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The Soft Machine - Third CD (album) cover

THIRD

The Soft Machine

 

Canterbury Scene

4.21 | 695 ratings

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thehallway
Prog Reviewer
3 stars The Canterbury Scene has always been a vague genre, focusing more on the home-towns of bands than their actual music! The Soft Machine are of course, jazz fusion, with perhaps one Canterbury-esque member in Robert Wyatt (after all, he writes the whimsical lyrics). Therefore their labelling is fairly misleading, although it hardly matters in the case of Third, an album so widely praised that it will be difficult for any prog fan to ignore it. How ironic though, that it is taking me quite a while to actually start this review; it takes Soft Machine quite a while to start their album!

'Facelift' suffers from the overuse of psychedelic, dissonant burbling noises that so heavily populate early Pink Floyd albums. The first 5 minutes of the first track on an album is probably the most crucial point where you will gain or lose listeners... Well, having paid money for this album, I sat through it. The rest of the song is nothing more than an okay piece of jazz rock; probably better suited to being around 10 minutes than 18. 'Slightly All The Time' is an improvement, in the vein of Miles Davis fusion but perhaps a little less varied. This piece would be worthy of its length if there were some variation (I adore electric piano but even I become sick of it after this song... it doesn't even take a solo!). The drums and rhythms are the most interesting parts of side one and two.

Wyatt delivers his vocal piece 'Moon in June' on side three, characterised by Hammond chords and tongue-in-cheek lyrics. This too, turns into a jam, but is a good song and a bit more structured than 'Facelift'. I wouldn't go as far as to call it succinct though! The best part of this album is its finale, 'Out-bloody-rageous', which has the best improvisation, the best structure and dynamics, and a cool intro/coda reminiscent of Terry Riley's minimalism. The themes are catchy, the drums remain interesting and the soloing doesn't go on for an age. In this sense, the tracks on Third increase in quality chronologically in my opinion.

I'm afraid it isn't five star worthy to me, but Third is worth coming back to as the pieces get better with repeated listenings. Hopper is a great bass player and Wyatt is certainly underrated in the drum department. But one of the more attractive elements of this album (and something that will probably increase my taste for it in the future) is that it has more to offer than just jazz fusion. There are plenty of odd time-signatures, interesting chord progressions and changes of mood, as well as some crazy studio effects. Overall it is rather tackily constructed, with some moments that drag on, but the album's strong points kind of balance this out. Cleaner production and some editing would have created a Canterbury beast!

thehallway | 3/5 |

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