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The Soft Machine - Fourth / Fifth CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine


Canterbury Scene

3.59 | 23 ratings

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4 stars 4.5 stars really. The two albums brought together for this release were the first and probably best of Soft Machine's completely instrumental releases.

Fourth was Wyatt's final album with the Softs, and in addition to no longer singing he is also the only member of the band who doesn't get at least one writing credit. Elton Dean had become an integral part of their sound and his expressive alto sax effectively replaces Wyatt's lead vocals. The first three tracks were side 1 of the original release, and they make for a pleasing slice of Canterbury tinged jazz rock.Hugh Hoppers Virtually parts 1 - 4 took up side 2 and features a host of guest musicians familiar to any fan of British 70s prog. Although portions of Virtually are very effective, particularly parts 1 and 3, it doesn't really hang together as an extended piece, and does not so much end as gradually fizzle out.

Fifth featured a different drummer on each side of the vinyl release. Phil Howard played on All White, Drop and MC, which together probably represent the peak of Soft Machine's post Wyatt output. Elton Dean was on spectacular form for these session, leading the compositions through all manner of unpredictable twists and turns. This is jazz rock, but in many ways it's closer to the other worldly explorations of Can circa Soon Over Babluma than it is to Weather Report. The second half of Fifth saw John Marshall (Wyatt's replacement) on the drum stool. Mike Rateledge's As If opens the proceedings, continuing in the same manner as the first 3 tracks and featuring some wonderful bowed double bass by Roy Babbington. This is followed by a 2 minute drum solo from Marshall - a very well played drum solo, but not so great on repeated listening, and it rather disrupts the atmosphere of the album. The closing tracks are closer in feel to Fourth, and bring the album to a slightly inconclusive end.

Neither Fourth nor Fifth was a wholly consistent album, but well over half of each album was excellent and this two for one release is superb value. Recommended.

Syzygy | 4/5 |


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