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Robert Wyatt's Cuckooland was the No.1 album on Wire's Best of 2003 and No. 3 on BigO's chart. It's a state of the world pronouncement. But it's not grand, it's not huge and it's not loud. Instead, it's funny, intelligent and gentle. It's a plea to be reasonable. Review by Philip Cheah.

After listening to Robert Wyatt's Cuckooland [Rykodisc] for two months, I am convinced that there is a musicality in Robert Wyatt's famed "wino's mutter" that even Sean O'Hagan of the High Llama's would want to emulate. And he did! Cuckooland made both Wire magazine and BigO's Top 3 albums of 2003 rating and deserves it.

Since his early days with the '60s jazz-influenced progressive-rock band, Soft Machine, Wyatt's taste for jazz has evolved. Here, he plays with and interprets songs by Carla Bley's daughter, Karen Mantler, and swings with trombonist Annie Whitehead and reed player Gilad Atzmon.

Wyatt has an ironic sense of humour which needs some penetrating. So while Old Europe celebrates the moment of love that jazz legend Miles Davis had with Juliette Greco, in Paris in 1949, it's also a dig at George Bush, about the old Europe which didn't support him in the war on Iraq. It's a lovely, old-timey, big-band melody filled with clarinet, saxes and trumpets, all the love that has no time for hate.

Just A Bit, which opens the album, is another brilliant satire. Here, Wyatt mocks the facile hopefulness of modern times. As Wyatt observes, "there's no room for doubt" and he concludes, "I feel safer touching wood." His fragile vocal just about slithers into your memory after the 10th time you hear it.

And Cuckoo Madame will crack up anyone who recognises the track as a perverse Margaret Thatcher joke: "You're Greta Garbo/you're the witch of Salem." It's the Beach Boys at their finest moment with Wyatt imitating all of them solo and playing all instruments.

In Lullaby For Hamza, Wyatt documents the humanity that the War on Iraq ignores, this time a lullaby for children who can't sleep when the bombs start raining down.

  Foreign Accents is a challenging piece. Basically a track made up of chants, Wyatt chooses the words Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Mordechai Vanunu and Mohammad Mossadegh. All refer to US aggression and the real weapons of mass destruction. Hiroshima and Nagasaki refers to the first sites where the weapons of mass destruction were unleashed. Vanunu is an Israeli scientist, who in 1986 revealed to the press that Israel had secretly produced nuclear weapons, was then kidnapped by Israeli secret police and sentenced to 18 years in jail. Mossadegh was removed as Iran's prime minister in 1953 by the US and UK's secret services for nationalising Iranian oil. The Shah of Iran was then installed as a pro-western dictator. And we all know what happened after that.

Wyatt is so awe-inspiring that he even coaxes a limpid guitar solo from Pink Floyd's David Gilmour on Forest and gets Brian Eno to add odd touches on two tracks.

And if by the end of the album, you think Wyatt is cracked then you've got him wrong. Who else can do such a tender piano instrumental of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant's Raining In My Heart or Antonio Carlos Jobim's Insensatez? Wyatt is almost the last true eccentric in British music. He doesn't care where the music industry is heading but he does care about the world…





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