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The Soft Machine - Third CD (album) cover

THIRD

The Soft Machine

 

Canterbury Scene

4.19 | 1035 ratings

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patrickq
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Although it's considered a 'Canterbury Scene' album, Third could adequately described as largely a jazz-prog album with some avant-garde tendencies. If Soft Machine produced this exact album, but were based in West Germany, we'd call it 'Krautrock' and discover connections between Soft Machine and Can or Faust or Brainticket. But more on that in a moment.

Third is my introduction to Soft Machine, so I have to take at face value the claim that it represents a substantial transition from Volume Two, which they'd released nine months earlier. Nonetheless it's tough to miss the transition between the first and second sides of Third, a double album with one track per side. Side One, 'Facelift,' is a studio-treated live piece recorded in January 1970, while the rest of the album was recorded at IBC studios in London in May and June.

The only difference in personnel between Side One and the remainder of the album is the inclusion of saxophonist / flautist Lyn Dobson; otherwise the core lineup is drummer / vocalist Robert Wyatt, bassist Hugh Hopper, keyboardist Mike Ratledge, and saxophonist Elton Dean. It's not the musicians, or the instrumentation, or even the fact that "Facelift" is (largely) a live recording that separates it from the other tracks. Maybe the best way to say it is that "Facelift" has an entirely different attitude from the rest of the album, and that it's a more experimental and harder attitude than I associate with Canterbury. In fact, I'd say it's akin to a Krautrock attitude. But this dissipates after the nineteen-minute first side; Sides Two ("Slightly All the Time") and Three ("Moon in June") are more like the jazzy and folky prog that I associate with the Canterbury sound. A more experimental approach returns on the final side ("Out-Bloody-Rageous").

The high point, in my opinion, is 'Slightly All the Time,' a jazzy instrumental suite. However, I have to confess an admiration for the studio-as-instrument aspects of 'Out-Bloody-Rageous,' even if that track, from a compositional standpoint, is both drawn-out and unfocused. It's a bit of a cliché, but Third would probably have been a four-star LP had someone like Holger Czukay or Frank Zappa been entrusted with editing it down to a 'single album.'

My last criticism is the relatively low sound quality. I downloaded my copy from freegal.com, and it's unclear to me which edition I have. Apparently there are some releases of Third on which the sound has been 'cleaned up.' But I have to concur with those who have remarked on the lo-fi sound.

All things considered, Third is a good album. I'm sure Canterbury fans are well aware of this and other albums by Soft Machine and related acts, but anyone interested in jazzy progressive rock or in lighter Krautrock might also want to check this one out.

patrickq | 3/5 |

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