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The Soft Machine - Fourth CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine


Canterbury Scene

3.49 | 304 ratings

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3 stars The story of Soft Machine's progression (some might say decline!) from whimsical psych- tinged proto-proggers (that amazingly housed Daevid Allen, Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt at the same time!) to full-blown jazz-fusion instrumentalists is pretty well-known. I've often felt that while the band had all the ingredients, the recipe was rarely as well-balanced as it could have been (Volume Two and Third are my favourites).

Certainly by the time Fourth was cut, the influence of the early trio was hardly felt, with Allen and Ayers long gone, and Wyatt neither singing nor composing a track on an album that was to prove his last with Soft Machine. Here the jazzer instincts of organist Mike Ratledge and sax-player Elton Dean are predominant, although it is actually bassist Hugh Hopper who makes the strongest contributions in the composing department.

Ratledge's opener Teeth is toothless for too long, and a Dean freak-out over some jazz- rock towards the end doesn't save it. Dean's Fletcher's Blemish is equally flaccid, although its improvisatory nature means that it at least isn't as sterile as Teeth. On the positive side the Hopper compositions Kings And Queens and the four-part Virtually are stronger. The former is a brooding affair, while Virtually is the highlight of the album, despite being uneven. It kicks off with a guest spot from Nucleus' Roy Babington on double bass, and as some great drumming by Wyatt to boot. When Ratledge is involved the song really cooks (I particularly like the second half of Part 2) but that isn't often enough for my liking. There's also some nice "fuzzy" playing towards the end of Part 3, but for the life of me, I can't figure out which instrument it is!

Overall though, there's nothing here that approaches the heights of Ratledge's great organ performances on the preceeding album Third, which is probably why I consider this album a disappointment. ... 54% on the MPV scale

Trotsky | 3/5 |


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