Record of the Day: Robert Wyatt, "Cuckooland"

Record of the Day: Robert Wyatt, “Cuckooland”

Robert Wyatt
Cuckooland (Cd Hannibal/Rykodisc HNCD 1468)

The music of Robert Wyatt, former drummer of the famous jazz-rock group Soft Machine, who subsequently wrote many albums under his own name, is difficult to put into words for those who don't know it.

The absolute originality of his style makes it difficult to define it, because in the records that Wyatt has patiently collected over the years you can find everything: catchy songs that will not leave you, jazzy glimpses, reminiscences of his rock past, ballads recited under his breath with an absolutely unmistakable voice, experimental moments and ambient parentheses, harmonically complex songs and very simple ditties, all often packaged at home with the help of famous friends such as Brian Eno, David Gilmour, Phil Manzanera, Karen Mantler, Elvis Costello; the final result brings with it a very strong artisanal scent, almost the product of a hobby intended for a small circle of friends.

While not particularly difficult (a couple of listens are enough to be fascinated by this music) they are probably some of the least commercial records ever released, precisely because of their absolute rejection of anything to do with the music business.
Over time, Wyatt has carved out an audience of fierce admirers who allow him to continue recording without having to compromise, and he has always repaid their trust with beautiful records that repay numerous re-listenings without losing their freshness. “Cuckooland” (2003) is another pearl of this series and sees Wyatt singing magnificent melodies with his usual dazed manner, telling stories dedicated to the geneticist Richard Dawkins and the love between Miles Davis and Juliette Gréco, but also songs on dramatic themes such as the extermination of the Roma in concentration camps, the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the American invasion in Iraq.

The singular personality of this artist is capable of moving with equal significance from these topics to a very light cover version of Jobim's “Insensatez” without his musical universe losing coherence, the intensity of his voice apparently so fragile and devoid of extroversion it allows him to touch expressive shores unattainable by singers who may be more technically gifted but lack the spark that allows Wyatt to embrace poetry naturally.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.