ROBERT WYATT - ROCK BOTTOM
Every decade or so, Robert Wyatt's discography comes around again; this new batch of reissues (the first of two) has apparently been prompted by the release of For the Ghosts Within a few weeks ago. Any excuse will do, really. The albums Wyatt has intermittently released over the past 40 years are glacially paced and occasionally maddening, but they're also fascinating, thoughtful, and spectacularly beautiful at times. He's also got one of the great singing voices in Anglophone pop, as high, lonesome, and weathered as the cliffs of Dover, whether he's crooning the politicized lyrics he favors or being a scat-singing "human horn."
1974's Rock Bottom wasn't Wyatt's first solo album-- that was 1970's long-out-of-print The End of an Ear-- but it was the first record of the second act of his career: In 1973, the wildly energetic former drummer of Soft Machine (and leader of Matching Mole) broke his spine in an accident. He spent eight months in the hospital, reinventing himself as a singer/keyboardist and reworking some pieces he'd already composed for what would have been his new band.
The six songs of Rock Bottom were a new kind of music for Wyatt: very slow, exquisitely deliberate. (It's easy to hear echoes of the album in latter-day Radiohead, among others.) The magnificent "Sea Song" is the most immediately gripping piece here, but everything has peculiar little joys that take their time emerging. "Alifib" is an aphasic love song to his partner Alfreda Benge (they were married the day the album was released); "Alife" brings her in to offer an affectionate rebuke. And Wyatt effectively ducks out of his own album a few minutes before it ends: "Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road" concludes with a peculiar three-minute recitative by Ivor Cutler.