From the nouveau poor of London living in the detritus of fake nineties affluence via an "old hippie in my kitchen" who sees the naivety of 1913 mirrored in the seen-it-all sarcasm of 2013 to the middle-aged man clinging to his musical dream, the first release on the new Gare du Nord imprint is a record filled with sympathetic characters, social observation, gallows humour, and political anger. Apart from all that, "The Cavalry Never Showed Up" is also the joyful sound of a songwriter from Canterbury finally finding his perfect band.
At the end of 2011, all of Robert Rotifer's musical wishes came true at once. He had lived in the UK for a decade and a half, but only released his previous five albums in his native Austria, where he is something of an institution as a music writer and radio DJ. Now MoMA New York had just acquired his self-painted video to a song called "The Frankfurt Kitchen" for their collection, while his sixth album "The Hosting Couple", produced by one of his heroes (Wreckless Eric) and featuring one of his favourite songwriters on bass (Darren Hayman), was going to come out on another all-time hero's new label (Edwyn Collins' AED Records). By the time a congratulatory email from Robert Wyatt came in, Robert almost didn't care anymore that, commercially speaking, the album had got hopelessly lost in the sea of pre-Xmas releases.
By March 2012 Hayman had amicably left the band to be replaced by Mike Stone, on hiatus from his duties playing bass with Television Personalities (following Dan Treacy's stroke). After trying out the new line-up at a few gigs, Stone, Rotifer and his long-time drummer Ian Button decided that, rather than being a singer-songwriter's vehicle, Rotifer would from now on function as a proper band.
That summer they booked themselves into London's Soup Studios to record the bulk of what was going to be "The Cavalry Never Showed Up", adding detail and recording additional songs over the next few months at Robert's study/studio in Canterbury, using Ian Button's mobile recording rig as well as his famed self-built EMR reverb units.
A five-minute rant called "I Just Couldn't Eat As Much (As I'd Like To Throw Up)", titled after the translation of famous quote by the German Jewish expressionist painter Max Liebermann, set the tone for the rest of the album, both in structural and lyrical terms.
This was going to be Rotifer's most varied and musically adventurous work yet. Even proper guitar solos were allowed. Joined by Paul Rains from Allo Darlin' on lapsteel, the band ditched their usual tight arrangements in favour of spontaneous improvisation on "Black Bag". Rotifer's darkest song yet, it portrays life as an endless accumulation of personal effects waiting to be cleared out after death ("You want this to be open plan!").
On another partly improvised song called "From Now On There Is Only Love", any hint of self-pity is energetically dispelled in favour of much more healthy self-hate, but by the end the escapism of a vintage-obsessed pop culture is allowed to win out in "So Silly Now", a bittersweet waltz featuring the couplet "And I guess that Neil Young could be your Spencer Tracy / I suppose Joni Mitchell could be my Doris Day / In these darkest of days".
As before on "The Frankfurt Kitchen" and "I Believe You", Rotifer turned the lead track "I Just Couldn't Eat As Much (As I'd Like To Throw Up)" into a quaint visual artwork, drawing illustrations to the lyrics in black ink, charcoal, pastels and crayon, which were animated by his old Viennese friend Lelo Brossmann. A video for "Black Bag" will follow in late summer.
'Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)' arrives in April.
The two awards have made for a great 72nd birthday present for the country music icon.