The Deal: Luscious concept record from eccentric Brit.
The Good: Robert Wyatt records have always been worlds unto themselves. Now 62, the former Soft Machine drummer has spent his musical life beyond the pull of pop trends or flavor-of-the-month movements. Free to do indulge his imagination, that's precisely what he's done. Loosely built around three acts, Comicopera chronicles the absurdity of modern life and war, and finds Wyatt cross-pollinating French salon music, cool jazz, bossa nova and Caribbean rhythms, avant-garde, rhumbas, tape loops, spooky pop, and just about anything else that crosses his eclectic path. Wyatt again surrounds himself with top-notch musicians from around the globe – Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera, Annie Whitehead, Paul Weller, Anja Garbarek, Yaron Stavi, Chucho Merchán, to name a few – and when they hit on all cylinders the results can be extraordinary. Muted trumpet and Merchan's slinky bass violin drive the mysterious "Cancion de Julieta"; "Stay Tuned" is Brecht and Weill wrung through the Diva soundtrack; "Just As You Are" is trip-hop, West Coast jazz and Brill Building soul mashed together, and "On the Town Square" is like a Clarence Clemons sax solo stacked atop Trenchtown riddims and steel drums.
The Bad: There are a couple moments that sound like the art cart came before the music horse; the contrast of Wyatt's incessant keyboard comping and Eno's "Enotron" (think vocoder) may get the anti-Iraq War point across on "Out of the Blue," but it's still unpleasant listening.
The Verdict: An adventurous record largely free of the difficult factor.