Robert Wyatt has been releasing music now for roughly four decades, first as a member of the group Soft Machine, and then on a slew of solo albums between 1970 and now. Comicopera is his first true new album since 2003's Cuckooland (although since that time he's released both the live Theatre Royal Drury Lane and His Greatest Misses compilation), and it's another strange and often wonderful release from an artist who at this point simply doesn't really care about genre labels or any other associations that are thrown his way.
As the title suggests Comicopera is a loose sort of operatic piece that is split into three sections; one focusing on inner thoughts and worries, another dealing with Western conflicts, and a third tackling more worldly concerns (going so far to sing in non-English for the final act, reflecting a feel of alienation from his own country). Moreso than on a couple of his previous releases, this sixteen song, hourlong album is a real celebration of friends and musicians just playing in a room together. And what a group of friends it is. Brian Eno shows up on keyboard and effects, Paul Weller adds guitar in places, Phil Manzanera adds guitar, and a batch of others contribute everything from trombone to strings to vibraphone.
It's a fairly light-sounding release, even when it gets a bit more heavy lyrically, but at the same time it doesn't lack teeth. It kicks off with a warm, jazzy cover of Anja Garbarek's "Stay Tuned," and it sets the stage perfectly with with a lovely plea of soft horns and woodwinds. The entire first act largely moves in this same vein, with a couple tickles thrown in for good measure, and although the second act doesn't exactly take off, it does start introducing more and more unique elements as it moves along. "On The Town Square" arrives almost exactly halfway through the album, and provides a great mid-way point instrumental with saxophone, cornet, and synth, guitar, and loads of percussion (including steel drums).
"Out Of The Blue" marks the end of the second act, and is probably the most turbulent song on the release with sampled vocal snippets (of Eno), horns, and other elements all creating an uneasy atmosphere that fits well with the hyper-political lyrics of Wyatt. Arriving near the end of the release, the heaving, low-slung jazz of "Cancion De Julieta" is yet another interesting wrinkle on an album that has everything from acoustic ditties to improv-style vibraphone/effects jams. It's definitely ambitious, and probably a little pretentious in places, but it works darn near all the time and is a downright joy in many places. Despite making music, Wyatt isn't exactly a household name, but with his first release on Domino and easily some of his strongest music in awhile, hopefully he'll gain a few more fans with Comicopera.