Robert Wyatt: '68

This four-song compilation of newly unearthed Wyatt/Soft Machine demos is a treasure trove for fans of both the man and his influential band(s).

Robert Wyatt


Label: Cuneiform
US Release Date: 2013-10-08
UK Release Date: 2013-10-14

In his song “Rock ‘n’ Roll Animals in Space”, British truth-sayer Luke Haines states, “The Soft Machine with Robert Wyatt / They were righteous. The Soft Machine post-Wyatt / are still righteous.” Whether progressive rock -- particular progressive rock with jazz inflections -- is your thing or not, it is very difficult to disregard the Soft Machine’s legacy or, well, consistent righteousness. Wyatt’s contribution to both is enormous, and all the proof needed is in record label Cuneiform’s spate of Wyatt-centric releases, from its compilations of live material from Matching Mole, Wyatt’s post-Soft Machine group to last year’s ’68, a collection of newly-unearthed demos recorded by Wyatt following Soft Machine’s supporting slot on a tour of America with the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

The demos that make up ’68 are especially edifying to Soft Machine die-hards. A first glimpse of Third’s 20-minute “Moon in June” is a major focal point here, and snatches of “Rivmic Melodies”, the disc's other stand out, inform many songs that would make up Soft Machine’s Volume Two. Repeat listens, however, reveal seedlings of Wyatt’s own solo career as well. The sound collages that occupy 1970’s The End of an Ear are rudimentarily hinted at throughout the aforementioned “Rivmic Melodies”, which both contains an extended snatch of Volume Two’s “Concise Alphabet” and, in its repetition, points to the direction Wyatt would turn when going it alone.

The playfulness apparent in much of Wyatt’s work is also documented here in abundance. He is at one point quoted in ’68’s liner notes as stating that “Moon in June”’s title is “just another joke.” Due to its lyrics about regret over being in New York and not in England raising his young son, “...the words were like soap opera. And the title ‘Moon in June’ was a joke about all soap opera songs.” The song “Slow Walkin’ Talk”, on which Jimi Hendrix plays bass, was originally written by Brian Hopper, of Wyatt’s first band, the Wilde Flowers. With new lyrics, it later became the whimsical “Soup Song” on Wyatt’s 1975 release Ruth Is Stranger than Richard. The song retains its humor in both forms, although hearing Wyatt remark “a snail could form a herd” in his trademark delicate vocals gives ’68’s version a slight upper hand. ’68’s other short song, “Chelsa”, in Wyatt’s estimation, was written by fellow former Soft Machine member Kevin Ayers. For those not as spellbound by longform, more progressive compositions, this serves as a standout on the four-song disc. Its technicolor sky melody and day-dreamy vocalizations mark the song as one of the more tangible pieces on ’68. This being a release from a noted pataphysics enthusiast, those can be few and far between.

For all of ’68’s merits, it should be noted that its appeal for non-die hard Robert Wyatt or Soft Machine fans is something difficult to argue. A listener with a casual interest in either may not have the patience to wade the complexities of each of the four pieces present on '68, particularly when two of those four are over 15 minutes long. If someone is at all curious about Wyatt or his contributions to modern music, the go-to release remains Rock Bottom or the still-sounds-groundbreaking The End of an Ear. Still, unearthed Wyatt material is far better than no Wyatt material at all. The prog-jazz inclinations and sketch-pad vibes of ’68 may not be instantly accessible, but to the converts, this is as great a lost musical treasure as any.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.