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The Soft Machine - Out Bloody Rageous (Anthology 67-73) CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine


Canterbury Scene

4.03 | 8 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Shame on me, a veteran Proghead since the middle 1970s, for never making any effort until now to learn more about the legendary SOFT MACHINE. They were, after all, only the founding fathers of the so-called Canterbury scene, and practically invented the style of mannered English Jazz Rock that would blossom during the '70s, as ex-members joined and formed other bands. Look at a list of the extended line up of the group: it reads like a roll call to the Greater British Music Hall of Fame.

But good things often come to those who wait, and I couldn't have asked for a better introduction to the band than this two-disc 2005 anthology. 'Comprehensive' doesn't begin to describe it: each CD is packed to capacity with a total of thirty songs from the band's first seven, numerically titled albums, including both sides of their debut 45 rpm single. The collection spans the prolific years between 1967 and 1973, when the group (in all its evanescent incarnations) produced a vast amount of quality music, ranging in scope from the breathless nine-seconds of "A Concise British Alphabet" (the ideal primer for pre-school hippies) to the epic 19+ minutes of this compilation's title track, taken from the double- vinyl "Third" album.

Better yet, the selections are arranged in chronological order, enabling listeners to hear the band develop from art school pranksters to jazz-rock pioneers to something like a blend of both, exploring on later albums a unique sort of psychedelic fusion perhaps defining what we now recognize as the classic Canterbury sound.

Following the evolution of the Soft Machine style over the two-and-a-half hours of this compilation is like riding a time capsule through the Golden Age of English Progressive Rock. Their first two studio albums, from when the band shared the psychedelic limelight with Syd Barrett and The Pink Floyd, are the most playful of the bunch. The songs of this period (1968-1969) actually compare favorably to the deadpan Dada absurdity of Krautrockers like Faust and Amon Düül II: listen to the garage band mantra "We Did It Again", from the Soft's debut album, for proof. But Soft Machine arrived at the same destination long before the Germans, cracking a wry smile on their stiff English upper lips along the way.

"Third" (1970) showed a remarkable leap forward in ambition and sophistication, presenting four side-long musical montages laced with a strong vein of jazz improvisation (two of the near-20-minute long tracks are included here: one entire LPs worth of music). The cheerful brevity of their earlier songs is missing, as were the songs themselves: from this point on, Soft Machine would be a strictly instrumental outfit. But some of the lengthier experimental passages reveal music of stunning breadth and vision, even when constrained by the primitive production aesthetics of the time.

The second disc of this set showcases what might be called the mature Soft Machine style, as it developed on albums IV through VII between 1971 and 1973. By this time the predominant jazz flavor had metabolized into an altogether spacier electronic vibe, culminating in the long hypnotic jams of "Soft Weed Factor" and "Penny Hitch", the former built around a trio of overlapping electric piano ostinatos played in what sound like conflicting time signatures.

Add it all up and the sum is one of the most intelligent and influential bands of their era, with a remarkably consistent level of excellence despite a turbulent history of personnel changes (all detailed in the lengthy CD booklet). Veteran Soft Machine fans won't find any new music here (hence the tight fisted four-star rating), but for belated newcomers like myself it's an essential package of hitherto unknown music from a group still worth discovering three decades later.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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