INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Rolling Stone APRIL 16, 1998 - by Greg Kot
ROBERT WYATT: SHLEEP
Even within the esoteric confines of British art rock, Robert Wyatt has always been an outsider, a lighthearted sonic chemist puttering on the fringe of a fringe movement for thirty years. After founding visionary prog-rock band Soft Machine in the 1960s, Wyatt cooked up a series of bleak solo albums distinguished by a quiet, conversational singing voice that suggests a wise (if mildly inebriated) elf.
Shleep is not only Wyatt's first full-length release in six years, it is also his most pop-friendly LP in a decade, perhaps because the reclusive singer opened up the recording sessions to a variety of friends and admirers, including fellow maverick Brian Eno, jazz saxophonist Evan Parker and Brit-pop icon Paul Weller.
Each guest makes a significant contribution to Shleep, but the album's soothing tone, lilting melodicism and gentle abstraction are pure Wyatt, who sings and plays drums, piano, fiddle, bass and keyboards. The songs subvert pop form September The Ninth kicks off with more than four minutes of swooning sax and trombone interplay - but still unwind amiably, in keeping with the album's personal, reflective tone. Ghosts, insomnia, the "demented forces" that "push me madly 'round a treadmill" - nothing gets our man down.
An ingratiating weirdness prevails. "I almost forgot where we buried the hatchet," Wyatt muses with a mixture of absent-mindedness and menace on Was A Friend. On Heaps Of Sheeps, a wistful melody pinwheels out of an Eno synthesizer drone as Wyatt sings merrily about a sleepless night, his tender falsetto rising to greet the dawn as if to say, "Let the dreams begin."