I have, like so many days, spent all day listening to Robert Wyatt. Doing so is an experience like no other. After his work with Soft Machine and paralyzing accident, he created solo work that is both accessible, insular, deeply personal, and completely universal.
At the height of the "singer-songwriter" era, Wyatt released Rock Bottom. James Taylor was singing about love lost. Wyatt was singing about legs lost; having to redefine life from his wheelchair. He set this to an incredibly ideosyncractic compound of pop, rock, space and jazz. Simply, there is nothing like it, and if more singer-songwriters had taken it as a touchstone, the music world would be a much more interesting place.
Not enough people did, so Wyatt had to pick up his own gauntlet, and without repeating himself, he put out Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard.
And it is equally as brilliant. Solo piano ruminations, New Orleans blues, free jazz, vocalizing: Wyatt takes so much music here and wraps it into songs, songs that work together in perfect coherence. What amazes about Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard is not the command of styles, but how Wyatt sculpts all these together in an album that is deeply intimate for all those fortunate enough, and ballsy enough, to listen. This is not the shining silver arches of 1970s art rock, jazz fusion, adult rock, but a genius letting you into his one room cottage industry--where he crates music that no one else can.
Look at the back cover, how Wyatt draws himself, a bug on wheels. The professor is paralyzed, dragging the music car behind him. The reference is pointed, earthy, and incredibly funny.
"Without little push from your shine covered boot........I'm the one face down in the mud, I'll be stuck here forever unless you kick me hardy." Wyatt says in "Teen Spirit."The professor can't move. But he can say this to song, say this to us, say this to himself.
How much bigger do you want? How much more personal can a singer, a songwriter, get?