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The Soft Machine - Fourth CD (album) cover

FOURTH

The Soft Machine

 

Canterbury Scene

3.46 | 226 ratings

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Warthur
Prog Reviewer
2 stars Fourth - the Softs did go in for nice simple studio album titles early on in their career didn't they? - is infamously the last studio album from the Soft Machine to feature Robert Wyatt's playing, and the only one of his tenure in the band in which he is not permitted to sing (though he did have to fight tooth and nail to have Moon In June, the sole vocal track, included on Third). This under-use of Wyatt's talents is baffling to me - equally baffling is the way his drumming is sometimes buried in the mix - but what really gets to me is the fact that this is the first Soft Machine studio album I'd characterise as being less than absolutely consistently good.

Musically speaking, the tracks lie on a continuum from a slightly more jazzy take on the fusion sound of Third (as on Virtually) to an approach which takes on so much of jazz and incorporates so little rock that it's no longer really fusion, just jazz - as seen with Teeth. The difference in approach is most striking when you come to this album after listening to the absolutely blinding fusion rendition of Teeth on Grides, a live album recorded partway through the process of recording Fourth, so it's clear that quite late in the day a sudden change in direction has been mandated.

My guess is that some persons within the Machine were angling to get more recognition from the jazz establishment (having thoroughly won over the progressive rock crowd), but the end result is that material like Teeth ends up coming across as being less experimental or novel than material being released by people like Miles Davis, who at the time was approaching fusion from the jazz end (rather from the rock end as the Softs did). Either way, an album which is pleasant enough at times but it's far from the best rendition of the material available, and it's also an album which buries the Softs' virtues for the sake of an experiment in the band's sound that doesn't quite work. I'm not keen, myself.

Warthur | 2/5 |

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