Review special: Robert Wyatt – Rock Bottom


Who is the most gifted and most dedicated Prog musician? Of course, there is not a universal answer, but Robert Wyatt sure proved himself that he deserves to be recognized as a musical legend. After the infamous incident, Wyatt was forced on the wheelchair for the rest of his life, thus, he would have never been able to play the drums again. He put his sadness and melancholy in music, creating one of the greatest masterpieces of Rock history; that is ‘Rock Bottom’, an timeless landmark LP that never seizes to amaze listeners.

Robert Wyatt was and is known as a somewhat crazy fellow, and his music, especially with the Soft Machine, was extremely surreal, yet innovating and bold. His first album as a solo, ‘The End Of An Ear’, was received sort of poorly but I believe it is yet another extraordinary manifestation of Wyatt’s romantic madness. But, only with ‘Rock Bottom’, did he manage to fully express his genius: these six songs are full of deep melancholy and sadness, as it could have been predictable, but they all have the Wyatt stamp on them, that makes them so idiosyncratic and original. The ex-drummer focuses on organ, keyboards, and his beautifully original voice, another great trait of his music. Then, of course, there are all the guest musicians, from Richard Sinclair to Mike Oldfield, all of them carefully put in their place by Nick Mason’s gorgeous production. All of these songs as a consequence have an utterly lush and dense sound, where tons of layers are put together in a dreamy, surreal soundscape, that feels so mature and real, for a grown child like Robert Wyatt. To call this Progressive Rock is superfluous; it bends so many rules, to the point where it is simply an album of it’s own genre, isolated from the rest of the music, untouched. It would be easy to say that it’s more of a Singer-Songwriter album sunk in the romantic flavors of Canterbury, and smothered by a ethereal, Jazzy tone. Indeed, ‘Rock Bottom’ is a different world, living underneath the sea, with no other currents influencing it.

Robert Wyatt - Rock Bottom

This is much more than an album, it is a lesson of life: an observation of radical changes, which can be unexpected and unpleasant, but they have to be accepted, no matter what. This is fully succeeding a challenge that seemed impossible to execute, but turned out to be exemplar to say the least. It might be sad to see such a big, curious baby facing the harshness of the world, but it shows how only with pain, can you find within yourself your greater artist, as Robert Wyatt obviously did.

Starting with ‘Sea Song’, Wyatt delivers one of the most beautiful songs he’s ever done: a sadly romantic piece that makes the listener plunge into the music itself, surrounding himself with suspended-note keyboards, the odd piano virtuosities, and Wyatt’s unmistakable, falsetto-like voice. ‘A Last Straw’ however seems to be a bit darker, thanks to the gorgeous slide guitar (played by Wyatt), the lower pitched vocals, and the magical keyboards accompanying. The vocal harmonies too are dark, haunting, yet so dreamy and somewhat jazzy too. ‘Little Red Riding Hood Hit The Road’ is much different than the previous two tracks; stretched out, hypnotic, yet beautifully haunting piece that finds it’s dorsal spine in the romantic resonance of the trumpets playing for the entire seven minutes of the song. ‘Alifib’ and ‘Alife’ seem to go together; the first part much more mellow, with some unique breathing sound by Wyatt, but becomes shortly a wonderfully melancholic piece, when he starts to sing; ‘Alife’ on the other hand is much more tense, obsessive, with a wild Robert sounding like a madman: the song repeats many ideas of the previous track, putting them however in a completely different, almost creepy context. The last song is the one that sounds the most epic, most ethereal, and the only one where some traces from traditional Progressive can be heard. Once again sounding extremely emotional, it unexpectedly ends humorously, with a man singing with a strong accent.

‘Rock Bottom’ is not only Robert Wyatt’s masterpiece, but also easily one of the best Rock albums ever released, and a key album for the entire Progressive Rock genre. Such deepness in music is rarely heard, and, when we do hear something as profound, there is only Robert to thank for it.

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