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The Soft Machine - Fifth [Aka: 5] CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine


Canterbury Scene

3.36 | 234 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars If being one of the most inventive, oddest and most unique bands around at the time was not enough for the Soft Machine they take it a few steps further and make an album that is even odder and unique but unfortunately more in a negative sense. Eclectic may be one word but inconsistent is a better one when concerning Soft Machine's fifth album. During this time Soft Machine started a domino effect of change within the band that would prove fateful. The departure of founding member Robert Wyatt started the ball rolling and as he was replaced by Phil Howard, Howard himself was soon out of favor by Mike Ratledge and in came John Marshall but to the annoyance of Elton Dean who decided to leave to be replaced by Mr. Boredom and the straight laced but well schooled Karl Jenkins, a man who would help to sterilize the Soft Machine and what they originally stood for, but that is another story, lets roll back a bit and see what 5 is all about. Third was a monumental album, a double containing four side long tracks and remains the pinnacle of the Soft Machine out put for many which was in turn followed up by Fourth, shorter pieces but nevertheless it was a welcoming warm and enjoyable album but the departure of Wyatt had unsettled the mood largely and there is little cohesion on the seven cuts that make up 5. And though the band may have been exploring the realms of jazz further with the aid of their new drummer (s) something is certainly missing here.

Like the cover of the album the music tends to come across dark and brooding and at times uninteresting, from the eerie tone of Elton Dean's echoed instrument on the opener "All White" to Ratledge's and his fuzzed up and throbbing organ that laces the album right through t o album ender "Bone". It seems to me that, by 5, as a unit they have either lost interest in the Soft Machine as a working unit or simply reached a peak already and were ebbing back and replacing Wyatt were pursuing a new avenue to freshen the tone up, though there are some fine pieces of musicianship here and there it plays rather uncomfortably throughout and the only track that for me at least contains any of the previous magic is the Mike Ratledge composition "Pigling Bland", it is a smooth piece of background jazz and it is something I could listen to a whole album off as it breezes along in a dreamlike fashion floating on... "Drop" is a good tune too but much of the rest is like a group of musicians with the right instruments coming from a rock influence mixing an Avante Garde sense of jazz expression as opposed a straight fusion of jazz and rock but if it works or not is another matter. Soft Machine have always been a complex unit but the usage of two drummers for this album only complicates matters further. Robert Wyatt was, to be a fair,part of the backbone and an essential member of the band and now here they were unsure of how to progress and dumping one guy for another mid session and playing rather aimlessly and lacking in focus, though the drumming is quite good if a little detached from the other wild goings on. Including "L.B.O", a drum solo thing by Marshall is nothing but a waste of time and generic filler, something Soft Machine would get fond of on latter releases. 5 is not a bad album but it is obvious that something is not quite right at this stage in the bands career. Stable.

Philo | 3/5 |


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