A national treasure makes another peerless album...
Chris Jones 2007-10-05
Three years on from Cuckooland, Comicopera is just that: A tragicomedy split into three parts dealing with matters domestic, political and spiritual. Robert Wyatt is a man who we’ve come to expect to behave like an ‘institution’, if only by dint of the fact that he’s now been turning out brilliant work virtually undiminished since the late 60s (including his amazing work as Soft Machine’s drummer). Thus, it seems like a rude awakening that the first third of this album concerns itself with a story of domestic strife that mirrors his own recent battle with alcoholism.
But then you realise that it’s a story told by the other - now inextricable - half of Team Wyatt - his partner, Alfreda Benge. With all the honesty, modesty and candour that’s made Robert and Alfie such enduring treasures in an increasingly vapid musical landscape, they fearlessly chronicle the foibles that nearly tore them apart. The key text here is the duet with Karen Mantler about the pitfalls of long-term partnership on “Just As You Are”.
Wyatt himself would be the first to admit to a fondness for pop in its purest form, and so it is that Comicopera is dotted with some quite exquisite tunes. It’s a more jazz-inflected offering than the previous album which eschewed the lo-fi vibe that really suits his delivery. Just listen to him muttering about flattened roadkill on the beginning of “A Beautiful Peace”…
Comicopera still retains the loping, swing-inflected forms that never bludgeon you with polemic or too much structure but gently entice you in to a parallel world where Wyatt’s voice - often approaching the sound of an interior monologue - makes you feel right at home. As such the album’s politicised middle section – Here And Now – becomes doubly effective as thought-provoking material. It addresses issues such as theological uncertainty (“Be Serious”) or the two sides of a middle Eastern bombing raid with “A Beautiful War” and “Out Of The Blue” which disarmingly describes the devastation wrought with the line ‘something unbelievable is happening to the floor’.
Aided by the usual suspects like Eno (creepy vocals on “Out Of The Blue”), Phil Manzanera, Paul Weller and saxophonist Gilad Atzmon, Comicopera only dips slightly in its last third – Away With The Fairies – where with having spent all his bile in English, he continues entirely in Spanish. The songs remain as delicately effecting, though Lorca’s poetry (on “Cancion De Julieta”) may be wasted on English ears. But no matter; it’s still an album of this or any other year.