Rock Bottom (album)

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Rock Bottom
Studio album by Robert Wyatt
Released 26 July 1974 (1974-07-26)
Recorded Delfina's Farm, Little Chalfont (basic tracks), February 1974 – The Manor Studio, Oxfordshire and CBS, London, April–May 1974 (overdubs)
Genre Progressive rock, Canterbury scene
Length 39:31
Label Virgin 2017
Producer Nick Mason
Robert Wyatt chronology
The End of an Ear
(1970)
Rock Bottom
(1974)
Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard
(1975)
Alternative cover
Cover of the 1998 re-issue

Rock Bottom is the second solo album by former Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt. It was released on 26 July 1974 by Virgin Records. Although Rock Bottom is technically Wyatt's second solo LP, he has stated in several interviews that he considers its predecessor The End of an Ear as juvenilia and not part of the recognised "canon" of Wyatt solo records.[1] The album was produced by Pink Floyd's drummer Nick Mason.

Background[edit]

The band Matching Mole disbanded soon after the release of Little Red Record in 1972, and Wyatt began composing the material that later appeared on Rock Bottom. The album's preparation was interrupted by an accident on the night of 1 June 1973. During a raucous party, at Vale Court, Hall Road, Maida Vale in London, an inebriated Wyatt fell from a third-floor bathroom window and was paralysed from the waist down. Wyatt has used a wheelchair ever since. He later called the event the beginning of his maturity and in hospital he continued to work on the songs that would appear on Rock Bottom "in a trance." "I was just relieved that I could do something from a wheelchair," Wyatt confesses. "If anything, being a paraplegic helped me with the music because being in hospital left me free to dream, and to really think through the music."[2]

Within six months he was back at work in the recording studio and appeared on stage at London's Rainbow Theatre with Pink Floyd and Soft Machine, who lent financial support by playing a benefit concert for him. Although the music itself is intense and often harrowing, and the lyrics to the songs are dense and obviously deeply personal, Wyatt has denied that the material was a direct result of the accident and the long period of recuperation. Indeed, much of the album had been written while in Venice in early 1973 prior to Wyatt's accident, where his partner and future wife (the poet Alfreda Benge) was working as an assistant editor on Nicolas Roeg's film Don't Look Now.[3]

Concept[edit]

Enlisting friends and luminaries such as Fred Frith, Ivor Cutler and Pink Floyd's Nick Mason (who produced the album), Wyatt recorded most of the album shortly after his release from hospital. In July 1974, the album was released to great critical acclaim. Cutler's performance (reciting a semi-nonsensical narrative halfway through "Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road" and intoning the same poem in a flat baritone voice at the end of "Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road" to close the album) was singled out for its brilliance, which resulted in his being offered a three-album deal with Virgin Records.

The record's abstract sketches of pain, loss and suffering are shot through with vivid flashes of love and renewal, inspired as it was by his relationship with Alfreda Benge, whom he married on the day of Rock Bottom's release. Benge provided the artwork for all his album covers and considerable lyrical assistance.

Rock Bottom contains six songs, some of which have more traditional song structures (for instance the opening "Sea Song" or "Alifib"), while others are less defined, more expressionist pieces displaying a jazz influence (as in "Alifie", or the album's centrepiece "Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road"). Side two starts with a medley of sorts ("Alifib/Alifie"), with Wyatt first singing and then reciting in a disjointed manner lyrics apparently dedicated to Benge, who replies with her own vocal at the end of "Alifie". The LP closer, "Little Red Robin Hood Hit The Road", is divided into two parts; the first is a melodic progressive rock song featuring prominent electric guitars, predominantly multi-tracked by Mike Oldfield, and a chant-like vocal refrain, while the second part—bearing little resemblance to the first—features only a droning harmonium, harshly-scraped violin and guest vocalist Ivor Cutler reciting bizarre lyrics in a monotone voice.

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars[4]
Robert Christgau B+[5]
Rolling Stone 3.5/5 stars[6]
The Independent 5/5 stars[7]
Mojo (magazine) 5/5 stars[8]
Pitchfork Media (9.0/10.0)[9]
Uncut 5/5 stars[10]

Rock Bottom sold better than expected, and reviews were positive; the record and its attendant good publicity (including his only major live appearance as a solo artist, at London's Theatre Royal in September 1974) established Wyatt as a respected solo artist independent of his history with Soft Machine. Concurrently, Wyatt also released a non-album single, a straight cover of The Monkees' "I'm a Believer", which reached the British Top 30. After the almost immediate follow-up Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard (of which he composed very little, concentrating on lyrics and arrangements) Wyatt did not release another studio album of his own material until 1985's Old Rottenhat. Pitchfork Media listed Rock Bottom as 98th best album of the 1970s.[11]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Robert Wyatt.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Sea Song"   6:31
2. "A Last Straw"   5:46
3. "Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road"   7:40
Side two
No. Title Length
4. "Alifib"   6:55
5. "Alifie"   6:31
6. "Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road"   6:08

Personnel[edit]

Production personnel[edit]

  • Nick Mason – Producer
  • Steve Cox – Engineer
  • Dick Palmer – Engineer
  • Toby Bird – Assistant Engineer

Album cover[edit]

The artwork for the cover of the album, both the delicate drawing for the 1974 original and the colourful painting for the 1998 re-issue, were by Alfreda Benge.

References[edit]

  1. ^ King, M., Wrong Movements – A Robert Wyatt History (1999), ISBN 0-946719-10-1
  2. ^ "Comrade Softy – Q N°61 – October 1991 – A Robert Wyatt discography". Disco-robertwyatt.com. Retrieved 7 March 2012. 
  3. ^ From Wyatt's liner notes to the 1998 CD reissue of Rock Bottom on Hannibal/Rykodisc
  4. ^ Powers, Jim (1 June 1974). "Rock Bottom – Robert Wyatt : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 3 June 2012. 
  5. ^ "CG: wyatt". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 3 June 2012. 
  6. ^ "Robert Wyatt: Rock Bottom". Henrik Franzon. Retrieved 24 May 2014. 
  7. ^ "Classic Album: Robert Wyatt, Rock Bottom (Domino) – Reviews, Music – The Independent". Web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 27 March 2010. Retrieved 3 June 2012. 
  8. ^ "The MOJO Interview – Mojo N° 144 – November 2005 – A Robert Wyatt discography". Disco-robertwyatt.com. 1 June 1973. Retrieved 3 June 2012. 
  9. ^ "Robert Wyatt: Rock Bottom / Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard / Nothing Can Stop Us / Old Rottenhat / Dondestan (Revisited) | Album Reviews". Pitchfork. 4 November 2010. Retrieved 3 June 2012. 
  10. ^ "Music Reviews". Uncut.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2 January 2011. Retrieved 3 June 2012. 
  11. ^ "Staff Lists: Top 100 Albums of the 1970s | Features". Pitchfork. 23 June 2004. Retrieved 7 March 2012.