Founding member of art rock group Soft Machine, Robert Wyatt, helped set the tone of the sixties psychedelic scene in the UK. With his distinctive drumming and vocals, Wyatt attracted a massive following across Europe. An accident in 1973 left the drummer paralyzed forcing him to shift efforts on solo recordings. His distinct style of mixing simple and effective keyboard melody lines with poignant lyrics, often filled with personal and political references, have proved both haunting and reflective. Rykodisc is proud to introduce you to 4 re-mastered Wyatt classics - Old Rottenhat, Nothing Can Stop Us, Dondestan (Revisited), Shleep.
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Elliot Knapp | Seattle, Washington United States | 05/31/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Robert Wyatt's (roughly) 5th full-length studio album, Dondestan, was his first of the 90's, only his second since the 70's, and began the relatively steady stream of albums that he has produced since, and oh yeah, it's a great album and an absolutely necessary part of his catalog.
In many ways, Dondestan picks up where Wyatt's previous full-length, Old Rottenhat, left off, in both theme and music. Wyatt still plays all of the instruments (mostly different keyboards, percussion, and vocals), and either wrote or co-wrote all of the songs with his wife, Alfreda Benge (except for "Lisp Service," whose music was written by ex-Soft Machine bandmate Hugh Hopper). As a result, the album is a seamless whole--the songs flow quite naturally, and the album has a characteristic overall sound. Despite its similarities, Dondestan is different from (and stronger than, in my opinion) its predecessor, Old Rottenhat. Dondestan is considerably more downbeat than Old Rottenhat, with only a couple tracks (like the clever and upbeat "Shrinkrap" and the playful political commentary of "Dondestan") breaking its narcotic, intoxicating spell. Surprisingly, the record's overall slowness doesn't detract, since the songs performances and moods are all so well done. Improvements from the last record also include more accessible instrumentation--Wyatt still uses his characteristic unidentifiable keyboards, but he's also incorporated a lot more piano, which gives the album a more organic sound than the last--and the political/ideological edge that was so apparent on Old Rottenhat, though not absent, is less up front, and is not a feature of many of the songs (mostly those with Benge's lyrics).
"Costa," the album's opening track, begins with a droning synthesizer, soon followed by Wyatt's sublime voice. Immediately, the album's hypnotic tone is set, and Benge's mysterious lyrics only add to the mood. Wyatt's always spry cymbal and tom work drives the song's groove on top of the subdued keys. The song fades, and "The Sight of the Wind" fades in--Wyatt's a cappella percussion is ghostly above the (again) hypnotic synth lines, and the jazzy inflection of Wyatt's voice delivers Benge's lines with his inimitable interpretive flair--could any other singer evoke as much emotion out of the word "Sanskrit"? "Catholic Architecture" is peaceful and dreamy ("lovingly lacerated hands" must be one of the most beautiful phrases Wyatt has sung), powered by a spare piano line, and "Worship" is a great lounge-style tune. The music gets jazzy with "CP Jeebies," which could easily have fit with the Communist Party sentiments on Old Rottenhat. "Left On Man" has a great groove, with the background vocals repeating "simplify, reduce, oversimplify." By the end of "Dondestan," the synthesizers suggest that the album is ready to start over again with "Costa."
Overall, Dondestan is a wispy, gorgeous dream of an album. As usual, much of the delight is in simply listening to Robert Wyatt sing, but that joy wouldn't be as great were the songs and production not as strong as they are. If you're new to Robert Wyatt, I'd start with his mid-70's work (Rock Bottom is always referenced as his best, for good reasons), and if you've heard some other stuff, I think I'd probably recommend working through his albums chronologically--Dondestan sounds better and makes more sense having heard Old Rottenhat, and taking the time to get to know Dondestan (this is active listening music) will make the lush instrumentation and production of Wyatt's later masterpieces Shleep and Cuckooland that much more enjoyable. Finally, Wyatt ran out of money while recording Dondestan, and 7 years later, in 1998, managed to reorganize and remix the album into Dondestan (Revisited). If you pick up Dondestan, which I heartily recommend, you might want to check out both versions first before you decide (I can't wait to pick up the newer version now that I've come to love the original)."