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The Soft Machine - Fifth CD (album) cover

FIFTH

The Soft Machine

 

Canterbury Scene

3.32 | 161 ratings

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Man With Hat
3 stars 3.5 stars really!

The machine's first outing without founding drummer Robert Wyatt. First on the drum chair is Phil Howard, a "traditional" jazz drummer whose specialty is free jazz (or so I'm told). Perhaps ironically, the opening side (featuring Howard) isn't the most chaotic sounding to these ears. Filling out the album is the Softs only other drummer, John Marshall. It's interesting to hear Marshall in this freer context with Dean on board, however this isn't his best performance IMO. I think he is much better suited for the sound the Softs developed (somewhat) on Six and Seven through Softs. Not to say his work is bad, just perhaps underwhelming. Of course, one could argue that this isn't a fault of Marshall, being there are parts of this album that just aren't as successful as they could have been. Perhaps meandering too long, or just floating along without much purpose. Indeed, a bit of the energy from Fourth is missing here. But there are still a good deal of highlights.

The good news is, the three longest songs are the best here. All White probably contains the best drumming from Howard from his stint in Soft Machine (and probably best drumming on the disc as a whole) over a bit of an infectious theme. Drop starts relaxing with synthesized sounds of water droplets hitting a surface and contains some excellent playing by Ratledge. As If has the most ominous bass line in Softs history. A wonderfully off putting riff from Hopper pulsates it's way throughout the entire piece. (Perhaps my only complaint here is that it doesn't build or climax as much as I would have liked it to.) Also of interest is the shorter Pigling Bland which recaptures some of the Machines traditional energy. The other songs are less successful. MC isn't at all interesting to my ears at all. LBO is a short, mostly drum solo piece that isn't too bad, but isn't as outstanding as it could have been (or other Marshall drum solo pieces). Bone is an interesting character indeed, being I think it could have benefited from being longer. But, it is perhaps a fitting way for Dean's (studio) Soft Machine career to end.

All in all, this really isn't a bad album at all, although it may be my least favorite of all their studio albums (barring LOC of course). In a way, it pains me to not give this more than three stars officially. There is some excellent work on the (perhaps) confused Fifth. All White and As If really are classic tracks from the Softs catalogue. Maybe it was just the inconsistency of a line up that prevented this album from "clicking" fully, but thankfully they would rebound quite well. I wouldn't recommend this be your introduction to Soft Machine but once you're accustomed to the beast this is a good one to pick up (especially if you're interests lay in jazz). 3.5 stars.

Man With Hat | 3/5 |

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