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The Soft Machine - Seven CD (album) cover

SEVEN

The Soft Machine

 

Canterbury Scene

3.65 | 240 ratings

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Warthur
Prog Reviewer
4 stars With Roy Babbington taking over Hugh Hopper's spot on bass, Seven sees Mike Ratledge in the unenviable position of not only being the sole remaining founder member of the band left on the album, but also the sole remaining member of the lineup that recorded Third (or Fourth if you don't count Babbington's guest spots on that album). With Karl Jenkins composing the majority of songs on this album, it's clear that despite Ratledge remaining very much a presence on this album, his position as band leader had more or less been ceded to Jenkins at this point.

It took me a long while to warm up to this late phase of Soft Machine; I still have my reservations about the run of albums from Fourth to Six, and I suspect that the well-known behind-the-scenes tensions concerning the unit's musical direction may well have had something to do that (particularly Fourth, the infamous "No, Robert, we're not going to let you sing" album).

However, by this point the band had become Mike Ratledge plus three veterans of Nucleus, with Hopper taking his ideas elsewhere and Ratledge apparently running short on creative juices himself. It may, therefore, be best to take this stage of Soft Machine as simply being a continuation of Nucleus by other means - a haven for artists who'd decided they didn't fancy working with Ian Carr any more but did want to keep ploughing a similar furrow for a while.

I've found that if you approach the album less as a Soft Machine piece, with the Kevin Ayers/Robert Wyatt heritage that implies, and more like a Nucleus release, it's much more digestible. It's no surprise that it's jazz fusion all the way on this album, in much the same vein as the studio disc of Six (minus Hugh Hopper's contribution to that album, the foreboding 1983). The sound is somewhat more mellow and spacey, possibly because Mike Ratledge had finally got his hands on a synthesiser. In fact, the band seem so keen on their new toy they base a few songs (such as The German Lesson/The French Lesson) heavily around twinkling, futuristic synthesiser lines. To be honest,. this feels more than a little like filler, as though the band only had a few strong fusion compositions coming into the studio and so knocked out some New Age synth pieces to pad out the running time, but the album flows reasonably enough that this feels like a feature rather than a bug.

The fully-fledged fusion pieces here are, however, of a good standard, with a sound at points reminiscent of the Mahavishnu Orchestra's spacier and more mellow moments. On balance, this is a four-star album from the late-phase Softs, offering tantalising evidence that there's life in the old Machine yet.

Warthur | 4/5 |

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