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The Soft Machine - Fourth CD (album) cover

FOURTH

The Soft Machine

 

Canterbury Scene

3.46 | 226 ratings

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febus
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / In Memoriam
2 stars THE 'MACHINE' IS LOSING STEAM!

By the time FOURTH was released-1971-, SOFT MACHINE was one of the biggest name not only on the prog scene, but on the whole rock scene overall. Their first 3 albums were total creative, innovative, ground breaking masterpieces very challenging but were received to great critic and..commercial acclaim. Quite a feat coming with some music such as FACELIFT. Their tours were also very successful and often played sold out and were even a regular staple on rock TV shows of this time in Europe as wellL.

Specialized Rock magazines held many yearly polls back then on who is the best keyboardist, best guitarist, etc and the names of HUGH HOPPER, MIKE RATLEDGE or ROBERT WYATT were always in consideration. But the glorious times won't last as SOFT MACHINE would waste no time to squander their newly aquired relative fame by releasing non-descript albums such as FOURTH.

For the first time -and only time- in SOFT MACHINE history , there won't be any personel changes between albums; So the same quartet RATLEDGE-HOPPER-WYATT-DEAN is back with some help of their friends like NUCLEUS bassist-future SOFT MACHINE member ROY BABBINGTON or the great flutist JIMMY HASTINGS. If FOURTH is numerically the successor of THIRD, there are big differences between these two releases.

1) One could expect that after 3 very creative LPs, the band at some point would lose some spark and get into some kind of a inspirational slump. It just happened here as MIKE RATLEDGE, the main architect of THIRD comes back with only one track TEETH, a complete jazz tune with absolutely no ''teeth'', 10 mns of conventional jazz with no particular memorable parts and endless soloing. This is not even jazz/rock, don't mention the word ''fusion'' either; just 50s jazz played by a 70s british band.

2) The same musicians who played on THIRD are all present on FOURTH, but there is a another BIG difference between the 2 albums. ROBERT WYATT's voice has been completely shut down as FOURTH is entirely instrumental.Any link with the past when SOFT MACHINE was playing fresh and funny music has been cut for good.When you listening to FOURTH , you cant believe that this is the same band KEVIN AYERS and DAEVID ALLEN played with not a long time ago.

Not only, we are not treated to the delicate vocals of ROBERT, but he is also completely absent in the composition department. He is merely just a drummer and that's it.I am sure you guess this would be his last album with SOFT MACHINE before going to form MATCHING MOLE ( a sacarstic frenchized name for his former band)

3) ROBERT WYATT might not have been authorized by boss MIKE to bring any new songs, but ELTON DEAN did! He came with an atrocious, horrible piece of ''music'' (or lack of) named FLETCHER'S BLEMISH a complete free-form jazz experimentation with no heads or tails. Just think of you bringing 3 friends in your garage, just take any instruments and play them without worrying what the others are doing!! FLETCHER'S BLEMISH is just as good! A shame for a band that was so creative very recently.

4) the sound of the overall music has quite changed since THIRD. First of all, MIKE RATLEDGE spends more time behind the electric piano than using his organ. One important part of THIRD magic was his organ playing, especially the unique gorgeous sound he could get out of this instrument. It is still present on some parts and of course, they are the best moments of FOURTH; the very nice KINGS AND QUEENS, the best track of the album penned by HUGH HOPPER; A 5 mn tune that could have been featured on THIRD holding its own worth.

HUGH HOPPER too ''forgot'' somewhere his distinctive fuzz bass which created such beautiful music mixed with the organ of RATLEDGE on THIRD . You have to wait for the end of the ex-side 2 of the album to hear it again on the side long suite VIRTUALLY reminding us of the good old sound, especially when coupled with the organ sound we loved. The problem is this HUGH HOPPER suite VIRTUALLY is nothing great compared to any THIRD 4 masterpieces.

One thing for sure, we cannot criticize the fact SOFT MACHINE was not trying to please the masses at this time, they went their own way, play the music they wanted, but i am not sure a lot of SOFT MACHINE fans wanted to listen to straight sounding Jazz with barely any rock reference in their music. This is ''serious'' music, but boring music they will perform for a while played by men with moustaches looking like college science or old Greek professors losing their fans along the road. Where were you, KEVIN at this time?with Lady RACHEL, i guess!

What a transformation between the end od 1969 and 1971? same name, two different bands with nothing in common. Surprisingly ,FOURTH did relatively well commercially, but i think it's more due to the strenght of its predecessor than the musical value of this album. In France, it went even #9 in sales in the rock sales ( even if there is barely anything remotely rock in it) but the buyers will make sure that the next FIFTH won't chart as well anywhere; they learned their lesson!

It will take time for SOFT MACHINE to come back with good albums, but they will! However, that will be -once again- a different SOFT MACHINE, a different band, a different sound! I like this band, but i have to be honest with FOURTH, i cannot give it more than.....

2 STARS.

febus | 2/5 |

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