"I like to work on my own," the inimitable British singer Robert Wyatt told me some years ago, "but I get lonely, really." So the halfway-finished textures of Cuckooland are the work of a recluse who feels like a stranger in the world reaching out beyond himself to a wider community. Some of his collaborators here are old associates, like Brian Eno, who's been working with him for well over 30 years. Others are newer to his orbit, notably Karen Mantler (Wyatt's mid-'70s collaborator and Carla Bley's daughter), three of whose curvy, bitterly funny tunes he covers.
Wyatt's a marvelous songwriter and lyricist ("Superstition's like religion, bonsai version — faintly sad," he sings on "Just a Bit"), and he knows a great tune for his peculiar gifts when he hears one — one of the album's highlights is a casual solo piano version of Buddy Holly's "Raining In My Heart." But he's also a political creature as much as he's a musician, and a lot of these songs have some sort of ideological dimension, however oblique: a chant that mostly consists of repeating the names of political prisoners Mordechai Vanunu and Mohammad Mossadegh, a lullaby for an Iraqi boy born at the start of the first Gulf War, a cover of an Arabic song about refugee camps.