Timed to coincide with Marcus O’Dair’s biography of the same name, this double anthology spans Robert Wyatt’s long career from Canterbury’s late-1960s free-jazzing prog-folk scene to his most recent solo albums.
Kicking off the first disc, Ex Machina, Soft Machine’s Moon In June sounds like A Whiter Shade Of Pale for free-jazzing Krautrock fans, while Matching Mole’s Signed Curtain showcases Wyatt’s verbal wit with a sleepy-voiced lyric that deconstructs the songwriting process while ruminating on the futility of art. Although some of the 1980s material now feels a little musically stiff and politically dry, post-millennial tracks such as Cuckoo Madame and Beware are warm savant-jazz ballads backed by guest players including Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno./o:p
Manzanera appears again on the second disc, Benign Dictatorships, a collection of Wyatt’s collaborations. From bilingual Euro-cabaret chansons to vaguely Eastern reggae-tinged experiments with Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, not everything here has aged gracefully. But Submarine is a voluptuous vocal collaboration with Björk, while Wyatt’s definitive reading of Elvis Costello’s Shipbuilding feels as powerful as ever. Always engaging, occasionally magical./o:p