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The Soft Machine - BBC - Radio 1967 - 1971 CD (album) cover

BBC - RADIO 1967 - 1971

The Soft Machine

 

Canterbury Scene

3.98 | 32 ratings

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Man With Hat
4 stars A wonderful live overview of the Robert Wyatt years.

If I had one consistent gripe with The Soft Machine it is the sound quality of their records. Live records especially tend to fluctuate between pretty nice and bloody awful (especially of the Wyatt years). Whether it be Elton's reeds, or Wyatt's drums or vocals, or terrible bootlegged-esque sound in general, there are few releases that are of great quality. (Thankfully, over the more recent years plenty of well recorded concerts have been released, but that's secondary to this review.) However, there is probably no institution better at recording music than the BBC. Always pristine sound quality, which usually brings out the best in the discs. This set is no exception. There were a couple of times I was honestly shocked to hear how well these sets were recorded, particularly on disc two. Aside from the astounding sound quality, this set collects all of the BBC recordings Soft Machine performed while Mr. Wyatt was still a member of the band, from their earliest days of a psychedelic-dada-pop-rock band to a free- rock/avant-jazz-rock band, and any steps in between.

Unfortunately the album starts off with the weakest set, IMHO. 1967 Ayers, Wyatt, Rateledge in full hippy mode. The problem is, for me, this feels a bit timid and weak compared to other versions of the songs (from The Soft Machine, for tracks 3-5). Perhaps it was just the constraints of the situation, or this was one of their earlier gigs, but for me, they sound like they were holding back for some reason. However, this is easily the most rich in sound this line up would produce (at least live), which gives this a bit more importance. Up next, is the trio of Hopper, Wyatt, and Rateledge (joined by Hugh's brother on track 6) giving an excellent performance of Facelift followed by the famous Mousetrap medley. The Moon In June amps up the historical importance with the full trio playing Wyatt's piece. Some fun new (improved?) lyrics highlight a fun early version of this song. Instant Pussy is an interesting addition, as it's Wyatt solo on Piano, voice, and cowbell, and it's nothing even close to the Matching Mole song of the same name. Finally, we get the "classic" quartet with Dean in the mix for a well done performance of Slightly All The Time/Out-Bloody-Rageous/Eamonn Andrews.

Disc two, picks things up where disc one left off. This set, Virtually and Fletcher's Blemish, are the highlights. Loud and heavy as anything from the era, blasting away into free-rock- jazz (not jazz-rock!) territories with sheer reckless abandon (sometimes disregarding rock and jazz altogether). I must say, this shows off Wyatt's powerful drumming better than anything on either disc. True classics IMO. Neo-Caliban Grides continues in a similar fashion, but not as incendiary, for better or worse. Some more harmless vocal/effects/clicking playing around by Wyatt for Dedicated To You...a quick track, which for me, is more interesting than the previous Wyatt experiment. Eamonn Andrews/All White follow. Interesting to hear Wyatt perform this tune as he would have left by the time this was recorded in studio. Finally, comes a very powerful performance of the sadly sort lived septet version of Soft Machine performing the Mousetrap Medley and Esther's Nose Job. Again, historically important, excellently played, and different enough to justify inclusion.

All in all, this is an excellent collection to represent the early years of Soft Machine. It's great to hear how the band evolved in such a short time. (Can't think of too many other bands that started off playing something like We Know What You Mean and wind up playing something like Fletcher's Blemish not too far in the future.) Even with the slightly lackluster performance of the opening quintet and the two Wyatt experiments this is some killer stuff. I would generally not recommend albums that weren't Third to begin the Soft's journey, but this CD would make a good introduction to the band for the uninitiated, giving a taste of everything the Softs could bring to the table. (As a side note: As Sean pointed out in his review, the liner notes are a bit...unprofessional and for me, absolutely laughable at times. But, you're not buying this for the liner notes.) For Machine fans, especially of the Wyatt years, this is essential. For the rest of the community, this is an excellent addition to your collection. A very strong 4 stars. Recommended.

Man With Hat | 4/5 |

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