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The Soft Machine - Fourth CD (album) cover

FOURTH

The Soft Machine

 

Canterbury Scene

3.47 | 232 ratings

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Man With Hat
4 stars A transitional Machine.

Fourth is a bit of an odd beast in the Softs catalogue. Progressing further into the realm of jazz than anything previous, but still keeps a very unique aire about it. The sound of this record is the main attraction for me. I have yet to find an album in any genre that sounds the same. Not necessarily in terms of the music, but in terms of the sounds of the instruments themselves. The music I also feel is unique, perhaps being closer to free-rock than free-jazz (even though this was mostly composed). The drums pound away, never excessively erratic but never complacent. The sax doesn't blow everything away with its ferocity for the entire record, but is tuneful yet still with elements of extended freedom. The organ is nothing short of majestic at times, and provides some wonderful atmosphere, especially on side two. Hugh Hopper probably plays the greatest role, being he dominates the writing credits on Fourth. Perhaps that's even more credit to it him then, to evoke this sound of the group. There are also a handful of familiar faces that guest on double bass, horn, and a host of woodwind instruments.

Teeth begins the proceedings with an excellent melody line and some wonderful playing by Elton Dean. I particularly love Wyatt's drums here. So free sounding, yet quite composed. All elements included this is one of my favorite Soft Machine songs of any era. Kings And Queens is like the tide, ebbing and flowing, propelled by the almost soothing bassline of Hopper and the drums of Wyatt, creating a wonderful atmosphere. Fletcher's Blemish is similar in sound to Teeth but freer, and unfortunately less successful. Side two is Hopper's epic track Virtually. Admittedly, some parts of this suite do drag on, but there are some absolutely gorgeous moments as well. The last third or so of Part two is top notch Soft Machine, and the ending part is meditative and a fitting resolution to the suite and the disc.

All in all, Fourth is top tier Soft Machine. There is a bit of frustration with this release, as the sound is absolutely brilliant, but the results are not nearly that high. And unfortunately this would be Wyatt's swan song with the Machine, meaning the full potential of this group is probably not fully realized, which is a shame. Still, a strong album, but probably not the best one to start your Soft Machine journey with. Jazz fans will also find more to like here than previous albums whereas fans of psychedelic rock will probably find less to like. 4 to 4.5 stars. Recommended.

Man With Hat | 4/5 |

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