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Mojo AUGUST 6, 2009 - by Jenny Bulley
ROBERT WYATT: CUCKOOLAND
Six long years after Robert Wyatt's previous solo album Shleep, Cuckooland, arrived in troubled times. A baby born in Baghdad at the start of the first gulf war, the conditions facing gypsies seeking asylum from the Czech Republic and the plight of factory farmed sheep were all on the singing sticksman's mind in 2003 when Wyatt, along with poet wife lyricist Alfreda Benge, drafted in illustrious friends including trombonist Annie Whitehead, Dave Gilmour and Paul Weller on guitars, Brian Eno and Carla Bley's daughter Karen Mantler to indulge his taste in charmingly eccentric instrumentation, including, on Cuckoo Madam, the sort of toy-town keyboards reminiscent of his 1976 keystone, Rock Bottom. A comfortable, wonky jazz feeling permeates the spare, sorrowful songs but the real star, as always, is Wyatt's ageless voice, softly crooning his whiskery wisdom as if soothing a skittish horse. Cuckooland is a lesson in achieving sophistication through economy, there is even a thirty-second silence dividing the album into two parts ("for those with tired ears to pause..."). Ageing also concerns Lullaloop, one of Cuckooland's moments of light relief in which Wyatt gives affectionate voice to Benge's song about a grumbling old man trying to get to sleep ("Don that duvet / Cook that cocoa / Turn that music down!"). The overall effect is one of enchanting melody and sharp, informed songwriting, that arcane, folksy album title suggesting either Wyatt or the rest of us are living in cloud cuckooland and I rather suspect it's not him.