Maybe the comparison might seem strange, but Robert Wyatt’s Cuckooland is something of a latter-day counterpart to Van Morrison‘s Astral Weeks. The latter embodied the hope and optimism of the late 1960s. Cuckooland, on the other hand, embodies the sense of caution and pensiveness, and the limited opportunities for the same sort of agenda 35 years later. (The political agenda is [new] leftist, as is clear form the liner notes if nothing else). Wyatt’s album is like a series of vignettes that evoke particular times and places of the past, good and bad, in order to preserve them and carve out some sort of respite from the onslaught of forces trying to erase them — and the possibilities they represent. While there is a slight sense of resignation in this approach, Wyatt also brings each song vignette to life, as a kind of underground safehouse for those in the know. As such, most of this leans toward exaggerated theatricality. It is an appropriate way to make music like this, given that the forces that were at their peak in 1968 (when Astral Weeks was released) were at their nadir when Cuckooland was released.
I do find I have to be in just the right mood to hear this. It doesn’t garner a lot of repeat listens for me, because that particular mood just doesn’t come along often. But I love Wyatt’s solo piano rendition of “Raining in My Heart” under any circumstance — it is probably my most favorite recorded version of the song.