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Classic Album: Robert Wyatt, Rock Bottom (Domino)

(Rated 5/ 5 )

Reviewed by Andy Gill

Recorded in the aftermath of the accident that lost him the use of his legs (though mostly written earlier in Venice), Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom remains a landmark in British music. It's hard to think of another prog-rock creation that has so evaded the tarnish of time – its airy drones, jazz leanings and unhurried pace still as refreshing as upon its 1974 release. While marked by striking guest contributions – a guitar solo from Mike Oldfield, restless probing by trumpeter Mongezi Feza and saxophonist Gary Windo, and Ivor Cutler's hilarious conclusion to "Little Red Robin Hood Hit The Road" – it's Wyatt's forced switch to keyboards, and particularly his approach to singing, that define the album. These six pieces are songs that reject the expressive tyranny of words, his voice evaporating into a wordless realm where meaning is conveyed more by texture and inflection: in "A Last Straw", his vocal trails off into an impression of muted trumpet, while in "Sea Song" it seems to be floating into a serpentine, muezzin space. It even shifts into reverse during "Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road" with no discernible loss of meaning. And in the "Alifib" and "Alife", he seems to be confirming his devotion to partner Alfreda Benge through improvisation around her name. One of the 20 greatest albums of all time.

Pick of the Album: 'Sea Song', 'Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road', 'Alife', 'A Last Straw', 'Alifib'

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