Robert Wyatt


FACELIFT - issue Eleven - September 1993

Robert Wyatt - Mid-Eighties - Rough Trade (R2952)


Robert Wyatt has been involved with Rough Trade for over a decade now: with an open-ended licence to write and release material. He has hardly been prolific during his time with Rough Trade but his output has been consistently challenging. On the heels of the highly successful 'Dondestan' comes this compilation covering the best of the Rough Trade years. Although 'Mid Eighties' comes with the same cover artwork as their earlier release '1982-1984', this is a more complete and satisfying compilation.

Included are all of the 'Work in Progress' EP: the hispanic covers 'Yolanda', 'Te Recuerdo Amanda'; the cover of Peter Gabriel's hit 'Biko' and the deliberate 'Amber and the Amberines', co-written and performed with Hugh Hopper.

Also included are two further covers from the B-side of the hit 'Shipbuilding'. Robert Wyatt's sympathy for jazz tradition has rarely manifested so poignantly as on 'Memories of You', lending his soul also to a re-working of 'Round Midnight'. Old Moler Dave MacRae adds keyboards.

'Old Rottenhat' is reproduced in its entirety. This is a fine album of original compositions which married a more mainstream pop approach with some of Robert's most uncompromising political lyrics. This is stirring stuff: a damning microcosm of British and western perspective during the early Thatcher years. 'Old Rottenhat' sits happily alongside the two rarest (and for me, the most original) compositions of the entire album: 'Chairman Mao' and the questioning 'Pigs'. The former first appeared on a ReR Quarterly compilation and is probably his finest work since 'Sea Song'; the latter is taken from an Artists for Animals release.

A feature of this compilation is its consistent approach. Unlike the complexities of Softs or Matching Mole days, or even the more rounded instrumentation of 'Rock Bottom', 'Ruth...' and the more recent 'Dondestan', these are instantly accessible songs given a twist by the melancholy of the Wyatt voice, just as 'I'm A Believer' was turned on its head ten years earlier. Another instantly recognisable trademark is the keyboard sound. I'm told that the basic sound we hear on Robert Wyatt's solo records emanates from a toy keyboard bought in the mid-Seventies, which possibly lends to the air of innocence found on 'Pigs' and particularly the exquisite lullaby 'P.L.A'.

Clocking in at around eighty minutes, this is not so much a 'best of compilation as a digest of Robert Wyart's Eighties work.


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