Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Robert Wyatt

  • Rock Bottom [Caroline, 1974] B+
  • Nothing Can Stop Us [Rough Trade, 1982] B+
  • 1982-1984 [Rough Trade, 1984] A-
  • Old Rottenhat [Rough Trade, 1985] B-
  • Dondestan [Gramavision, 1991] Dud
  • Shleep [Hannibal, 1998] Neither
  • Cuckooland [Hannibal/Ryko, 2003] Dud

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Rock Bottom [Caroline, 1974]
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. B+

Nothing Can Stop Us [Rough Trade, 1982]
In which the CPUK turns the unwary art-rocker into Pete Seeger. Long convinced that there's no percentage in soft-soaping the masses, Wyatt is more candidly propagandistic than, say, the Weavers--no "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine" (the Raincoats would never speak to him again), two tracks praising Stalin Foiler-of-the-Fascist-Foe. And his modernized concept of the folk enables him to transform a Chic song into a hymn. But internationalist sentiment still prevails--from Bangladeshi folk-rock to a stirring "Guantanamera"--and so does the shameless lust for killer melodies. In fact, if Wyatt had a freak voice as universal as Pete Seeger's he might move the left-wing masses quite nicely. B+

1982-1984 [Rough Trade, 1984]
Wish there were English cribs for the two Spanish songs on this rather skimpy eight-cut compilation, because Wyatt's way with a lyric is one of the things that makes his hypnotic quaver so musical. But his arrangement of "Biko" for harmonium and percussion is so dumbfounding that I listen right through Victor Jara and Pedro Milanos anyway, and the melodies are growing on me. Side one surrounds Thelonious Monk and Eubie Blake with two pieces of communist propaganda, one by Elvis Costello and one by Wyatt himself. A-

Old Rottenhat [Rough Trade, 1985]
Set your political statements to unprepossessingly hypnotic music and you'd better be sure your politics are spot on--astute, clear, epigrammatic, correct. Don't deploy a slur like "aryan" anachronistically or attribute a phrase of Harold Rosenberg's to Noam Chomsky. Don't insult the genocide in East Timor with minimalist obscurantism. Don't preach to the converted until you've made more converts. B-

Dondestan [Gramavision, 1991] Dud

Shleep [Hannibal, 1998] Neither

Cuckooland [Hannibal/Ryko, 2003] Dud