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Robert Wyatt - Rock Bottom CD (album) cover


Robert Wyatt


Canterbury Scene

4.28 | 902 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Here's to you Rock Bottom, 1974, produced by Nick Mason.

Side A. 1. Sea Song (6:31). First piece: carpet of keyboards, hinted percussion, evocative singing that becomes beautiful when it rises in tones, moving, then there is an instrumental break with keyboard solo (I guess Wyatt plays three kind of keyboards in this track), sweet lullaby. In the middle begins an angelic chorus, and finally again the singing with celestial orgiastic atmosphere dominated by onomatopoeic sounds. Masterpiece that introduce the atmosphere of the record. Rating 9.

2. A Last Straw (5:46). The second piece is shortest, it's a more rhythmic song, which begins with drums and bass (Hugh Hopper) in evidence, producing a very jazzy sound, and good guitar phrases (Wyatt): In the background estatic keyboards that fade after other onomatopeic sounds with the trumpet of the third song. Another great track without schemes. Rating 8,5/9.

3. Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road (7:38). The third song, which produces a leap in quality for the very avant- garde arrangements, has got a very solid bass (Richard Sinclair) and an exceptional performance on trumpet by Mongezi Feza. Wyatt's voice (with an help from Ivor Cutler) does the rest. A peak, a gem of contemporary music. Rating 9.5.

Overall, a side A consisting of three mixed songs, almost a single suite, with a sober and moving first part for arrangement that then becomes more and more elaborate for rhythm and arrangements becoming total music, pure avant-garde. The quality level is very high, we are around 9+/10.

Side B. 4. Alifib (6:55). It starts with the sound of the voice making a rhythmic verse that replaces percussion, then, for about half of the song there is only instrumental music: keyboard in evidence, it's free-jazz music. Then finally begins the singing, which has lyrics formed by assonances of words. The pathos reaches high peaks when Wyatt flies to the high notes with his voice, accompanied by screeching on the keyboards. Rating 8.5/9.

5. Alife (6:31). The second song, which echoes Alifib's lyrics, is the peak of the second side, for its sense of estrangement and schizophrenia, with a voice (Alfreda Benge) with a demented cadence. It starts with avant-garde noises and sounds (Gary Windo on alto & bass clarinets), as if it wanted to deconstruct and make the celestial sound of the previous one distressed and cacophonous. Final piece with beautiful clarinet solo that rises above a catastrophic atmosphere, where Wyatt's voice returns. Rating 9,5/10. Absolute masterpiece.

6. Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road (6:08). Last song with beautiful beginning, almost psychedelic, with guitar (Mike Oldfield), repetitive text, obsessive. Then about three minutes the music stops and begins a dissonant folk with the viola in evidence (Fred Frith), a paradoxical, alienating voice (Ivor Cutler), which recites an almost martial text, atmosphere Dadaist, surreal, robotic. It's the least musical song on the album, which closes it like a sneer, as if to say: Don't take me too seriously.

The B-side starts similar to the previous one, in fact the atmosphere of Alifib is comparable to that of Sea Song but after the first track the music turns into paradox and estrangement. The quality is equally high: 9+.

Medium quality of the songs: 8,96. Unbelieveble. Rating 10/10. Absolute masterpiece, six stars.

Two words about Wyatt's lyrics: evocative, full of non-senses, dissonances, meaningless assonances, pataphysics, creators of atmospheres or sounds. Perfectly calibrated and consistent with music, in short.

And now, a reflection on the importance and uniqueness of this album. There are great prog artists, such as EL&P and Yes, who are not loved by those who are not passionate about prog. Keith Emerson, for his excessive virtuosity, Jon Anderson for his contralto voice, are often hated by classical rock listeners. But in general, all the symphonic rock of the golden-age of prog is not well seen by many listeners of rock, blues, country, pop, melodic music etc.

Genesis are often respected, but are considered boring (while Peter Gabriel, starting with his third album, is seen as an innovative experimenter). Pink Floyd, with their operas from Atom Heart Mother (which marks their transition from psychedelia to prog), to Wish You Were Here and Animals, two notable albums (I consider WYWH a masterpiece, while I consider Animals good but a minor work) , they were seen as enemies by punk artists, and in fact Syd Vicious to justify the birth of punk, quoted Pink Floyd, to make it clear that punk was against mammoth art- works like Pink Floyd albums, produced with super elaborate music, full of suites, dilated songs, virtuosity, studio effects. He would have taken it with Yes and EL&P and Genesis if they were still on the crest of the wave, but in 1976-77 they were in decline, or were beginning to become pop. In contrast, Syd Vicious expressed appreciation for Peter Hammill for Nadir's Big Chance, which contained several songs of raw rock, the forerunner of punk.

Well, the eclectic prog, represented by VdGG and King Crimson has always been more respected by lovers of classic rock, blues, pop etc. Peter Hammill and Robert Fripp are much loved and appreciated, for their coherence, for their lack of interest in the show business and for the ability to make a prog rock not by dinosaurs but very capable of renewing itself and getting out of the schemese.

But... and here comes the point.... From my point of view on the world, no artist is as loved as Robert Wyatt. And not for the whole of his career, because yes, it is true that Soft Machine enjoys the same consideration as VdGG and KC (moreover, groups that have all given their best in the years between 1968 and 1971) but in the case of Wyatt , it's different: Wyatt is not loved for his Soft Machine career, nor for his later solo career (as with Hammill, Gabriel, or Fripp), Wyatt is loved almost only for Rock Bottom.

I heard the praises of Rock Bottom on Mucchio Selvaggio (The Wild Bunch), the most beautiful newspaper of Italian classic rock. But also in any other newspaper or rock site where users are not lovers of prog. Why this? First of all, because Rock Bottom is not a prog opera. It is a total art-work, which does not belong to any genre. It has nothing to do with, for example, In The Land of Grey and Pink, which is perhaps the most well-known and considered art- work of Canterbury Scene. The sound, the arrangement, the atmosphere, the music, the structure of the songs, everything has nothing to do with Canterbury Scene.

Of course, there are many Canterbury bands that diverge a lot from Caravan, as well as Gong, and make much more personal music, for example Henry Cow. But Henry Cow also goes beyond the patterns of the prog and in fact is appreciated very cross-cutting, only that he is less known than Wyatt.

Piero Scaruffi, the Italian American historian of music, who has written the history of rock, greatly appreciates prog but its preparation is transversal. He has a background that comes from jazz and classical music, and he appreciates prog more than classic rock (and despises country, folk, pop and everything commercial). Well, it's no coincidence that he considers Rock Bottom the second biggest record of the twentieth century (after Trout Mask Replica): it's a record that breaks every pattern, every genre, it's not even rock, it's absolute music, which is not catalogable either as light music or as cultured music - and it's almost new age music and almost Zen meditation music.

And perhaps the fragility of Wyatt, which is felt in his voice, in the sober and ecstatic arrangements, in the minimal percussion, his vulnerability makes this record a rare pearl that excites and almost creates a sense of intimacy, of protection of a sacred treasure. Maybe that's it, maybe it's something else but Robert Wyatt is loved by everyone (or almost) and considered one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century, a total artist, not a prog artist, just for this album. This album is an absolute case, worldwide, despite the masterpieces of the first three albums with Soft Machine and those with Matching Mole.

This album, I repeat, belongs to everyone, not just the fans of the prog, and has something unique, it sounds extremely authentic, genuine, unfiltered, totally uncovered and vulnerable. Thank you, Robert.

jamesbaldwin | 5/5 |


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