[Review] Robert Wyatt: Rock Bottom (1974)

His highest musical achievement to date is a surreal sea of strange creatures.

Kronomyth 2.0: Your lunacy fits neatly with my own.

Under the lunacy of Robert Wyatt, you’ll find hedgehogs, guarders (not larders) and half fish/half porpoise/half baby sperm whale creatures to keep you company. Rock Bottom is even stranger than his last album, The End of an Ear, while at the same time managing to be more magical and tuneful too. If you can imagine Robyn Hitchcock on drugs (I know, I thought he already was too), you’ll have an inkling of the surrealist odyssey you’re in for.

Wyatt’s second album manages to be both naïve and sophisticated at the same time. Words morph from nonsense to odd-sense, fluorescent strands of melody float past, and you’ll wonder the whole while if Wyatt is being avant-garde or just out of his gourd. The big difference between this album and The End of an Ear is that the musicians play actual music. Richard Sinclair and Hugh Hopper provide relatively straight accompaniment on bass guitar, Mike Oldfield and Fred Frith could pass for Robert Fripp passing by, while Gary Windo and Mongezi Feza blow things up with some wild soloing on the little, red road tracks.

Water seems to be a common theme on the album. That and hedgehogs. And, in a real sense, you’re submerged in Wyatt’s underwater world for forty minutes, waiting to exhale when it’s all over. I was impressed with how many risks Wyatt was willing to take on his first record, but a method to his madness emerges on Rock Bottom. He really has created his own musical world using piano, drones, words (real and invented) and a carefully selected group of co-conspirators. It’s a great place to start if you’re just getting your feet wet in the work of Robert Wyatt. (You also owe it to yourself to check out this amazing version of Alifib performed by the French group, Odeia.)

Original elpee version

A1. Sea Song (6:30)
A2. A Last Straw (5:44)
A3. Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road (7:40)
B1. Alifib (6:55)
B2. Alife (6:17)
B3. Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road (6:19)

Drones and songs by Robert Wyatt.

The Players

Robert Wyatt (voice, keyboards, James’ drum, guitar, Delfina’s wineglass, Delfina’s tray, a small battery) with Laurie Allan (drums on A2/B3), Alfreda Benge (voice on B2), Ivor Cutler (voice on A3, voice and bass concertina on B3), Mongezi Feza (trumpet on A3), Fred Frith (viola on B3), Hugh Hopper (bass guitar on A2/B1/B2), Mike Oldfield (guitar on B3), Richard Sinclair (bass guitar on A1/A3/B3), Gary Windo (bass clarinet and tenor on B2). Produced by Nick Mason; engineered by Steve Cox and Dick Palmer.

The Pictures

Cover by Alfreda Benge.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette in August 1974* in the UK (Virgin, V/TCV 2017), the US (Virgin, VR 13-112) and Japan (Virgin, VIP-4048). (*First appeared in 8/3/74 issue of New Musical Express.)

  1. Re-packaged with Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard on 2-for-1 2LP in 1983 in the UK (Virgin, VGD 3505) with gatefold cover.
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in 1998 in the UK (Hannibal, HNCD 1426) and the US (Thirsty Ear, thi 57044-2) with different cover.
  3. Re-issued on elpee in 2008 in Europe (Domino).

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