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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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AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
3 stars Soft Machine are experimental pioneers that fuse jazz with all sorts of styles to inject their own blend of progressive rock. Highly recommended by a certain magazine as one of the top 40 prog albums, I decided to invest in this album. 'Third' is the third album for the band of course and it features 4 tracks of considerable length that originally took up the entire side of the vinyl double album. A challenge at first to listen to, the music tends to develop and even changes with every listen. Admittedly, you have to be in the mood for this and you have to have infinite patience as the music moves unremorsefully from the whispered minimalism of a single instrument to the huge sound of sax, drums, guitars and keyboards, among others. When Soft Machine hit their stride they are excellent to listen to. But the album is a disappointment if you are expecting a style similar to Caravan, Camel and Renaissance - THE best Canterbury music on the planet.

Robert Wyatt has a chance to shine with his vocals on 'Moon in June' the sleeper of the album and perhaps one of the highlights of Soft Machine. Indeed the track is found on most 'best of SM' compilations. Wyatt does a terrific vocal on this album, as good as his solo efforts on 'Comicopera' in fact, recorded many years later. 'Moon in June' is simply brilliant on every level.

The lyrics are actually Wyatt's improvisations, as if his voice was just another instrument, and are worth looking at in detail: Here is what I can make out of the lyrics.

MOON IN JUNE On a dilemma between what I need and what I just want Between your thighs I feel a sensation How long can I resist the temptation I've got my bird, you've got your man So who else do we need, really Now I'm here, I may as well put my other hand in yours While we decide how far to go and if we've got time to do it now And if it's half as good for you as it is for me Then you won't mind if we lie down for a while, just for a while Till all the thing I want is need I want you more than ever now We're on the floor, and you want more, and I feel almost sure That cos now we've agreed, that we got what we need Then all the thing is needs are wanting I realized when I saw you last We've been together now and then From time to time just here and there Now I know how it feels from my hair to my heels To have you on the horns of my dilemma (spoken) Oh, Wait a minute (I always think he makes a mistake here....) Over, Up, Over, Up, Down Living can be lovely, here in New York State oh, but I wish that I were home and I wish I were home again back home again, home again There are places and people that I'm so glad to have seen Oh, but I miss the trees, and I wish that I were home again The sun shines here all summer Its nice cause you can get quite brown, Oh, but I miss the rain, tickytackyticky And I wish that I were home again, Living is easy here in New York State oh, but I wish that I were home again, Just before we go on to the next part of our song Let's all make sure we've got the time, Musicmaking still performs the normal functions background noise for people scheming, seducing, revolting and teaching That's all right by me, don't think that I'm complaining After all, it's only leisure time, isn't it Now I love your eyes, She's learning to hate, but it's just too late for me It was the same with her love, It just wasn't enough for me But before this feeling dies, Remember how distance can tell lies You can almost see her eyes, is it me she despises or you You're awfully nice to me and I'm sure you can see what her game is She sees you in her place, just as if it's a race And you're winning, and you're winning She just can't undertsand that for me everything's just beginning until I get more homesick So before this feeling dies, remember how distance tells us lies. Singing a song in the morning, Singing it again at night Don't really know what I'm singing about, But it makes me feel all right

For this track alone, I have to award the album 3 stars. It is outstanding prog rock.

All these lyrics are improvised would you believe? And they are fun to listen to and work so well with the music it is quite stunning. 'Moon in June' is so good it causes one to wonder why the rest of the album does not measure up. Instead we have three instrumentals that are interesting, even fascinating on the first listen, but on subsequent listens they are hard to fathom, mind numbing and none of them stick in the memory banks because they offer mere improvisations. I can't remember any of these tracks and yet have played it a number of times. I know I liked Out Bloody Rageous at first but its free jazz form is once again more a curiosity than a proper song. I find it frustrating that the band seemed intent on mere improvisation for improvisation's sake and have somehow managed to sacrifice form for innovation. I love innovation, that is why King Crimson are one of my favourites of all time, however Soft Machine haven't got the same appeal because they lack structure, and are therefore very inaccessible, unless you are prepared for a free jazz festival.

Soft Machine took risks and I can understand what they were trying to achieve as pioneers of the craft, however it is not really listenable music for the same reasons that they are trying to be innovative. It is one thing to think outside the box, but the box should at least be at least entertaining at some level. Music should have more to offer than mere experimentation. So the music tends to suffer in terms of structure, perhaps this is the point of course, but it doesn't make the music any more endearing, in fact quite the opposite. I find myself resisting their style of music because it feels long-winded and does not go anywhere. Indeeed some of it is outright repetitious. In their day, this was ground breaking, to produce an album of double length with only one song on each side. If they had included lyrics perhaps the tracks would have felt more like songs than an orchestration. Other albums that were double with one song to each side include the excellent 'Tales from Topographic Oceans' by Yes, and they really excelled in their craft, it is such a complex album, it never becomes dull and repetitious. But SM's 'Third' was over ambitious and inaccessible.

If you love jazz fusion, and orchestral works, Third is perhaps the album for you. I can see how it would appeal a fan of that type of genre. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to I just could not get into this album, and I have been turned off listening to any more Soft Machine as a result. Pioneers, yes, Enjoyable music, no.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 3/5 |

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