It says much for Robert Wyatt's cultural presence that he can secure a deal with the UK's most dynamic independent label, alongside the likes of the Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand. Wyatt's first album for Domino follows in the vein of 2003's Cuckooland, with trombonist Annie Whitehead and reedsman Gilad Atzmon prominent among a backing crew that again includes the likes of Brian Eno, Paul Weller and Phil Manzanera. It's presented as a three-act "opera", albeit lacking plot, narrative and character development. Best to regard the structure as roughly reflecting Wyatt's shifting responses to the world around him: confusion, concern and consolation respectively.
The first act finds him Lost In Noise, advising: "If you can hear me, stay tuned – there is more to come" in a version of Anja Garbarek's "Stay Tuned" showcasing the extraordinary voice and clarinet of Seaming To; "You You" and "Anachronist" feature sombre horns, while "Just As You Are" and "AWOL" reflect upon time and change, the latter tracking "the tick and the tock of the damnable clock, as the world that she knows turns to dust".
Act II forces him to confront The Here and the Now, with grim ruminations upon the dangerous certitude of politicians and theologians. In "A Beautiful Peace", Wyatt's roll around town is spoilt by the forbidding aspect of a Methodist chapel, which leads him to consider, in "Be Serious", the enviable convictions of fundamentalists on all sides.
The most powerful piece is "A Beautiful War", whose smooth surface and charming manner disguise an airman's exultation in his murderous task: "It's a beautiful day... so I open the hatch and drop my first batch." The act ends with Wyatt in prickly mood as his victim in "Out of the Blue", damning the bomber who "fostered everlasting hatred in my heart" while trombone and baritone sax growl over abrupt keyboard chords and choral clusters of Enotron (keyboard-triggered samples of Eno's voice).
The final act finds our hero Away With the Fairies, taking solace in international fellowship via songs in Italian ("Del Mondo") and Spanish (the Lorca poem "Cancion De Julieta" and Cuban tribute to Che Guevara "Hasta Siempra Comandante"). "It's to do with feeling alienated from Anglo-American culture at that point," Wyatt explains. "Just sort of being silent as an English-speaking person, because of this war." He's left searching for some conviction that won't worsen matters. Not the most amusing of comic operas, but an engrossing experience nonetheless.
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