Rock Bottom (album)

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.

Rock Bottom
Rwrockbottom.jpg
Studio album by
Released26 July 1974 (1974-07-26)
RecordedDelfina's Farm, Little Bedwyn, Wiltshire (basic tracks), February 1974 – The Manor Studio, Oxfordshire and CBS, London, April–May 1974 (overdubs)[citation needed]
GenreArt rock, Canterbury scene, progressive rock, psychedelic rock[1]
Length39:31
LabelVirgin
ProducerNick 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
Cover of the 1998 re-issue

BackgroundEdit

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."[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]

RecordingEdit

Music and lyricsEdit

ArtworkEdit

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.[4] Details include three teenage girls playing at the beach,[5] a faraway steamer, seagulls and sandcastles.[4] 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.[4] 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."[4]

ReleaseEdit

PromotionEdit

Concert at Theatre Royal, Drury LaneEdit

"I'm a Believer" singleEdit

ReceptionEdit

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic     [1]
AllMusic Guide
(4th ed., 2001)
     [6]
Christgau's Record GuideB+[7]
The Independent     [8]
Mojo     [9]
Pitchfork9.0/10[10]
Q     [11]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide
(3rd ed., 1992)
     [12]
Spin10/10[13]
Uncut     [14]

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,[15] Melody Maker,[16] Sounds,[17] and the Record and Radio Mirror.[18] 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.[19]

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."[7]

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.[10]

Pitchfork listed it as the 98th best album of the 1970s.[20] In 2015, NME ranked the album at 358 on its list of the 500 "greatest albums of all time."[21]

LegacyEdit

The opening track "Sea Song" was covered in 1985 by Tears for Fears for the B-side of the single "I Believe (A Soulful Re-Recording)", the original version of which was dedicated to Wyatt in the LP liner notes.

According to Roland Orzabal, "This track was the B-side to 'I Believe', which was so clearly inspired by Robert Wyatt that I thought it would be a good idea to cover one of his songs for the flip side. His voice in my opinion is one of the best, not something I felt I could match, but if I introduced one person to his music then it would have been worth it."[22]

Track listingEdit

All songs written by Robert Wyatt.

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

PersonnelEdit

ProductionEdit

  • 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)

ReferencesEdit

CitationsEdit

  1. ^ a b Powers, Jim. "Rock Bottom – Robert Wyatt". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 31 May 2012. Retrieved 8 July 2018. Rock Bottom, recorded with a star-studded cast of Canterbury musicians, has been deservedly acclaimed as one of the finest art rock albums... It is also considered an essential record in any comprehensive collection of psychedelic or progressive rock.
  2. ^ Aston 1991.
  3. ^ Wyatt 1998.
  4. ^ a b c d O'Dair 2015, p. 210.
  5. ^ Aston 1989.
  6. ^ Powers 2001, p. 450.
  7. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: W". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved 23 March 2019 – via robertchristgau.com.
  8. ^ Gill, Andy. "Classic Album: Robert Wyatt, Rock Bottom (Domino)". The Independent. Archived from the original on 27 March 2010. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
  9. ^ Paytress 2005.
  10. ^ a b Wolk, Douglas (4 November 2010). "Robert Wyatt: Rock Bottom / Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard / Nothing Can Stop Us / Old Rottenhat / Dondestan (Revisited)". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 5 November 2010. Retrieved 8 July 2018.
  11. ^ Segal 2014.
  12. ^ Evans 1992, p. 787.
  13. ^ Sharp 1998, p. 144.
  14. ^ Cavanagh, David. "Album review: Robert Wyatt - Reissues". Uncut. Archived from the original on 2 January 2011. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
  15. ^ MacDonald 1974.
  16. ^ Lake 1974.
  17. ^ Peacock 1974.
  18. ^ Harvey 1974.
  19. ^ See:
  20. ^ Dahlen, Chris (23 June 2004). "The 100 Best Albums of the 1970s: Robert Wyatt Rock Bottom". Pitchfork. p. 1. Archived from the original on 13 March 2009. Retrieved 8 July 2018.
  21. ^ Beaumont 2015, p. 8.
  22. ^ "memories fade dot com - Sea Song Lyrics". 4 August 2009. Archived from the original on 4 August 2009. Retrieved 1 May 2021.

SourcesEdit

BibliographyEdit

Print articlesEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Gonin, Philippe (2017). Robert Wyatt Rock Bottom. "Discogonie" series (in French). 5. Paris: Éditions Densité. ISBN 978-2-919296-04-0.