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The Soft Machine - Third CD (album) cover

THIRD

The Soft Machine

 

Canterbury Scene

4.21 | 680 ratings

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master_k
5 stars This was my first encounter of what I learned later was called 'The Canterbury Scene'. The Soft Machine opened a whole new musical world for me, which was the progressive rock scene. Sure, I had dabbled with mandatory items such as King Crimsons 'In the Court of the Crimson King' and ELPs selftitled debut, but the encounter wasn't all that people claimed them to be. Then I was introduced to this album by a good friend and he said it was worth a try. I ordered the cd (this was in 2004 I believe) and waited for its arrival in the mail.

It took a while before it crept under my skin, but when it first did; I couldn't get the tunes out of my head. Now when I look back at the event, I realize that nothing sounds quite like these lads when they where on their biggest peak of creativity. That is one of the many things which makes this album so special.

This was a giant step for Soft Machine musically and productionwise in 1970. Their two predecessors, Soft Machine and Volume 2, were quite different from Third. A lot of people might claim that they hadn't found their "true" sound yet, but come to think of it, Soft Machine and Volume 2 (my favourite) were quite original for its time. I fell completely in love with their mix of R&B, jazz, rock and the dadaist humour they experimented with before the recording of Third. Plus: Robert Wyatt did a lot more vocal work in their previous work, and gone is the sloppy Brian Hopper which is Volume 2's weakest contribution.

But I'm going to talk about Third today, so I might as well start. It's a very schizophrenic record. My interpretation is that they just played what the composer had ordered them to play. Therefore, the four compositions on this album is composed individually by each member. Hopper wrote 'Facelift', Ratledge wrote 'Slightly All the Time' and 'Out Bloody Rageous' and Wyatt wrote (his swansong) 'Moon in June'. The Terry Riley influence (minimalistic composer) is very prominent on Third and has a lot to say in Slightly All the Time where Ratledge is playing the same electricpianoriff for like 4 minutes. I think it was this evolution which got Wyatt crushed out of the band, and musical differences obviously.

Facelift is as you might know the opening track of this killer-record. The version on Third is a mix between two livetakes from Fairfield Hall in Croydon and the Mother's Club in Birmingham. I believe that they have done a lot of cutting work with the original tapes. It also contains a lot of tapeloops (something Terry Riley was experimenting heavily with in the 60's). These two clips really captures the energy of that particular liveshow. Each member giving their best. You have Mike Ratledge creating noises from another planet which I bet every black metal band 'pray' for. His playing is very dynamic. He can go from the pleasent electric-pianoplaying to the more freeform fuzzorgan frenetics, which I think is very atmospheric. He works well as a musical carpet and he's an excellent soloist. Hoppers bass-sound is quite different here of course, but it is still as dominating. He's the composer of this track and it is clearly that he was following the same musical path Ratledge did. Minimalistic passages and improvisation are two important key elements. I simply love the maintheme which is played by Ratledge and Dean. The theme is later played backwards at the end. Wyatts drumming is as always an inspiration. He is the glue that keeps the band together and does it with a lot style. You can clearly hear his jazzinfluence, but as he said himself: "I'm just a rock 'n' roll drummer!" Great track with a lot of great melodies. I'm glad they chose a minimalistic direction on this album, because the melodies they composed can be played for ever and ever.

Slightly All the Time was the very first track I got into. No wonder, because it contains a lot of easy-listening jazzharmonics. Still, they are again married to the minimalistic concept. A Ratledge composition showing his abilities as a composer and a pianoplayer. Although the theme which comes around at 12:03 - 12:47 is infact composed by Hugh Hopper, entitled 'Noisette'. This is probably the track that points its direction to a lot of Miles Davis' music. Therefore, the jazzinfluence. The highlight of this track is the beautiful 'Backwards'. First of all the wah-wah pedal Ratledge is using on his organ fits the theme like a glove and second; Elton Deans saxophonework is probably the most beautiful piece I have ever heard. And to top the whole thing, the band explode in a fast 9/8 groove. Now that's what I call dancing music! The production is maybe a bit dry, but I think it fits the bands music.

Moon in June is my favourite Wyatt composition of all times. He actually plays all the instruments until 08:56. I think that is proof enough that these lads weren't getting along all to well. Anyway, this track contains a lot of themes from earlier Soft Machine tracks. I believe Daevid Allen (of Gong fame) and Hugh Hopper played some sort of role, but I can't remember what theme they both collaborated with Wyatt on. Wyatt started to dabble with these themes and merged them in 68. The part where the whole band comes in was recorded in 69 and again mixed with the track from 68 resulting into one big demotrack. The version on Third is its final step. This is indeed Wyatts swansong before he left the band, because it is the last track in the bands history where he sings. The lyrics is about the days when he was homesick in New York during their 68 tour with Hendrix. I think Wyatt managed to mix these various themes (a lot of them can be found on the Jet Propelled Photographs release) into a good porridge. The first half focuses a lot on the melody and the witty lyrics. The feeling I get is very unique. Jazz and pop combined with quirky lyrics is a bit of the charm I really like about Wyatts style of composing. A lot of people find his singing offencive, but once you get into it, you are sure to find his vocalstyle quite extraordinary. e manages to use his voice almost as a trumpet which has always fascinated me. The second half is where Hopper and Ratledge comes in. Hooper boosts up his fuzz- bass and Ratledge sweaps through it all with the wah wah and the fuzz. This developes into a great interplay between musicians. The jammy theme Wyatt composed works excellent for his great encore. This goes on and on until they all land on one note and stays there for about 5 minutes. Excellent.

Out-Bloody-Rageous is the last track on the album and composed by Mike Ratledge. These guys learned their tape-loopstudies on some houseboat in France with Daevid Allen, and if this were to be Ratledge's tape-loop exam, he would have gotten an 'A' from me. The theme that haunts the suite in the beginning is actually one melody played in different velocities. This sound-collage sounds different everytime I listen to it. You can imagine birds singing at some point. This builds up to a point where the piano introduces the listener to a new theme and the whole band joins in. Again, one can hear the fusion-style of Ratledge's compositions, but yet again in a different setting. This track is a lot more loose, and again Ratledge is the leading soloist man which works out fine by me. The tapeloop-theme approaches yet another time, leading into a slower theme. This theme is a variation of the saxophonetheme at the beginning, only this time with Trombonist Nick Evans working as a lead man. Ratledges pianowork here is untouchable. This track never gets boring.

Yes, this is a challenge of a record, but it can be enjoyed by jazzers as well as the typical progrocker. I think it has still stood its test of time and I don't think the production sounds outdated.

I will probably get buried with this record.

Rating 5/5 Stars

master_k | 5/5 |

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