Robert Wyatt is a verb. Seriously. “Wyatting” is the act of going into a bar with a jukebox and playing the strangest track on it with the only intention being to annoy the other drinkers. From what I understand, Robert Wyatt tracks are perfect for “wyatting,” but I must confess to never actually seeing a Robert Wyatt song on a jukebox, but I have dropped a few quarters on “Revolution 9” to achieve the same effect.
I quickly learned that most bartenders have the ability to reset the device and move on to the next track.
There’s not a track on Robert’s 16th album, Comicopera, that would qualify as annoying. As it stands, every track on it is surprisingly accessible (by Wyatt terms, anyway) even though the subject matter, contemplations on the absurdity of our lives, doesn’t seem like fodder for social drinking.
Instead, it’s an album of incredible introspection, filled to the gills with contributing musicians and dozens of different instruments. Performers like Brian Eno, Paul Weller, and Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera join in, along with a guest list of artists from around the world that I’m really too absorbed to recognize, since my tastes run more towards the rock than genres that are probably more important.
And make no mistake, Comicopera has more in common with jazz than it does with the material that probably brought you to this website. So take the album’s perceived brilliance with a big old grain of salt, as it’s an album that people smarter than you listen to, but I question how often.
It’s not because Comicopera is a bad album. Far from it. But the subject matter, the vastness of it all and the huge scope that it takes to address it all, can make for one incredibly dismal release.
Wyatt is a radical, which means that those who align themselves with him and his music will probably be offended by all of this, and I understand why. But then again, Wyatt has offered his own opinion of the ills of this world that, I feel, entitles me to offer my opinion of his take on it. To that point, I’m drained of this kind of cynicism (as well as low-brow variations of it that produce voter apathy) because I feel a strong urge to move forward regardless of how fucked things may seem today.
Part of this may have something to do that I wake up each morning to two kids completely obvious to the world’s problems, filled with unrequited joy that a new day is beginning. So in other words, I gotta fucking believe, because I certainly don’t want them to turn out as embittered as Wyatt seems now.
When Wyatt opines from his wheelchair, regardless of topic, his voice sounds utterly defeated. Whether he’s smacking at organized religion, war, or longing for similar minded radicals like Che Guevara, Wyatt comes across as a sad old man at the end of the bar who offers his opinions to anyone willing to sit long enough to listen and pay for the drinks during the process.
By the end of Comicopera, Wyatt’s singing in Spanish and Italian, metaphorically reminding us that our planet is larger than the one we see outside of our front doors everyday while flipping the bird at the England’s (and America’s) inability at producing a political agenda that meets his approval. So rather than inspire us, he essentially gives up on us, positioning us as too far gone to correct the ills that our elected officials have laid before us.
Unfortunately, the last half of the album also reminds me how awesome the first half of the album was before it transformed into such an indignant drag.
Or, to put it another way, before Robert himself turned Comicopera into another night of wyatting.
Previously: Kevin Ayers – The Unfairground review.