Robert Wyatt - Comicopera

There are undoubtedly moments of genius on it. And, more disturbingly, there's Paul Weller on it too, which is a bit like Phil Collins playing on Another Green Day, or Robert Palmer playing on Remain in Light – not right somehow.

Robert Wyatt – Comicopera (Domino)

 

There aren't many characters around any more – that's what we often hear. Well, if it's a character you're looking for then you could do worse than check out Robert Wyatt. He is, after all, a wheelchair bound sixty-two year old Marxist and you don't get many of those to the pound on the Domino roster. But to simply label Wyatt as a character is to do him a grave injustice. He's a deeply talented, intelligent songwriter, capable of writing songs both painfully sad and wryly funny. He can also knock out belting cover versions – his somewhat ramshackle interpretation of The Monkees I'm a Believer took him into the charts in the early seventies.

 

Comicopera, his debut Domino album, is something of a curate's egg. Over 16 tracks and three acts we get a little bit of everything – love songs, sad songs, instrumentals and Spanish songs. The first act, entitled 'lost in noise', kicks off with Stay Tuned. It opens with woozy brass and piano. And then there's Wyatt's voice – high-pitched, frail almost, and always affecting. It's a sad song, but nothing like as sad as Just As You Are. It's an incredibly moving love song, and easily one of the songs of the year. Listen to it after you've read the interview with Wyatt and his partner in October's Wire magazine and keep a dry eye if you can. Sung as a duet it details a relationship that has fallen upon rocky times. It is a simple song that also manages to be incredibly beautiful and affecting. And if it's undoubtedly the highlight of the album it's also one of the highlights of the year full stop.

 

You You is based around brass, as are many of the songs on the album. The songs are faintly jazzy but not in 'obvious' way. A.W.O.L., for instance, tells the sad story of a modern 'mad woman in the attic' – a woman alone and in the grip (I presume) of Alzheimer's. Act One, which finishes with the instrumental Anachronist, isn't a great deal of fun, but it's touching and emotional and very rewarding. It's certainly the strongest of the acts.

 

Act Two, 'the here and the now', opens with A Beautiful Peace. Co-written with Brian Eno it's a funny little song that opens with Wyatt muttering to himself. He sees a rabbit, flattened in the road, and then another, and then a polystyrene fast food box with chips left in it. The buyer of the chips mustn't have wanted them he thinks and concludes: 'That's unusual.' It's a very simple song with Wyatt accompanied by just guitar, bass and clicking fingers. Eno also co-writes A Beautiful War. Again it's musically light in tone but the subject matter is much more serious – this track imagines the thoughts of a bomber pilot as he drops his bombs on a beautiful day. On Be Serious Wyatt envies religious people their beliefs and on Out of the Blue Eno's cut up voice forms the background to a disturbing song about hatred.

Act Three, 'away with the fairies', features the Spanish songs and is certainly the weakest of the acts. Not everything, then, works on Comicopera. It could have been a brilliant forty-minute album as opposed to a brilliant hour-long album that needs to skipped here and there. There are undoubtedly moments of genius on it. And, more disturbingly, there's Paul Weller on it too, which is a bit like Phil Collins playing on Another Green Day, or Robert Palmer playing on Remain in Light – not right somehow. Some of the reviews of this album reflect, I think, how much Robert Wyatt is (rightly) loved and have tended towards hyperbole. But make no mistake it is a very good album, albeit not a wholly successful one.

 

Words: Chris Dawson