State of British music VI: Robert Wyatt, Shleep
I'll let the mood generator at AllMusic
handle this one:
Dreamy, Atmospheric, Laid-Back, Mellow, Gentle, Soothing, Whimsical, Trippy, Literate, Witty, Quirky, Nocturnal, Restrained.
Actually, I do have more to say. This is a fucking great album. Wise, crafted, nutty, alinear, obscure but fresh, gnomic but clean, superbly crafted and engineered, it’s a true listener experience. It’s joyous and affirmative and painterly.
There’s a way of gauging quality that I’ve been exercising of late, and that’s to listen for how into
a song the singer is: Jackson is totally IN and experiencing and committed to Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough
, Marvin totally owns Distant Lover
(his heart breaking). It’s a measure of identification, involvement, which comes across most clearly in Soul and which feeling I don’t get from so many of the indifferent singers emoting histrionically in modern radio pop. No doubt because the entire production is owned by the companies that allow them to put their vague stamp on the songs but which is all marketed uniformly (think of how much production work and listening-hours goes into the average turd on the radio, the voice is just an accessory on top of it all; they’re expressions of corporate ownership, not feeling). Anyhoo, in the case of Wyatt, with his distinctively fragile yet lyrical voice, the music of Shleep
is almost the complete opposite of corporate shill: it’s individuated, crafted art: it’s everything we want the arty, expressive and affective potential of modern music to be. Most of the music is generated by contributors but it feels entirely Wyatt’s product; I’d even be tempted to rate this higher, musically, than Dylan’s work, where the feeling of a clear delineation between backing and lead is always maintained. The contributors don’t just make a springboard or conditional atmosphere for Wyatt, they’re participants in the whole expression, the gestalt. As though the magic of Wyatt is to open himself up in this way, in pure collaboration. The success of which is measured by the distinctiveness of his voice or lyrics never once sounding out of place, conflicted or lost in the music.
Most of the structures on Shleep
are deceptively simple: he doesn’t rely on familiar chord patterns (must research his writing technique more) but there’s enough backing vocals to locate this as popular music. Maybe that’s the Eno touch. Instrumentation is almost always motivated by colour rather than virtuosity. The sounds (the means) are always in harmony with the lyrical intent: which I guess is the precedent of painting in Wyatt’s work (and Eno’s, for that matter). A Sunday in Madrid
is probably the superlative song of the album, laden with travelling urgency. The long chorus and shifting melodies of Maryan
are also super. The simplicity is pleasing but beguiling: this is very clever and organically progressive/unpredictable music. And dreamy, wistful and all those other nocturnal review terms.