Once drummer and vocalist with avant-rock ensemble The Soft Machine, Robert Wyatt is a rare exception to the rule that artists never produce their best work after departing their former employers. With a soft, sad voice he actually sounded older than he really was. Never forgetting his jazz roots, which became prominent in his group material, Wyatt crucially learned how to write and develop on strong material combined with some unique production techniques which made him more influential than he was originally given credit for. Despite this, Wyatt's best known work remains his interpretations of others. Happily, critical recognition has been all but secured now as he became curator of the recent Meltdown festival; taking over from last year's similarly revered incumbent Scott Walker.
EPs collects singles, B-sides and remixes from Robert Wyatt's early material in the early 70s to his comeback album 'Schleep' recorded in the late 90's. The 5 EPs vary a little in quality; the music from 'The Animals' is a largely unsatisfying instrumental piece which could have been far more effective as the Animal Rights film was centred on horrific images of abuse against animals. It's best to remember this truly individual vocalist for his earlier, more vital work. The cover of 'I'm A Believer' achieves the impossible by making this pop classic sound doleful and downbeat rather than the chirpy number released by The Monkees. Another cover, Elvis Costello's 'Shipbuilding' suits him better with Wyatt delivering the protest song without ever sounding overwrought. 'Memories Of You' and 'Round Midnight' remain peculiarly haunting thanks in no small part to the echo attached to Wyatt's vocals pre-dating the kind of dislocated feel achieved on AR Kane's '69' album some 15 years later. Worthy but less accessible are the recordings of Chilean and Cuban artists which are sung in their native tongue; further evidence of the artist's interest in World Music. Perhaps the most pleasant surprises are the excellent remixes from 'Schleep' making a man in his mid-fifties seem more relevant now than ever.