Review Summary: Partly fish, partly porpoise, partly baby sperm whale, Am I yours? Are you mine to play with?
The upper half of the cover to Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom
shows a deceptively simple scene: three girls, one holding four small balloons in her hand, play around on the shore of an ocean. Behind them, two gulls glide over the waves, and a steamboat sails towards a distant lighthouse, leaving a ripple of water behind. A small sand castle stands by the girls, caressed by waves. And yet, below this peaceful, mundane scene lies a hidden world, filled with mystery and awe: giant jellyfish swim amongst contorted seaweeds and barnacles, mountains rise, twisting out of the ocean floor, endless canyons fall, and exotic plants of every sort grow in the safety of salty sea water. The album itself feels very much like that.
begins in a relatively straightforward manner with Sea Song and Last Straw. Both of these densely atmospheric songs feature Wyatt’s airy voice singing pleasant, peaceful melodies above a jazzy backdrop of pianos, synths, and acoustic basses. But after the last note of Last Straw fades away and the trumpets of Little Red Riding Hood Hit The Road enter, playing a dramatic fanfare, the album evolves into a complex, unorthodox work.
Dissonant horns, Alice In Wonderland-esque lyrics, percussive instruments of all sorts, ranging from militaristic snares to tribal bongos, and ever-present jazzy baselines all converge together and form a surreal, at times disquieting, soundscape. The melancholy vocal melodies are still there, but, with the addition of the frequently-schizophrenic instrumentation, they are tinged with a touch of paranoia and instability. The latter is reinforced by decidedly abstract lyrics, which range from a recitation of a nonsensical poem about the life of a highwayman to whispers of “Not nit not nit no not, nit nit folly bololey, Alifi my larder.”
The unorthodox lyrics, instruments, and melodies all combine to create an atmosphere that is as enticing as it is disturbing. The whole album is melancholic, brooding, and a bit paranoid, but it has an indescribable, quirky quality that makes everything oddly soothing. From Alfib’s sunny bass solo to the icy Little Red Robin Hood Hit The Road, the album never feels overbearing, even when all of the instruments play in full force.
invites listeners to dive into a hidden world, where conventional rules are forgotten and imagination becomes reality, where fear and beauty are one. Who knows, maybe you’ll never want to leave - I sure as hell don’t...