For a select few, Robert Wyatt’s solo material is considered to be a vastly superior product to the trio of albums he created as a founding member of the Soft Machine (though the case can certainly be made for Third: damn, that is a heady record).
And a quartet of songs hailed by some serious collectors as the “ultimate Holy Grail” of his work finally comes to light in the form of ’68, a complete compendium of cuts recorded in the title year while the Soft Machine were on a break for their U.S. tour opening for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Most of the material here would appear in other forms on subsequent titles rather than emerge as the first proper Robert Wyatt LP, the accolades of which would go to his 1970 avant-garde epic The End of an Ear (which is in dire, dire need of a good deluxe reissuing here in the States, perhaps for its upcoming 45th anniversary?). A truly out there demo of the Soft Machine II alphabet jam “Rivmic Melodies” was thought to have been lost forever in transition, but was recently discovered alongside the artfully popist “Chelsea”, an altogether unheard Wyatt tune that would resurface on the first album from the drummer’s early 70s group Matching Mole as “Signed Curtain”. Fans of Third, meanwhile, will relish in the slightly-shorter-but-no-less-transcendent version of the side-long “Moon in June”, where Wyatt is accompanied by fellow Machinists Hugh Hopper and Mike Ratledge on a rocket ride to outer hemisphere of the song’s namesake.
’68 is an excellent discovery that offers a keen insight into the young man days of one of English prog’s most singular voices.