Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
Robert Wyatt - Rock Bottom CD (album) cover


Robert Wyatt


Canterbury Scene

4.28 | 903 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Prog Reviewer
5 stars On the 1st June 1973 - the former drummer of The Wilde Flowers, Soft Machine and his own band, Matching Mole - Robert Wyatt, fell from a third story window, whilst at a drunken party. The injuries Wyatt sustained were severe and he became a wheelchair bound paraplegic.

This solo album by Robert Wyatt, was the result of his recuperation in Hospital and is a masterpiece from start to finish. No album gives me so much satisfaction as this one and I could play it endlessly and never get bored of it. Infact, I often find myself with different parts of this album going constantly through my brain.

This album brings in such guest performers as: Mike Oldfield, Ivor Cutler and Fred Frith (Henry Cow), Richard Sinclair (Caravan, Hatfield and the North and Camel) and Hugh Hopper (Soft Machine).

This album could easily have been a disaster, but it was far from that, it is has left a major incision in not only the progressive music world, but the music world in general and has made Robert Wyatt a very well respected individual throughout the world.

Much of the lyrical material on this album may seem a bit confusing, or nonsensical, but it kind of does make a lot of sense to me. The lyrics to Alifib and Alife for instance, seem to be about his time in hospital, lying in bed, with his wife Alfreda Benge (hence Alife, an anagram of her nickname, Alfie) by the side of him, but in reality, Wyatt wrote the lyrics before his untimely accident. Alfie would also have a part to play on this album (more about that under the "Alife" section).

Now to the music itself.

Sea Song

A very heart-felt track and very difficult to review! Wyatt's voice (as it is throughout this album) is desperate sounding and very delicate and fits the mood perfectly. There are some great instrumental passages throughout, interspersed, with some very avant-garde style piano playing by Wyatt. There is also a constant synthesized keyboard sound throughout the track. This is just Wyatt by himself, except for some backing vocals (more just "ahs" actually), which may be synthesized (but I'm not absolutely sure) and Richard Sinclair, who guests on bass. Halfway through, Wyatt starts to "whine" (want of a better word for it) and sing without vocals and the synth is still very dominant, as is the piano. The whole sound draws you in from start to finish and there is not a single dull moment.

A Last Straw

This is a more jazz tinged track, with a very nice bass sound (Hugh Hopper) and yet again the piano and synth sound of Sea Song are dominant. Laurie Allan is playing just on symbols for the majority of this track, which really adds to the overall sound. Once again, Wyatt's vocals are beautiful. There is an ethereal guitar sound that blends into the background as well, being played by Wyatt himself, which adds to all the layers of this track and later becomes a brief - yet restrained and delicate - solo. Once again Wyatt's lyrics are quirky, but they'll get quirkier still with the next track. A Last Straw ends with just a simple descent down a pianos keys, yet is rather poignant and memorable.

Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road

This is where the real fun begins. This track starts with Mongezi Feza's multi-tracked and tape-looped trumpet, that creates a very surreal sound; also present are piano and bass. This is a very trippy track, which has a nice constant beat, that I cannot help but tap my foot too. This song I believe plays with reels and loops (continuing on from his experimentations from his debut solo album, as well as his late work with Soft Machine) and creates something rather unique, especially with Wyatt's lyrics. The lyrics, I believe, are about his time in hospital, as this track was written post-accident. Ivor Cutler also has a part to play near the end, speaking in his wonderful Scottish accent (his voice would later be heard on the final track). With the late South African Mongezi Feza's trumpet continuing on what seems a weird (perhaps reversed) loop, this track ends with a great sound, with a very prominent bass (Richard Sinclair) as well. Alas, Mongezi Feza sadly died not long after Rock Bottom's release, making this track even more poignant.


This track goes hand-in-hand with the track Alife and is very much symbolic Wyatt at his best. Wyatt simply chants Alife, in a very despairing way at the beginning of this track and to the uninitiated, may be disturbing (which of course, is the intention). I love the keyboard intro, because, even though it's relatively simple, it works so well and creates the exact atmosphere for what is to follow. The "Alife" chanting continues on when Wyatt's keyboard playing begins, accompanied by perhaps Hugh Hopper's best bass solo (and one of my favourites by any bass player), to create a compelling track, which some people may find off-putting, yet sound like nothing else I have ever heard. Hopper's bass solo intensifies as the track continues and the track gets more and more interesting and invasive on the brain. With around 3:15 to go, Wyatt's vocals start, with some very memorable words indeed. "Alife my larder, Alife my larder". "I can't forsake you, or forsqueak you". Meanwhile, the "Alife" chanting continues, as does the very interesting keyboard playing (and Hopper's gorgeous bass). This and the next track are possibly the most difficult tracks for the unintiated, to get into (and appreciate). This is Wyatt at his absolute best.


Alife continues straight on from where Alifib ended, with an almost unnoticable segue, with Gary Windo's sax playing. There is a constant bongo-style drumming throughout the track (played by Wyatt on "James' Drum") and the usual piano playing. This is where Gary Windo shines on saxophone, creating a dark and desparate feel, which again, could be quite disturbing, if the listener was in a depressive state of mind. Wyatt's vocals continue on from the previous track and we hear "Alife my larder" and "I can't forsake you or forsqueak you" once more, as well as further quirky, yet compelling and (to me), not meaningless lyrics. One of the ingenius things about this track, is the fact that the lyrics are exactly the same as Alifib, yet are sung in a completely different way; very purposeful and important. This is a desperate track indeed and the music marches along, cutting through a once more cheerful atmosphere and bringing in even dark overtones. Windo's sax playing is vicious, desperate and played with the anger that this track deserves and is possibly the best of this late woodwind player's work. A purely emotional and often gut-wrenching tour-de-force, full of despair, anger and relief. Also not to be forgotten is the end of the track, where Alfreda Benge (Wyatt's wife), has kind of chanting and spoken lyrics, whereby she responds to what Wyatt sang about earlier in the song, with her own little anecdote. The synth continues on and nicely segues into the next track.

Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road

This track begins joltily after the previous tune, but turns into a tour-de-force for Mike Oldfield on guitar (multi-tracked again), in his distinctive style. Yet again the drumming is mainly symbols based at the beginning. Wyatt's singing seems to be more at the back of the mix, but that's not a problem, it works perfectly, creating a disturbing track once more, where Wyatt repeats "Can't you see them", whilst Oldfield's guitar cuts and swathes through with ease. Everything suddenly slows down and we hear the beginning of Ivor Cutler's concertina... his very distinctive spoken word vocals then begin. Yet none of this detracts from the overall sound of the album. Fred Frith also plays Viola over Cutler's concertina and creates yet more wonderful atmosphere. The lyrics are once again quirky and compelling. Cutler's small laugh winds up the album and once the track ends, one feels very empty inside; and to me, I feel I have just witnessed (sonically speaking) something very special indeed.

This is one of my favourite albums of all time and it always hits home and never disappoints me. Rock Bottom is recommended for those who are aware of Wyatt's output in Soft Machine and Matching Mole, but also for those who are interested in something that little bit different. It was an instant classic for me.

5/5 stars and faultless throughout.

VanderGraafKommandöh | 5/5 |


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Share this ROBERT WYATT review

Social review comments () BETA

Review related links

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives