Boomkat Product Review:
Previously available as a limited edition Japan-only release, Domino augment their retrospective of Robert Wyatt's illustrious back-catalogue by reissuing this 'Best Of'-style collection, spanning material from his early solo recordings of 1974 right up to 2003's Cuckooland album. The track selection seems to have been designed as an ideal introduction to the former Soft Machine drummer's solo work, collecting key album recordings and even one or two bonafide hits (regardless of what the album title says). Wyatt's debut single, a cover of the Neil Diamond/Monkees song 'I'm A Believer' is included in its extended form (although, as ever it sounds jarringly out of place when set among his own compositions), as is the 1998 remaster of 'Shipbuilding', Wyatt's memorable 1982 recording of the Elvis Costello song. Even though it isn't one of Wyatt's self-penned works, this spine-tingling performance is always going to be a highlight of any album it appears on, and it remains a key work in his discography. The seventeen-song selection avoids chronological ordering, instead favouring a more discerning, album-like sequence that begins with Old Rottenhat's 'P.L.A.', which makes for an especially apt introduction to Wyatt's uniquely sad vocal. Here he laments over his his wife Alfreda Benge in a manner that's typical of Wyatt's unflinching, often childlike directness: "Poor little Alfie, trying to draw/Poor little Alfie, trying to sleep" are the only words sung, yet it feels like an utterly heartfelt and empathetic tribute. Another early highlight here is 'Heaps Of Sheeps', A Brian Eno-assisted cut lifted from the 1997 Shleep album. This is a more rhythmic, uptempo outing than most, leading into the wholly contrasting 'Free Will And Testament' from the same long-player. This is another fantastic slice of Wyatt melancholia, on which he intones with a tangible sense of ennui: "Demented forces push me madly round a treadmill/Let me off please, I am so tired/Let me off please, I am so very tired." Soon after there are two tracks from Rock Bottom (the 1974 album Wyatt regards as his debut album proper): the outstanding 'Sea Song' and 'Little Red Robin Hood Hit The Road', which might be the proggiest, most sonically convoluted entry here. Listening through this collection conveys the sense not only of how singular this man's canon is, but how much his oeuvre is informed by disconnections - whether that be from composition to composition or even within the same song. Cuckooland's 'Mister E' finds a beautifully downbeat trumpet melody exchanging lines with Karen Mantler's harmonica, all whilst clashing digitised synthesizer chords resound in the background. It's an odd little piece, and one that couldn't be attributed to anyone other than Wyatt. For those who've been harbouring an interest in Robert Wyatt's catalogue but haven't thus far known where to take the plunge, this album could hardly be more accommodating, offering as good a point of entry as any single disc could hope to offer. Beautiful.