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The Soft Machine - Fourth CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine


Canterbury Scene

3.49 | 305 ratings

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Special Collaborator
Post/Math Rock Team
3 stars This was the first 100% instrumental Soft Machine album and the last to feature Robert Wyatt. Saxophonist Elton Dean is a full member now and he has a big influence on the band's sound. Wyatt left because he didn't like the non-vocal, more jazz-inclined direction the group was heading into. He formed his own group named after the French term for Soft Machine: 'machine molle'(Matching Mole). Here they take the jazz element of the previous two albums and put more emphasis on it, while mostly ignoring their psych-rock past. This is basically a fusion album with no real 'Canterbury' sound involved. Some guest musicians appear, including wind players whom some might be familiar with from some Crimson and Caravan albums; and bassist Roy Babbington who plays acoustic double bass here while Hugh Hopper plays the electric bass parts (he will replace Hopper as Softs' bassist later on).

Overall not as great an album as Third was, but this has one advantage over that album: better production. Third sounded like it was recorded on 4-track in someone's bedroom; Fourth sounds like it was recorded in a professional recording studio on a 16-track console. Fifth would be an improvement sonically over this but also more jazzy as well. Although 'fusion' this still sounds different from your typical American fusion of the time; the fuzzed out organ and bass along with the backwards effects gives this a more 'British' flavour. The only Ratledge composition "Teeth" opens the album with some acoustic double bass; this is probably the most trad jazz sounding track on the album. Not until the wah-organ and fuzz-bass show up does it sound like fusion. Not one of Softs' best songs but a highlight of this album.

"Kings And Queens" is a song you can listen to on PA. It's the only song by the Machine that you can stream on PA but it is not a good introduction to the band for anyone who has never heard their music before. This has somewhat of a similar vibe to what Miles Davis was doing at the same time. "Fletcher's Blemish" was written by Dean and is the most avant- jazz oriented track on the album. They be all up in your face with their noisiness. To some this would sound like some toddlers were let loose in a recording studio.

Hopper's four-part "Virtually"(which comprised the original second side) is what saves Fourth from being just another fusion/avant-jazz album. This is the centerpiece of the whole album and basically could be considered an epic due to the four parts segueing into each other (even though they are four seperate tracks). Part 1 is based around 2 notes to which the musicians improvise around. Part 2 starts with duelling sax and organ. This track is pretty free with no structure at all until it reprises the earlier 2 notes. Part 3 starts with backwards organ and overdubbed saxes playing atonally. Then wah-organ and double bass soloing. Then some fuzz-bass soloing.

Part 4 opens with phased organ and (non-fuzz) electric bass noodling, along with some subdued sax work. Some backwards effects later. The last two parts are basically drumless but Wyatt is still present. Definately not a place to start with Soft Machine. You're better off checking out the first three albums first, or if you are already a fusionhead proceed directly to the album Bundles. One of the group's weaker efforts but not unlistenable. 3 stars.

zravkapt | 3/5 |


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