Rock Bottom (album)
|Studio album by|
|Released||26 July 1974|
|Recorded||Delfina's Farm, Little Bedwyn, Wiltshire (basic tracks), February 1974 – The Manor Studio, Oxfordshire and CBS, London, April–May 1974 (overdubs)|
|Genre||Progressive rock, Canterbury scene, jazz fusion, art rock|
|Robert Wyatt chronology|
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. The album was produced by Pink Floyd's drummer Nick Mason, and was recorded following a 1973 accident which left Wyatt a paraplegic. He enlisted musicians including Ivor Cutler, Hugh Hopper, Richard Sinclair, Laurie Allan, Mike Oldfield and Fred Frith in the recording.
The album has received acclaim as a seminal work of art rock. Although Rock Bottom is technically Wyatt's second solo LP, he has stated that he considers its predecessor The End of an Ear as juvenilia and not part of the recognised "canon" of Wyatt solo records.
- 1 Background
- 2 Recording
- 3 Music and lyrics
- 4 Album artwork
- 5 Release
- 6 Reception
- 7 Legacy
- 8 Track listing
- 9 Personnel
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
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", he said. "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."
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.
Music and lyrics
Enlisting friends and luminaries including 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 three quarters of the way 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 "Alife", or the album's centrepiece "Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road"). Side two starts with a medley of sorts ("Alifib/Alife"), 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 "Alife". 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, viola and guest vocalist Ivor Cutler reciting bizarre lyrics in a monotone voice.
Rock Bottom has been released with two different covers, both featuring artworks by Benge. The cover found on the original LP and several reissues is a pencil drawing of a scene at an ocean shore. The upper area of the cover, inspired by a Victorian-era book cover, depicts activity along the beach and off to the horizon, while the bottom third gives an underwater view of strange animal and plant life in the sea. Details include three teenage girls playing at the beach, a faraway steamer, seagulls and sandcastles. Benge intended the cover's subdued style to strike a contrast with the dominant trend of fantastical progressive rock album art, best typified by Roger Dean's science fiction-inspired artwork for Yes. At a time when "all the covers were getting more and more complicated, competing with each other for pizzazz", Benge said, "the only way to counter that ... was to be absolutely minimal and quiet."
Concert at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
"I'm a Believer" single
|AllMusic Guide(4th ed., 2001)|||
|Christgau's Record Guide||B+|
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide(3rd ed., 1992)|||
Rock Bottom sold better than expected, and was released to acclaim from critics. The British musical press praised the album, with positive reviews in NME, Melody Maker, Sounds, and the Record and Radio Mirror. The album charted in the United States on Billboard FM Action—a chart that measured airplay of LPs on "progressive rock" radio stations—where it peaked at number 13 in 1975.
Village Voice critic Robert Christgau wrote of Rock Bottom in a retrospective review, "I'm at a loss to describe this album of 'drones and songs' conceived and recorded after Wyatt's crippling accident except to say that the keyboards that dominate instrumentally are of a piece with his lovely tortured-to-vulnerable quaver and that the mood is that of a paraplegic with the spirit to conceive and record an album of drones and songs."
Reviewing the album for Pitchfork, Douglas Wolk said:
The six songs of Rock Bottom were a new kind of music for Wyatt: very slow, exquisitely deliberate. (It's easy to hear echoes of the album in latter-day Radiohead, among others.) The magnificent "Sea Song" is the most immediately gripping piece here, but everything has peculiar little joys that take their time emerging.
All songs written by Robert Wyatt.
|2.||"A Last Straw"||5:46|
|3.||"Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road"||7:40|
|6.||"Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road"||6:08|
- Robert Wyatt – vocals, keyboards, percussion, slide guitar (2), James' drum (1, 3 and 5), Delfina's wineglass (2), Delfina's tray and a small battery (3)
- Mike Oldfield – guitar (6)
- Gary Windo – bass clarinet, tenor saxophone (5)
- Ivor Cutler – voice (3 and 6), baritone concertina, harmonium (6)
- Alfreda Benge – voice (5)
- Mongezi Feza – trumpets (3)
- Fred Frith – viola (6)
- Hugh Hopper – bass guitar (2, 4 and 5)
- Richard Sinclair – bass guitar (1, 3 and 6)
- Laurie Allan – drums (2 and 6)
- Nick Mason – producer
- Steve Cox – engineer (at The Manor and on Delfina's Farm)
- Dick Palmer – engineer (at CBS London)
- Toby Bird – assistant engineer (at CBS London)
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