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Robert Wyatt - Rock Bottom CD (album) cover


Robert Wyatt


Canterbury Scene

4.28 | 902 ratings

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Symphonic Team
4 stars A powerhouse performance of a man at his lowest point.

Robert Wyatt was recovering from a horrendous fall breaking his legs and his spirit. The remains of that shattered spirit is injected into every vocal and musical instrumentation on "Rock Bottom". The melancholy of the album is astounding; it overflows with sadness and yet one could not sense any bitterness in Wyatt's vocals. He is so reserved apart from the Soft Machine and Matching Mole among other projects. Here we have the paraplegic man in solitude at his piano in his most reflective thought provoking mood. His fragile vocals are soothing and emotionally charged but there is no self pity. The music ranges from beauty to inner rage appropriate to the flowing organic atmospheres. This one grows slowly on the listener like crawling poison through the veins and is definitely one to savour if you want to hear the inner depths of a man's soul laid bare. Wyatt opens up his spirit, his mind, his soul to anyone who would dare to listen.

'Sea Song' is one of his quietest songs with a powerful ending with swirling synths and intonations of Wyatt's angst driven emotion. Richard Sinclair's bassline and Wyatt's gentle piano opens 'A Last Straw'. Wyatt indulges in some of his ad lib scat style but its okay. He really shines on vocals on "Rock Bottom". Some nice guitar breaks on this lift the spirits.

'Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road' is more towards the experimental Soft Machine style, with wild sax and Wyatt gasping for air, perhaps reliving his tragedy through music. He ad libs some cries of desperation "stop it, oh deary me, what I heaven's name." The music reverses into backwards as does Wyatt's vocals and the result is very unsettling but appropriate in projecting the awful torment of losing the use of his legs. The narration is an incoherent Wyatt at his lowest point and then dissonant music builds with truly chilling effect. Fred Frith's violin has a Celtic flavour.

'Alifib' begins with the pulsations of Wyatt's breathing as though strapped to a life machine in a coma, thus a re-enactment of the situation he had faced. The guitar is trilling nicely over a layer of ethereal keyboards and bass. Wyatt's vocals are mixed to the front and are full of disconsolate tones. The melody is rather pretty but still have dark nuances. It changes into Gary Windo's sax squeaks that speak insanity and Wyatt lapses into madness with vocals such as "Alife my larder, Alife my larder, I can't forsake you, or forsqueak you." The dissonance of piano barricaded by a downbeat melody and depressed sax is an astounding combination. One may be reminded of Van der Graaf Generator here with the great Jaxon on sax. At times the sax is blown without any noise penetrating through; I have never heard the sax used so intensely, it just screams in spasms of agony, and is very disturbing to the ears. The song ends with more incoherency from Wyatt and a really creepy narration; "I'm a dear little dolly", and then closes with multi buzzing drones.

Without warning Wyatt begins the next song 'Alife' with higher vocals and a marching timpani rhythm. The lyrics are the same as the previous track but it is a completely different style and much more restrained. The low vocals of Ivor Cutler on the final track are burblings of madness "I want it I want it give it to me I give it you back when I finish the lunch tea, I lie in the road, try to trip up the passing cars. Yes, me and the hedgehog, we bursting the tyres all day. As we roll down the highway towards the setting sun, I reflect on the life of the highwayman, yum yum. Now I smash up the telly and what's left of the broken phone." It ends on this note with a manic laugh.

At the end of the album it leaves this reviewer rather drained as it is an intense experience entering the mind of the genius madman and we can really sense his emotions that are in turmoil from the experience. It is a wonderful cathartic album though as it delivers such bold and powerful statements. Wyatt does not hold back his pain and we feel refreshed as we experience it with him from the comfort of our headphones. This album may be Wyatt's finest achievement.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 4/5 |


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