Since leaving Soft Machine, Robert Wyatt has pursued a restless, delightfully confounding, occasionally maddening exploratory path as solo artist and collaborator. There are no complete compilations of his work. Even his nine-disc box set omitted End of an Ear and both Matching Mole albums. Different Every Time was assembled to accompany Marcus O'Dair's fantastic Wyatt biography of the same title.
Robert Wyatt’s recording career is considerably longer than my life here on Earth. There are of course plenty of people who write about music who can come out with that statement, but it deserves to be laboured for a bit. This extraordinary musician – who by all accounts and testimonies appears to be a very nice man as well – has enriched the lives of many for almost five decades now, either as a founder member of Soft Machine or with his own idiosyncratic solo material.
Any compilation that begins with a near 20-minute opus that, in its day, extended the parameters of what a rock song could get away with, and ends nearly 40 years later, with the closest thing that the composer in question has come to a standard, has to be doing something right. Different Every Time joins the dots between those songs (the questing, experimental Moon In June and wise, heartbreaking Just As You Are) to stunning effect on Disc One, while a second CD collates some of the wildly sociable Wyatt’s best extra-curricular work. That first half, then: an astutely chosen selection of Wyatt’s work, which flows nicely while showcasing his many sides, from his jazz leanings (A Last Straw, Worship, Beware) to the best of his flirtations with pop (Yesterday Man), and Wyatt at his most philosophical with The Age Of Self and Last Will And Testament.
Closing in on his 70th birthday, Robert Wyatt recently announced that he's stopped working on music. Wyatt had the aspect of an old man even when he was young, but for at least the last four decades he's been maintaining a consistent persona: the white-bearded great-uncle of British art-pop, smoldering with revolutionary indignation about political matters but affable and goofy on every other subject, turning up in his wheelchair when anybody happens to need his marvelous, unmistakably cracked, not-at-all-American-accented tenor on a record. It's a little alarming that he actually is getting older.
Any compilation record fulfills two purposes: it provides a listening experience, and it makes an argument. At some basic level, the first is, as with any music, the most important, but it's the second that makes for the livelier discussion. Domino's Robert Wyatt anthology, entitled Different Every Time and split into two double-records, slaughters its opposition as a listening experience.