient techniques into his repertoire. As always with his solo albums, it cries out for repeated listens to unpack its secrets, but I find it a bit more approachable than some of this more esoteric solo albums (like the highly impenetrable End of an Ear).

Report this review (#1054204)
Posted Saturday, October 5, 2013 | Review Permalink

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