# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Robert Rotifer - Not Your Door

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 6 / 9 / 2016

Robert Rotifer - Not Your Door
Label: Gare du Nord Records
Format: CD


Extraordinary new album from Vienna-born but now Canterbury-based singer-songwriter, Robert Rotifer

Three years have passed since Rotifer released 'The Cavalry Never Showed Up', which - while not making Robert Rotifer a household name - did get glowing praise from a number of sage observers (and also me - it was my Album of The Year in 2013, and my good opinion of it hasn't changed since). Since then, Rotifer has seen Gare du Nord. the label he launched to release the album win attention for a number of excellent releases and has played on a number of them. He's been busy then, but, aside from one low-key single that came out in the interim period, his own songwriting has been relatively inactive. It's good to see his name on the front of a record again - albeit for the first time, the listed artist is 'Robert Rotifer', the person, and not 'Rotifer', the band. The name change is not just a sly way of confusing your ITunes library, but a signal of a change of tack - having often had cause to lean on better known bandmates and collaborators (Darren Hayman once moonlighted on bass, Wreckless Eric produced an album) and label owners (Edwin Collins put out 'The Hosting Couple' on his boutique label in 2011), the driving force is now very much firmly Robert himself - writing, playing, producing and releasing this record from his converted garage home-studio in Canterbury. True, this isn't one of those 'lock yourself away in a log cabin with nothing but a camping stove and a pro-tools enabled recording device' affairs. Both of Rotifer's live rhythm section popped by to lend their hands on a handful of tracks, as did a couple of Gare Du Nord labelmates. But, you sense that, with the collaborative urges more than quenched by having become an active part of two groups (Papernut Cambridge and John Howard's Night Mail) since releasing 'The Cavalry Never Showed Up', there is less of a need to lean on anyone else. Nothing better demonstrates this new sense of self confidence than the decision to replace an excellent saxello solo from local jazzman Tony Coe with his own guitar, because the solo - however beautiful it sounded - simply didn't fit. (You can hear the solo on an EP released to trail this album.) The song that nearly had the solo kicks off the album, and sets the tone for what is to come. There may have been a shift away from the tauter new-wave influenced arrangements of the last two Rotifer records, but the qualities that made them such a great listen are all present and correct. 'If We Hadn't Had You' is at heart a tender song about Rotifer's daughter (born to immigrant parents living in a country that was about to go to war with Iraq, with the political mood taking an abrupt turn from the outward-looking consensual style that New Labour fleetingly promised), but it also asks challenging questions about the generation that couldn't stop the war - "I guess we withdrew." This is a theme that the album often comes back to - with reflections on over-absorption in social media and the passivity of much modern pop culture. But, the delivery is warm, the melody inviting and the aforementioned replacement guitar solo is a cracker. The album is roughly split into two broad themes - songs of weary resignation about modern life and songs of touching admiration for generations passed. A highlight is 'Irma La Douche', initially composed to be sung at his grandmother's funeral and marking a remarkable life. I'm struck in particular by the feeling that comes from the song that there was as much to admire in the way that his grandmother returned to Vienna and rebuilt her life after the Nazis were defeated as there was in her outright confrontation with the evil as a member of the French resistance - "What made you come back home? We came because we'd won". Quite a contrast from the observation of one of the modern protagonists - "So we stopped watching the news, because I just couldn't handle it." Always a songwriter with an eye for detail, these songs are potted with a storyteller's sense of place and space, and the sense that the objects we choose to surround ourselves with matter. (An aside here: I'm always struck when I listen to the songs of Rotifer's friend and collaborator Ian Button that he manages to convey multiple layers of meaning with the word 'stuff'. It is not a word Rotifer would ever choose - in his song, every bit of stuff needs a name). Whether it is his grandmother's flat or the local piano factory, the romance in the songs about Austria is in these details. The contrast is obvious - you don't learn anything about a person when their quirks are bundled inside a smartphone, however sleek the design. Rotifer hasn't given up on pop music - indeed, he hosts his own radio show and actively promotes a wide number of different bands - but he is clearly also dissapointed in it. Penning a song about the formulaic inanity of much modern pop might be a 'brave' way of inviting criticism - especially as the song itself appears in a fairly familiar style of seventies pop/rock, with a guitar solo that is part Ronson, part Clapton (that's intended as a compliment, but it isn't the kind of thing likely to please Pitchfork. In fact, here is the secret to this album's success - despite the cultural malaise, the immigation crisis and anti-European rhetoric, Rotifer continues to believe in pop music, in songwriting and is utterly unapologetic about using his music to tell stories that mean a lot to him. The conviction comes through - and you want to like this album, to listen carefully and to get to the bottom of the songs.

Track Listing:-
1 If We Hadn't Had You
2 Passing a Van
3 Meanwhile in My Machine
4 Our Only Entertainment
5 Nothing Left to Give Away
6 The Piano Factory
7 An Autumn Day Like This
8 Irma la douce
9 Top of the Escalator
10 Not Your Door

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About Us (2019)
Bleak but passionate reflection on Brexit from Robert Rotifer, who although Austrian-born has spent the last two decades living in the UK
They Don’t Love You Back (2018)

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