ROBERT WYATT — Shleep (review)

ROBERT WYATT — Shleep album cover Album · 1997 · Vocal Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
Sean Trane
By the end of the 90's, Wyatt had left rough Trade to join 60's legend Joe Boyd's label Hannibal records and this was good news for Wyatt, as he would produce some much more inventive records than OR or Dondestan. Recorded in Manzanera's studios with a batch of usual suspects, a few unknown newcomers, plus some surprising appearances such as Belgian JR/F guitarist Philip Catherine and The Jam's Paul Weller. With an Alfie booklet illustration throughout, the Sleep happens to be a delightful walk through the event of Wyatt's life at that moment.

And to say that Shleep had not started well, beginning with the album's weakest song, a Gabriel-esque tune, where Eno adds pop touches not really fitting Robert's personae. Much Wyatt-er is Duchess, filled with gurgling/bubbling/seesawing noises (courtesy of Eno), with Parker's (not Bird, you wisearse) difficult sax and Robert's unsettling piano. The album really starts with the mesmerizing Maryan, a superb Catherine-Wyatt composition, where Wyatt gives a Spanish twist with his trumpet, while Sato's violin is jerking tears from you. Emotions ala Rock Bottom; and it's not about to change with the poignant Was A Friend (Hopper co-writes with Robert). Past the strange intro, Wyatt's voice directly takes you to lands abandoned over two decades ago, with Robert playing all instruments. Last Straw is just around the bend, here!!! Awesome. The power of evocation is overwhelming, as you cannot help but thinking of RB in the lengthy sustained finale...The following Free Will & Testament didn't stand a chance matching the predecessor's dramatic greatness, but Paul Weller pulls a good Gilmour-ian guitar, while Wyatt contributes piano, organ and emotions.

Sept 9th is a mostly instrumental song with the returning Whitehead (remember RISTR?) and Parker adding dramatic horns to an already emotion-filled track. Again we are nearing the sublime of RB, with Whitehead's trombone wracking your guts out. Alien is again striking n the same area of your brains, Manzanera pulling a superb guitar solo over impeccable percussions and Merchan's fabulous bass. Wyatt's emotional voice again reminds of the poignant album resulting of that accident that put him a quarter a century ago in a wheelchair. The short Out Of Season has rob doing the whole instruments, except for Whitehead's trombone drones and is again aiming directly into your soul. Based on an Alfie visit to her parents in Spain, Sunday In Madrid has some stunning moments, with Eno's quiet synth underlines giving some excellent background tension (a bit reminiscent of Van Morroson's St Dominic's Preview), while Wyatt's constant wordy vocals is amazing. But nothing compared with his rap (that's right Robert raps superbly!!!!!) in the awesome Blues In Bob Minor. With Weller pulling some splendid guitar lines, if progheads ever had a problem with rap, BIBM might just be the key to open that door. A phenomenal bet successfully achieved, the album can only lets itself die out with the short Weller-penned instrumental Whole Point Of No Return, a dreamy drone where a trumpet evades to heaven.

Yes, Robert was on a creative high at this point, further help by the movie Little Red Robin Hood, produced by Italian enthusiasts DiLoretto and Bevilacqua, doing a documentary on Robert's activities. Shleep is definitely one of Wyatt's high point, the highest since Rock Bottom for sure and it'll take a complete miracle for him to top Shleep in terms of pure inventiveness. Sleep is just missing on the fifth star, because of a weak bonus track and a shaky start, but outside that, it's really a wonderful trip into Robert's brains.

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