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THE SOFT MACHINE

The Soft Machine

 

Canterbury Scene

4.07 | 356 ratings

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cohen34
4 stars Before I write a review, I make a point of letting the album in questiion sink in through multiple listenings. This allows me to judge the record on it's real merits and not be mislead by first impressions which can be influenced by your state of mind. Usually this only takes a few spins but, for some reason, the Soft's debut took me longer than most. By long, I mean several years and I still dont think I have this album totally nailed down. I guess Im trying to say that I still find it fairly impenetrable.

It has something to do with the fact that Volume One lacks the guitar that ive come to expect as a given in any self-respecting band (the Soft's guitarist Daevid Allen, of Gong fame, wasnt available at the time of the recording). Or the fact that it lacks a bit of that studio polish and comes off as being more a live album from one of those dingy, 60's London (or Canterbury) night clubs. Also, Robert Wyatt's flat and high pitched vocals, which come off as having either a slight wheeze or whine depending on the track, have never been a favorite of mine.

Gradually, though, the pros became more apparent. It dawned on me that all three of these guys can really play. Mike Ratledge's organ is usually front and center either surging through some incendiary jams like on 'So Boot if at All' or 'Hope for Happiness' or toned down in an angelic accompanyment as per 'A Certain Kind'. Kevin Ayers loose, dynamic and at times downright funky bass playing is incredible. On 'Joy of a Toy' his soloing reminds me of Michael Bloomfield's guitar on the great acid jam 'East-West'. That's some chops for a bass guitarist! And of course, Wyatt on drums is really what adds the jazzy touch to this album. The songs themselves are quite weak and are fairly forgetable. However, the focus of Volume One is these guys jamming together; something they sound like they were born to do.

Most importantly, Volume One, with it's blend of pop, british psychedelia and jazz is the birth of the Canterbury Sound. As such, this album is the blue print that all other bands of that genre would follow. Right down to the whimsical and comic style of song writing that people also associate with Syd Barrett. In that sense, Ayers funny, repetative and frustrating 'We Did it Again' is the twin of Syd's legendary "Have You Got it Yet?'. The Soft Machine would quickly evolve into more of a jazz-fusion group but their debut has left a lasting impression on the Canterbury Scene analogous to the influence of KC's 'Court' on the majority of prog.

It took me a long time to get to the point where I could listen to the album start to finish but these days, I can appreciate Volume One it for what it is: a pillar of British psychedelic rock and the Canterbury Scene sound. Give this one a chance and it will really grow on you.

cohen34 | 4/5 |

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