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The Soft Machine - Fourth CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine

Canterbury Scene

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4 stars A fine album. Real fine playing by fantastic musicians, but it fails to intrigue you like their previous effort: "Third." Teeth is a remarkable track though, mixing in Psychedelia with some groovy free jazz & "Bitch's Brew-esqe" electronic keyboards, a fantastic composition by keyboardist: Mike Ratledge. Kings & Queens is a typical jazz track, very cool, but does not enthrall my attention very long though. Flectcher's Blemish is actually a favorite of mine & is basically a free jazz track. Virtually parts 1 through 4 should of been just one track. I like this one very much, a good Hopper composition that's bold & maintains consistency.

Overall a very good album, but not a good starter point, become familiar & acquainted with Third & then check out the further releases.

Report this review (#22046)
Posted Sunday, December 28, 2003 | Review Permalink
3 stars Although this album contains some great tracks (Teeth, and parts of Virtually), it somehow feel disjointed. This is not helped by the poor recording quality (perhaps it is better on the CD). Wyatt left soon after recording it, as Hopper and Ratledge flat out told him they did not like his passionate-style drumming. However, this album achieves an atmosphere ('malaise' perhaps?) that is special and that I have never heard anywhere else.
Report this review (#22047)
Posted Monday, February 2, 2004 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars (fourth of a series of eleven)

3.5 stars really! How can you follow their previous album ? By going in the direction they started with THIRD and let the Psychadelic Caterpillar transform itself into this majestic Fusion Buterfly. But by god is this ever cold sounding.....

Side 1 is made from three tracks some very jazz sounding without the fusion element especially the Ratledge-penned opening track and therefore lack a bit of punch (energy). Elton Dean makes his mark and one can feel that Wyatt will not hang around much longer as this is a totally instrumental album. I even think that Ratledge asked him not to sing on the album because he did not like his voice (Tbc).....

But this album is Hugh Hopper's album: he composed the multi-movement suite on side 2 , some of it quite delightful in athmospheres and they get some help from the "Keith Tippet Boys" Charig and Evans and from ex-Nucleus Babbington as they add much of the punch lacking on side 1 . His Kings track on side 1 was also the better one.

Report this review (#22048)
Posted Tuesday, February 3, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars There is a quality about Fourth that is carried on from Third but to me is more warmer in a very subliminal way with a touch of '50 jazz played with a late '60's early '70's rock'n'fused mentality. For a long time Fourth has been the most played Soft Machine album I possess and while certainly not as diverse or as strong as Third it does have a very endearing feeling. But then again Soft Machine are a very unique band and played a music they possibly could never be masters at but with Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean bending and driving notes would help cover up any limitations/overindulged and frustrated noise that may have ebbed through. "Teeth" is a continuous rolling piece of Soft Machine filth that becomes hypnotic and embedded in your brain like a stoned out daze. All parts of "Virtually" are equal to it and this would be the nearest the Softs get to recreating a full blown almost side long jazzy jam as it shuffles along at will. The fact that Robert Wyatt does not add any vocal to any of the compositions on Fourth is in my book a blessing. His voice is certainly an acquired taste and I much preferred the complete instrumentation running from start to finish. The one big factor he provide to the Soft Machine was his drumming, he provided a raw and rocking looseness. But as he exited the Softs soon after the release of this album his replacement John Marshall lacked that edge and instead added a schooled discipline as the Soft Machine fragmented.
Report this review (#22052)
Posted Sunday, August 29, 2004 | Review Permalink
3 stars First of all, the album sleeve is really cool, it perfectly displays the music of the band: mysterious and a little bit elitaire. Actually this album deserves 3 and a half stars, because the free-jazz is really great, but does'nt beat the power of it's previous albums. Every composition has got technical perfection, but some absences of exitement at the same time, except for the tracks Kings and Queens and Teeth. Fletcher Blemish is'nt really nice, but it's very, very brave. Virtually (all parts) is a bit long winded, but in spite of that it's very good, especially the atmospheric part 3. Very good album, but you have to find the right moment for listening it.
Report this review (#22053)
Posted Thursday, February 10, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars this album is the first soft machine's one i've bought and the first listening session concluded with a sense of pure joy: the sound is unique - the recording, the style in playing - and the generic atmosphere of the whole album is really great. a deep travel through jazz, rock and psychedelic organized around hopper's bass and wyatt (i think) incredible drumming. the very best i've found in virtually pt4: this song in one of the best i've ever heard! simply amazing in the dynamics of rhytm and sound, incredible running of sax...heavy flirts with the jazz style and psychedelyc mix the whole song in a precious song. far away from anything else...simply soft maschine.
Report this review (#22054)
Posted Thursday, May 26, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars The story of Soft Machine's progression (some might say decline!) from whimsical psych- tinged proto-proggers (that amazingly housed Daevid Allen, Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt at the same time!) to full-blown jazz-fusion instrumentalists is pretty well-known. I've often felt that while the band had all the ingredients, the recipe was rarely as well-balanced as it could have been (Volume Two and Third are my favourites).

Certainly by the time Fourth was cut, the influence of the early trio was hardly felt, with Allen and Ayers long gone, and Wyatt neither singing nor composing a track on an album that was to prove his last with Soft Machine. Here the jazzer instincts of organist Mike Ratledge and sax-player Elton Dean are predominant, although it is actually bassist Hugh Hopper who makes the strongest contributions in the composing department.

Ratledge's opener Teeth is toothless for too long, and a Dean freak-out over some jazz- rock towards the end doesn't save it. Dean's Fletcher's Blemish is equally flaccid, although its improvisatory nature means that it at least isn't as sterile as Teeth. On the positive side the Hopper compositions Kings And Queens and the four-part Virtually are stronger. The former is a brooding affair, while Virtually is the highlight of the album, despite being uneven. It kicks off with a guest spot from Nucleus' Roy Babington on double bass, and as some great drumming by Wyatt to boot. When Ratledge is involved the song really cooks (I particularly like the second half of Part 2) but that isn't often enough for my liking. There's also some nice "fuzzy" playing towards the end of Part 3, but for the life of me, I can't figure out which instrument it is!

Overall though, there's nothing here that approaches the heights of Ratledge's great organ performances on the preceeding album Third, which is probably why I consider this album a disappointment. ... 54% on the MPV scale

Report this review (#39982)
Posted Friday, July 22, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars I bought this album for the first time a long time ago. It always sounded to me like a very warm album with plenty of texture and feeling. I especially like Teeth with it's complexity. I always preferred Soft Machine without the singing. It still sounds like a very individual statement from a time when all things seemed possible.
Report this review (#42024)
Posted Monday, August 8, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars It was released in February, 1971 "4(Fourth)". The saxophone of Elton Dean that became a formal member and the organ of Mike Ratledge feel the tension. Work by which nuance of free jazz becomes strong further. The Electric sound is suppressed. It is a sound with a clear outline clear of solo and the ensemble. The suite in old B side is a psychedelic masterpiece of the free jazz. The double bass of Roy Babbington is impressive in the guest's performance. It is October and in November, 1970 to record.
Report this review (#44204)
Posted Thursday, August 25, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars One of my favorite Soft Machine releases, "Fourth" saw them progress further into regular jazz though it still had the canterbury sounding to it. It's similar to "Third", only more jazz oriented. As with all Soft Machine releases this one shows that this band really can play, it's more or less flawless technically, and the band masters the insanely difficult time signatures with complete ease. Unfortunately, this was drummer Robert Wyatt's last album with the band, it seemed that he didn't like the direction the band was going through, so he quitted to make his own solo career.

Musically, the songs are well balanced and pretty even. The best cut have to be the opener, "Teeth", one of their very best songs and perhaps the jazziest on the album. Hugh Hopper's "Virtual" suite is also a stand-out here. Overall, the album has enough to please most jazz-rock/canterbury fans, though it's a bit inacessible but it's a grower, so don't worry! Newbies should hear some of their other stuff first though, otherwise this one is highly recommended. 4.25/5

Report this review (#56983)
Posted Friday, November 18, 2005 | Review Permalink
Zac M
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars It was clearly obvious by this time that Soft Machine had changed for good. This album, while good, doesn't live up to the three previous albums. The band, with little Wyatt influence (this was infact his last release with the band), had decided to head in a more avant jazz/rock direction. I agree with Hugues remark about this album seeming "cold" compared to the band's previous albums.

The incorporation of wind parts by Dean and co. make this album particularly interesting. Elton Dean is a remarkable artist and free jazz musician, and his influence on this album is even more pertinent than on Third. I may be the only one, but I particularly enjoy the album opener. It's probably my favorite track on the entire album, although Hopper's side-long suite is particularly good as well. It's too bad this was the last album with Wyatt on drums, but I can see why he left. The band were obviously treading in one direction and Wyatt in another.

Like I said, this is a good release, but to me, it is no more interesting than Wyatt's The End of an Ear, which was released earlier. While an essential release for Softs fans, I can still only award this album 3 stars, although 3.5 would be more like it. It's just not quite good enough for four stars.

Report this review (#64650)
Posted Friday, January 13, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Well, Fourth is a logical progression from Third, with the band voyaging ever increasingly into the seas of instrumental fusion and away from their psychedelic-cum- vocals beginnings. As can be guessed from this trajectory, Robert Wyatt was being pushed further and further out of frame. Notably, his role on this album is strictly drumming with no vocals. Still, he hid his disenfranchisement well, and lays down some excellent work here. At its best, the brand of fusion that the band was developing was rather unique sounding. Obviously, it drew influence from the usual suspects (e.g., the abrupt cadenzas of Coltrane and sensitive feel of the ballads from Miles Davis' quintet) but injected on top of that British elements that don't show any direct correspondence to other prominent fusion bands of the time (e.g., the backwards tape loops experimentation, the rock fuzz-bass of Hopper, the wailing organ of Ratledge).

Aptly described by Hugh Hopper as a "difficult to severe to bloody" piece to play, Mike Ratledge's "Teeth" is my favorite Soft Machine piece and a true, underrated classic of prog instrumentals. One of their most intricately composed, going in just over 9 minutes through unpredictable phases of fast and slow, intricate order and chaotic rage. There are two moments (among many) that I particularly love. One is right after the opening fanfare with the uneven call-response of Roy Babbington's acoustic bass and Elton Dean's corkscrew sax lines-the band gets down to business with a 3/4 shuffle memorable for Roy Babbington's sprightly runs interlocking with Wyatt's go-for-broke drumming. Another is in the middle, when the piece bursts into a Coltranian crescendo: Dean and Ratledge locking into a melodic cadenza, Hopper's fuzz-bass growling from out of nowhere, and Wyatt's drums beating like waves against a rock, before these musical elements gradually meld and begin swirling around and around like the formation of a whirlpool.

For all of the busyness of "Teeth," by stark contrast "Kings and Queens" represents one of the band's most stripped-down, laid back pieces. It somewhat resembles a blues form, in 6/4 cycling between Dmin and a shorter stretch of Bmin. "Fletcher's Blemish" is a piece contributed by free-jazzer Dean, and the side-long "Virtually," composed by Hopper, acts as a kind of summary statement of all the elements heard in the previous songs.

Of course, there are those who will always maintain that any Soft Machine worth hearing ended at Third. To that I can only say out-bloody-rageous, though I guess can respect that the mid-period of the Softs ain't going to be for everyone, particularly those who disdain fusion. As for Fourth, though it peaks early, it remains compelling throughout. After his final outing with Soft Machine, Wyatt would depart to form Matching Mole.

Report this review (#126260)
Posted Monday, June 18, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars Even before Robert Wyatt leaves Soft Machine distinct changes can be heard. The first thing that is noticeable is the big step towards jazz/rock. This album is dominated by Hugh Hopper's compositions which is a good thing since I feel that Ratledge's contribution (Teeth) seems to lack any bite when compared to Hopper's Virtually suite. The only thing that saves the opening tack from being a dull intro to an otherwise great album is Elton Dean's playing and Roy Babbington's double bass contributions.

This travesty is soon countered by the following track, Kings and Queens. This is one of my favourite Hopper penned songs. The repetitive bass line keeps the song in order and doesn't have extreme changes in sound like the previous song did. Following is Elton Dean's song Fletcher's Blemish. This one is a good outlet for Dean's free jazz style playing and is highly enjoyable even if it lacks a bit of centrality

Now for my favourite part of this album, the Virtually suite. One of Hopper's finer moments. These four tracks more than make up for the lag felt by Teeth. The prominent bass playing from Hopper is superb. The one thing this suite lacks is an ending.

Overall this is a great album for those who like the jazzier side of the Canterbury Scene. The music is great with a few blights here and there, but is mostly up to standard. Something that irked me is how Wyatt's playing seems to be shunted to one side and not given enough attention. A great album, but a downer after the superb Third. 3.5/5 stars.

Report this review (#131093)
Posted Wednesday, August 1, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / In Memoriam

By the time FOURTH was released-1971-, SOFT MACHINE was one of the biggest name not only on the prog scene, but on the whole rock scene overall. Their first 3 albums were total creative, innovative, ground breaking masterpieces very challenging but were received to great critic and..commercial acclaim. Quite a feat coming with some music such as FACELIFT. Their tours were also very successful and often played sold out and were even a regular staple on rock TV shows of this time in Europe as wellL.

Specialized Rock magazines held many yearly polls back then on who is the best keyboardist, best guitarist, etc and the names of HUGH HOPPER, MIKE RATLEDGE or ROBERT WYATT were always in consideration. But the glorious times won't last as SOFT MACHINE would waste no time to squander their newly aquired relative fame by releasing non-descript albums such as FOURTH.

For the first time -and only time- in SOFT MACHINE history , there won't be any personel changes between albums; So the same quartet RATLEDGE-HOPPER-WYATT-DEAN is back with some help of their friends like NUCLEUS bassist-future SOFT MACHINE member ROY BABBINGTON or the great flutist JIMMY HASTINGS. If FOURTH is numerically the successor of THIRD, there are big differences between these two releases.

1) One could expect that after 3 very creative LPs, the band at some point would lose some spark and get into some kind of a inspirational slump. It just happened here as MIKE RATLEDGE, the main architect of THIRD comes back with only one track TEETH, a complete jazz tune with absolutely no ''teeth'', 10 mns of conventional jazz with no particular memorable parts and endless soloing. This is not even jazz/rock, don't mention the word ''fusion'' either; just 50s jazz played by a 70s british band.

2) The same musicians who played on THIRD are all present on FOURTH, but there is a another BIG difference between the 2 albums. ROBERT WYATT's voice has been completely shut down as FOURTH is entirely instrumental.Any link with the past when SOFT MACHINE was playing fresh and funny music has been cut for good.When you listening to FOURTH , you cant believe that this is the same band KEVIN AYERS and DAEVID ALLEN played with not a long time ago.

Not only, we are not treated to the delicate vocals of ROBERT, but he is also completely absent in the composition department. He is merely just a drummer and that's it.I am sure you guess this would be his last album with SOFT MACHINE before going to form MATCHING MOLE ( a sacarstic frenchized name for his former band)

3) ROBERT WYATT might not have been authorized by boss MIKE to bring any new songs, but ELTON DEAN did! He came with an atrocious, horrible piece of ''music'' (or lack of) named FLETCHER'S BLEMISH a complete free-form jazz experimentation with no heads or tails. Just think of you bringing 3 friends in your garage, just take any instruments and play them without worrying what the others are doing!! FLETCHER'S BLEMISH is just as good! A shame for a band that was so creative very recently.

4) the sound of the overall music has quite changed since THIRD. First of all, MIKE RATLEDGE spends more time behind the electric piano than using his organ. One important part of THIRD magic was his organ playing, especially the unique gorgeous sound he could get out of this instrument. It is still present on some parts and of course, they are the best moments of FOURTH; the very nice KINGS AND QUEENS, the best track of the album penned by HUGH HOPPER; A 5 mn tune that could have been featured on THIRD holding its own worth.

HUGH HOPPER too ''forgot'' somewhere his distinctive fuzz bass which created such beautiful music mixed with the organ of RATLEDGE on THIRD . You have to wait for the end of the ex-side 2 of the album to hear it again on the side long suite VIRTUALLY reminding us of the good old sound, especially when coupled with the organ sound we loved. The problem is this HUGH HOPPER suite VIRTUALLY is nothing great compared to any THIRD 4 masterpieces.

One thing for sure, we cannot criticize the fact SOFT MACHINE was not trying to please the masses at this time, they went their own way, play the music they wanted, but i am not sure a lot of SOFT MACHINE fans wanted to listen to straight sounding Jazz with barely any rock reference in their music. This is ''serious'' music, but boring music they will perform for a while played by men with moustaches looking like college science or old Greek professors losing their fans along the road. Where were you, KEVIN at this time?with Lady RACHEL, i guess!

What a transformation between the end od 1969 and 1971? same name, two different bands with nothing in common. Surprisingly ,FOURTH did relatively well commercially, but i think it's more due to the strenght of its predecessor than the musical value of this album. In France, it went even #9 in sales in the rock sales ( even if there is barely anything remotely rock in it) but the buyers will make sure that the next FIFTH won't chart as well anywhere; they learned their lesson!

It will take time for SOFT MACHINE to come back with good albums, but they will! However, that will be -once again- a different SOFT MACHINE, a different band, a different sound! I like this band, but i have to be honest with FOURTH, i cannot give it more than.....


Report this review (#136335)
Posted Wednesday, September 5, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Clearly an extension of Third, Fourth pushes Robert Wyatt vocals away and heads towards free-jazz. This is a particurlarly important point at the Softs career, seen that they seem to have "spent" all the inspiration here (leading to their poorest effort, which in IMHO is Fifth): Ratledge's intense, dynamic and breath-taking "Teeth" is arguably an early-Fusion masterpiece, and Hopper, who wrote more than a half of the album, explores either gorgeous atmospheres (particurlarly on the fuzzy organ and a very sensitive sax work) either short and ever changing moods on Virtually. Both songs shouldn't let the listener down or bore him such as Fifth.

Kings And Queens and Fletcher's Blemish, however, are a deception. The former, penned by Hopper, is somewhat repetitive and dry, which give a hint of his later compositions on Soft Machine and his subsequent leaving. And the latter song was written, if I am not mistaken, by Elton Dean. His approach to avant-garde and atonalism surfaces here for good and, unless you enjoy that sort of music, most people are likely to find almost annoying or even acuse it of not being music at all.

As the album consists of about 30 minutes of Hopper and Ratledge greatest work (along with Third and Volume Two, although the latter is very different), I wouldn't take very long to recomend it to any "regular" proghead or jazz/fusion lover. Have fun!

Report this review (#144896)
Posted Monday, October 15, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is a punch in the face, a breath of fresh air. It's Soft Machine's Fourth.

Actually, this is a very complicated album critic-wise. On the other hand, you have those who think that this is Soft machine's true first album, where they become a true jazz fusion band. And those who think this is SM's crash point. Well I'm actually a bit with both, except that I'm not pejoratising anything I like both of their eras. What I really love here is the fact that this is sadly Wyatt's last album, and that he could work on a sort of structured piece of work. Elton Dean's saxophone is the main instrument in the album, along side with a quite strange keyboard lead that kind'of sounds like a kazoo (it's pretty bad ass when it's mixed up with sax). What I like wit this album is that it's a long version of the 18 minute long song off of Third named Slightly All The Time. It has a fast 60's/50's jazz beat thrown with Rhodes Piano, as well as your ambient-ish Jazz Fusion, which Soft are very known to do. And the Virtually series is bad ass, very powerful.

I don't much to say, this is a good album, it could've had 5 stars seriously, it's jut that there's some lack of originality, it's probably why Wyatt left and formed the awesome Matching Mole. But it's a very good album, a must have for jazz fans.

Report this review (#159039)
Posted Saturday, January 19, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars By the time Fourth was recorded in Autumn 1970 the Hopper, Ratledge, Wyatt & Dean quartet had reached their creative peak first glimpsed on the track 'Facelift' from Third and the interplay here is quite breathtaking. 'Teeth', taken at a furious rate with Ratledge's possessed and stuttering organ solo gives way to Hugh Hopper's brooding 'Kings and Queens' this is a showcase for Elton Dean's more subdued yet intense playing which leads on to Deans own free workout the shuddering 'Fletchers Blemish'.

Hugh Hoppers 'Virtually' Parts 1 - 4 close 'Fourth' with a suite that includes the playing of other free luminaries of the time such as the cornet player Mark Charig,Trombonist Nick Evans and the Coltranish tenor of Alan Skidmore.

Report this review (#172577)
Posted Friday, May 30, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Fourth is the ( well yes) the fourth album from The Soft Machine. On the previous album Third The Soft Machine was almost transformed from a psychadelic canterbury rock band into a jazz combo. There were enjoyable moments on Third for those of us who are not very interested in jazz, but those moments were far between. The most of Moon in June was great though. On Fourth the transformation is complete. The Soft Machine is now a jazz band.

The music is dominated by sax soloing by Elton Dean who is now a steady member of the band. Mike Ratledge also plays some organ solos occasionally. The drum and bass playing from Robert Wyatt and Hugh Hopper is great as always. Robert Wyatt has dropped the vocals on Fourth which is fully instrumental. There are still a few psychadelic moments and I must say it´s about the only thing I enjoy on this album. Virtually part 3 and 4 have an almost ambient atmospheric sound that I can partially enjoy while the be-bop/ free jazz of Teeth and especially Fletcher´s Blemish is annoying if I´m in a good mood and downright terrible if I´m not. I can´t stand this style of music.

The musicianship is good as mentioned so I won´t say anything negative about that part of Fourth.

The production is also very good.

Third was a great disappointment to me but Fourth drives the last nail into Soft Machines coffin. This is a terrible album if you ask me. This is only recommendable to jazz freaks. Don´t expect what I associate with Canterbury on Fourth which means whimsical vocals, soft prog rock with jazzy elements and great humour. The only reason I don´t rate this 1 star is because of the outstanding musicianship. This is a 2 star album for me.

Report this review (#174771)
Posted Sunday, June 22, 2008 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars I think the reason I like this album so much is because Hopper composed most of it. This is very jazzy, but at at the same time it's not normal Jazz. There are lots of dissonant and Avant-garde passages plus some Free-Jazz improvs which makes this a little difficult to digest if your not into this style of music. This is SOFT MACHINE's first all-instrumental album much to Wyatt's disappointment. He would leave after this recording.

"Teeth" is a Ratledge composition and it does have it's moments (haha). Keys, drums and sax are quite prominant early as we get outbursts of sounds until a steady melody arrives with throbbing bass. Sax leads the way though. Very jazzy. It stops before 3 1/2 minutes and then we get blasted with sounds including fuzz. Keys lead the way 4 1/2 minutes in but the music changes so often. Ratledge does lead the way though from 6 1/2 minutes in to the end with some fuzzed out organ runs. "Kings And Queens" is a Hopper tune. This is perhaps my favourite along with parts of "Virtuality". This one is dark with some atmosphere. Wyatt really shines with his intricate drum work. Sax comes and goes. The piano is reserved and the bass is subtle. Some dissonant sax late. "Fletcher's Blemish" is such a unique title. It fits the music though. This is Elton Dean's baby, and the Free-Jazz maestro offers up just that, a Free-Jazz improv. Avant-garde is the word folks.

"Virtuality" is divided into 4 parts and takes up side two of the album. This is Hopper's suite. Part 1 features some alto sax as Wyatt keeps very busy. He seems to shine on the Hopper tunes. The sax stops as bass comes in around 1 1/2 minutes, the sound is very reserved. Keys also join in around 3 minutes as it seems to build. A fuller sound 4 1/2 minutes in as sax returns. Part 2 opens with fuzz organ and horns. The sax and drums become more prominant. This continues until we get more of a melody after 3 1/2 minutes. This sax led passage continues to the end of this part. Part 3 really does't have a lot going on. This is darker and more atmospheric. I like it. Lots of fuzz bass 2 minutes in to the end of this part with atmospheric keys helping out. Nice. Part 4 continues with the almost spacey vibe as atmospheric keys, bass and sax all play in such a laid back style. The sounds slowly build. Then it ends.

A solid 4 star album for me. I find this one adventerous at times but always rewarding.

Report this review (#179545)
Posted Wednesday, August 13, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars I listened a lot to this album lately and I must say that it's quite an interesting album. Listening to this album twice or three times in a row doesn't seem to bother me. However, at some moments the band seems to be lost in it's own experimentation. 'Fletcher's Blemish' is a piece with one brilliant melodie, but this is interrupted by a long and large dosis of noise, which just seems pointless to me. Ratledge's 'Teeth' is in my opinion the highlight of the album. Virtually has got brilliant melodies, but these melodies sometimes seem to end to soon.

It's understandable, why Wyatt left the band, because the band seems to be drifting even more from the Canterbury weirdness into Jazz/Rock, which he didn't like. This was also why he didn't wrote any song on this album and didn't sang. All in all it's a very interesting work to listen to but not the best work by the band.

Report this review (#219055)
Posted Sunday, May 31, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars They had the style till then face a more reformative flow at the same time as transfering the register to CBS in 1970. Show..Music..obviously..color..strong..go, this album became the second a work from CBS. The style of the tune has the flow that unites the style of Jazz further and is constructed. However, it had already been proven not to end in mere Jazz Rock by the sensibility that Softs had in the United States and Britain. The flow of the entire tune became shape to condense the composition of a further form.. tune in "Third" extremely further. However, Softs at this time will be sure to be the most important for Canterbury Scene album including "Third" and this album. Wyatt is guessed that the next plan had already arisen in his head in this album though takes an active part. However, the principal member of Softs revolutionizes in the age and the album changes the consistency of Softs little by little. It is guessed that it matches so that Wyatt may produce Solo Album in 1971 and the directionality of Softs had liquidity in it. I think that this album is indispensable if talking about mid-term Softs. And, it might be one of the masterpieces in Softs. The flow of the album lands in the suite of "Virtually" including the first "Teeth". This album with a severe flow might clarify the revolution from "Third" and the flow changed into an external limited element in "Fifth" to which possession Wyatt came off an inner element. One the top might have been received for them at this time if the history of Softs was considered.
Report this review (#223149)
Posted Thursday, June 25, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars I am a big fan of Third. I think that album has a raw nerve and some superb music. I have been told that Fourth is even better. I disagree.

The opener Teeth is an elegant track with both cool jazz elements and some very intense improvisation parts which builds up the track to an almost crescendo. Superb stuff. Kings and queens is very elegant with some cool jazz parts and a laidback feeling. It is a hypnotic track and it is alone worthy my whole investment in this album. Superb stuff again. I will use a lot of big words about the next track too. Fletcher's Blemish is like sending a flock of wilder beasts through a shopping mall. No structure and just chaos and utter chaos. This track is junk and just that. Junk.

The four parts long Virtually is Soft Machine exploring various themes in an intelligent manner. Again, a blend of cool jazz and intense improvisations over themes. I really like the whole Virtually epos. It is healing for a sore brain and body. It is also very intelligently crafted and captivating. Which is the essence of this band as far as I am concerned. This is another very good album from them. Although it is not as good as Third, I still rate it.

3.5 stars

Report this review (#236519)
Posted Wednesday, September 2, 2009 | Review Permalink
1 stars Well i can't say i am a fan of the Softs BUT i am a huge lover of Third. This album had it all, the jazzy passages from Mr Dean, the great melodies from Ratledge, the fuzzy basslines of Hopper, great flow through out the songs, substance, i mean they really wrote some music there. Whereas in this album i don't really get it. Except the opening track Teeth which is absolutely fantastic (i loved it for the same reasons i loved Third.i mean it is greatly structured, and a lot more jazzier and less psychedelic than any of Third's songs but on the same level) As for the othe songs i just don't get it. Kings and Queen is a repetitive bassline much like ones you hear on Third by Hopper but in this case it is just that, over and over for Dean to play solos and Wyatt playing randomly.. Simply nothing else is going on, but you can say this is a song. What about the next one Fletcher's Blemish? what is this?They play whatever comes to mind, total luck of coherence, just improvising live on studio, no melodies, no actual parts or riffs or any themes or nothing.Just random notes here and there and in my ears Noise. Virtually is another big song consisting of four parts the first being an actual song,very good double bass from Roy Babbington. But again in part 2 3 and a half minutes go wasted playing randomly again and the songs starts of again till the end but a repetition of part 1. Still don't get it. Part 3 and 4 could be one part as they are totally the same thing, one continues right after the 3d ends and these 2 songs are some wah keys from Ratledge and Dean playing slow sax melodies which i enjoy but seven minutes of this is just a waste of time.

Overall this album (i wouldn't really call it an album) is one hole song, and somewhere in between some good stuff for 3 or 4 minutes.the rest of it is random stuff .Not a real musical idea.That is why i put it one star.

Report this review (#259058)
Posted Sunday, January 3, 2010 | Review Permalink
2 stars I won't be too long in the description of this musical experience: the fourth album from "Soft Machine".

While I was positively enthusiast about their debut album, I couldn't really cope with their production afterwards (except on eside of their "Third" album).

While there was still one (and ONLY one) excellent song on their previous release ("Moon In June"), I can't find any out here. Pure jazz rock music from A to Z. Mostly free jazz and conventional one.

Not my cup of tea AT ALL. I am trying hard to find anything positive about this work. The musicianship of course, but in terms of "song" writing, this resembles to the Sahara: a huge desert as far as I am concerned.

I will rate this work with two stars (but three out of ten would be more accurate). This album is meant for jazz lovers only.

Nous ne serons jamais d'accord Antoine. Ni ŕ propos de "Soft Machine" ni ŕ propos de "Genesis".

Report this review (#338386)
Posted Monday, November 29, 2010 | Review Permalink
The Quiet One
3 stars The logical follow-up to Third?

Yes, I actually think this is a logical follow-up to the grandiose Third. Does logical follow-up mean a better album? No, Fourth doesn't have the 'unique' feel the previous album had, it kind of repeats the previous album's formula. However, there is a change as you expect from the band, The Soft Machine was way into deep jazz grounds by this time, with even more brass musicians on board contributing which at times may remind us of Zappa's big band stuff, there's even a double bass player to let you know that this will be jazzier than ever.

Fourth is a 70s 'jazz' album which is played greatly as one would expect, also one expects it to be memorable, but unfortunately ths time the band didn't manage that very well.

'Teeth' for example starts as an energised jazz composition with extended sax playing by Elton Dean, enough change of paces to keep the listener awake, but overall it just seems to emulate past glories. It's a good track alright, the same goes for 'Kings & Queens', a much gentler affair, and the 20 minute four-piece 'Virtually' which was entirely composed by bass player, Hugh Hopper, but nothing really strikes you as genius as 'Moon in June' or 'Out Bloody Rageous'.

Only throwaway track would be the free jazz tune 'Fletcher's Blemish' composed by Elton Dean, but surely anyone fond of Coltrane's and Ornette's noisy stuff will understand something from this tune.

I would recommend this to anyone who really digs the jazz aspect the most from Third, they'll surely find something to enjoy from Fourth, I know I do. Also, anyone looking for a quality 70s jazz album, this is not a bad one but probably not the most unique one out there.

3 stars: Borderline to be a 2 stars, well-played and some fine compositions but not all that fresh nor memorable. Though a must-have for the band's fans, that's for sure, it's not bad after all.

Report this review (#355765)
Posted Friday, December 17, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Fourth is the only Soft Machine's studio album, recorded with the same line-up as previous release (Third in this case). If Third was for band a revolutionary step from jazzy psychedelic pop/rock to complex jazz-rock territory, Fourth is excellent evolutionary example.

You will hardly find band's psychedelic pop/rock roots on Fourth, they are gone forever (both together with Wyatt vocals;dissatisfied with new direction he will leave band soon after Fourth will be released.Almost all albums compositions are written by Hopper, and band's sound moved towards more interplays between all musicians (instead of more solo oriented earlier works).

Music there is fully instrumental perfectly balanced complex jazz fusion with plenty of Dean's sax soloing (but still not extremely free form),Wyatt's drumming is possibly his ever best and all band sounds as real team of equal skilled musicians.Additional brass section and acoustic bassist add more texture to the sound.

Fourth is strong next step after excellent Third, step towards more jazz direction (for good and bad), and one of the best band's release ever. Possibly, only on this album you can find so good collective work of all musicians as one team and great balance between free form improvisation and structured compositions.

Report this review (#387982)
Posted Friday, January 28, 2011 | Review Permalink
Man With Hat
Jazz-Rock/Fusion/Canterbury Team
4 stars A transitional Machine.

Fourth is a bit of an odd beast in the Softs catalogue. Progressing further into the realm of jazz than anything previous, but still keeps a very unique aire about it. The sound of this record is the main attraction for me. I have yet to find an album in any genre that sounds the same. Not necessarily in terms of the music, but in terms of the sounds of the instruments themselves. The music I also feel is unique, perhaps being closer to free-rock than free-jazz (even though this was mostly composed). The drums pound away, never excessively erratic but never complacent. The sax doesn't blow everything away with its ferocity for the entire record, but is tuneful yet still with elements of extended freedom. The organ is nothing short of majestic at times, and provides some wonderful atmosphere, especially on side two. Hugh Hopper probably plays the greatest role, being he dominates the writing credits on Fourth. Perhaps that's even more credit to it him then, to evoke this sound of the group. There are also a handful of familiar faces that guest on double bass, horn, and a host of woodwind instruments.

Teeth begins the proceedings with an excellent melody line and some wonderful playing by Elton Dean. I particularly love Wyatt's drums here. So free sounding, yet quite composed. All elements included this is one of my favorite Soft Machine songs of any era. Kings And Queens is like the tide, ebbing and flowing, propelled by the almost soothing bassline of Hopper and the drums of Wyatt, creating a wonderful atmosphere. Fletcher's Blemish is similar in sound to Teeth but freer, and unfortunately less successful. Side two is Hopper's epic track Virtually. Admittedly, some parts of this suite do drag on, but there are some absolutely gorgeous moments as well. The last third or so of Part two is top notch Soft Machine, and the ending part is meditative and a fitting resolution to the suite and the disc.

All in all, Fourth is top tier Soft Machine. There is a bit of frustration with this release, as the sound is absolutely brilliant, but the results are not nearly that high. And unfortunately this would be Wyatt's swan song with the Machine, meaning the full potential of this group is probably not fully realized, which is a shame. Still, a strong album, but probably not the best one to start your Soft Machine journey with. Jazz fans will also find more to like here than previous albums whereas fans of psychedelic rock will probably find less to like. 4 to 4.5 stars. Recommended.

Report this review (#396364)
Posted Monday, February 7, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars This recording follows almost the same pattern of their previous one "Third", however we cannot consider that both albuns have the same quality. "Fourth" is an amazing Soft Machine's production. As the other one mentioned, this recording has lots of experiments, jazz/fusion characteristics, good works with bass, saxophone and keyboards (drums are better worked in the previous album) and Hugh Hopper appears as a great composer, making five of the seven songs of the album. But it doesn't bring the same energy of "The Third". You don't feel it the same way, mainly in Elton Dean's Fletcher's blemish, which we perceive an exagerated experiment, focusing too much the saxophone, although the music is not bad.
Report this review (#401424)
Posted Wednesday, February 16, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Where Third had been a record where the new Jazz direction was explored Robert Wyatt's more contemporary touch was still present and made it still very identifiable as Soft Machine. On this record they stray further into the Jazz domain and it makes for a more traditional Jazz sound.

Virtually Part's 1-4 is the high point of this record featuring fantastic experimentation and sounds with Robert Wyatt's final farewell a fantastic drum performance. Teeth, the albums opener also offers a fantastic listen with lots of improvisation around an interesting bass and drum pattern throughout it's duration.

Woodwind instruments are omnipresent throughout this record much more-so than on Third which makes for a less exciting musical experience but this is no less a fantastic record with brilliant performances from all involved and you can see Robert Wyatt's influence on the group has greatly diminished between the last record and Fourth.

Overall this is an album for Jazz purists with a lot of Miles Davis influence on the music and is by no means a traditional Canterbury scene record. For those who want Soft Machine at there collaborative peak buy Third, but to see fantastic musicians working hard individually and creating fantastic music Fourth is definitely the Soft Machine record for you.

Report this review (#409184)
Posted Monday, February 28, 2011 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#470888)
Posted Monday, June 27, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars While Third is inventive and in constant combustion, Fourth is barren, cold and desolate. It's almost as if the previous record was an atomic bomb and this is the aftermath of the explosion, and, in a sense, it is. By this time, every member was tired of the band and virtually hating each other, tension was specially high between Robert and the rest, isolating him and eventually leading to his exit in August 1971. Fourth reflects all of this and it also reflects the spirit of a band that isn't really sure of what next step to take and how to get away from the shadows of their masterpiece, and yet, this is entirelly different from Third.

Not quite. At least not mostly: so they basically carry on in the direction they began with Third or the state of mind, that is, to gradually move deeper into the world of jazz-rock, only this time staying more to the jazz side of the equation; in fact, there are parts here that are almost exclusively jazz. And that's about it.

The music on Fourth (apart from "Teeth" which, in spite of several seemingly improvised parts, is actually carefully written right to the bone) is freer and almost "stream of consciousness" in some points, basically glacial, allowing itself to move to unnexpected directions even when underpinned by a riff, but sometimes there are no riffs at all. Another thing that sets it apart from it's predecessor, and just about every other Soft Machine record, is the volume of this music: it is not intentionally mixed low or suffering from a bad transfer of a master tape, the music is played that way, in this laid back style and low tone, even "Fletcher's Blemish" with all of it's dissonance is actually very quiet. This overall quietness gives Fourth a liquid quality, a sense that things may actually float away even when the music is quite dense.

The mix is crystal clear and every single instrument, from Roy Babbington's double bass to Mark Charig's cornet, can be heard perfectly, with the sole exception of Wyatt's drumming. Sure, Wyatt's skin pounding has always been about atmosphere, a map, if you will, where the others can draw their lines while being given support, but on Fourth, Wyatt's so lost in the mix that sometimes it sounds he has no bass drum at all or is playing percussion instead. On "Teeth", for example, in the last sections, where he is weaving a storm behind Ratledge's fuzz organ riffage and the wall of brass, he is only barely audible.

When Fourth's "Teeth" opens with a double bass you know things are going to be different, even in it's complexity, this is a jazz tune, and a great accomplishment at that. It is a good tune, even if the several changes and sections lose some of it's cohesiveness. But my favourite tune on Fourth is most certainly "Kings And Queens", which is actually very reminiscent of "Noisette" from Third, with an equally simple but effective bassline and quiet and elegant atmosphere, no wonder Hopper wrote it. It is a beautiful tune all the way, but it gets even better near the end when Hopper and Wyatt slowly dissolve the rhythm, Ratledge's delicate Wurlitzer piano gets more prominent and Dean stops playing, giving way for Charig and Evans to do their magic with their respective cornet and trombone. Even though I normally enjoy dissonant stuff, I must confess I'm not fond of "Fletcher's Blemish", it lasts too long without any cohesive hook and literally gets on my nerves. Elton Dean was a lover of free jazz and I really respect his tastes as well as his playing and his right to compose, but "Bone" from Fifth really shows how he could make fine free jazz with much lesser notes. "Virtually" is, I must say, a fitting end for the album, another atmospheric and elegant tune from Hugh Hopper which I enjoy quite a lot, actually. The first two parts are my favourites as they manage to make a very good epilogue of Fourth as a whole and showcase everybody's talent and styles. The other two parts aren't bad either, the third containing some angry tones from Hopper's fuzz bass over Ratledge's Lowrey organ chords while the fourth is mildly experimental and, in my opinion, a good way to close the whole experience.

Fourth is an anomaly in Soft Machine's history, but I'm fond of it anyway, yet, some of it is a bit too much and, when put close to their previous three, it just hopelessly fades, therefore, I cannot give it more than 3 stars.

Report this review (#627506)
Posted Monday, February 6, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars Robert Wyatt's last record with the Soft Machine, although you will not hear his presence. In this stage the Soft Machine has turned into a jazzrock/ fusion group much like the 2nd and fourth composition on Third. No vocals and no psychedelic influences anymore. This was the main reason for Robert Wyatt to leave this great group.

In comparison with the Third this record is far less avant-garde, but more abstract. There are no repeating catchy melodies anymore. Because of this it did last much longer for me to appreciate it, but it finally did. The first side contains three compositions with different speed and moods. There is some nice interaction between the saxophonist Elton Dean and the key player Mike Ratledge.

Hugh Hopper is the main composer of the Fourth. Instead of his incredible "Facelift" on the Third these compositions are not avant-garde, but jazzrock. The compositions on the second side are even a bit tame, with some moments for some easy bassnotes; Hugh Hopper is the bassist after all!

This record is not the sought after follow up of the Third. It's still quiet good, but is less memorable and impressive. The musicianship is great, but for my taste it get's a bit too abstract . Some more influences of Wyatt should have done it some good...

Report this review (#743646)
Posted Tuesday, April 24, 2012 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#896108)
Posted Saturday, January 19, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars In October of 1970, Soft Machine started recording their fourth studio album. Their previous, two-disc release, Third , contained four long epics, each with its distinctive flavor. Robert Wyatt's piece, 'Moon In June', which was the only vocal track on the album, clearly showing his own musical vision, quite different from one of his band-mates. In fact, on his first solo album, The End of an Ear, Wyatt described himself as an "Out of work pop singer currently on drums with Soft Machine". The jazz-fusion oriented path Soft Machine had taken undoubtedly did not please his musical sensibilities. For their upcoming album, the group invited a double-bass player, Roy Babbington, who had previously played with Keith Tippet. A horn section, different from the one on Third, was also added, consisting of Alan Skidmore on tenor saxophone, Jimmy Hastings on alto flute and bass clarinet, Nick Evans on trombone, and Mark Charig on cornet. Fourth was released in early 1971 and was followed by Robert Wyatt's departure from the band.

Soft Machine's style on Fourth may appear as radical compared their first two works from 1968 and 1969, but is in fact merely a natural development they made from Third. The recruitment of a double-bass player, however, is a breakthrough and a turning point in the band's career. This might be interpreted as a definitive cut-off from rock. Yes, they probably still could rock out, but they were by no means a rock band anymore. The group creates a unique blend of elements of Miles Davis' mid-late sixties post-bop, free jazz of Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, and Charles Mingus, and ambient music, that could be connected with pioneering bands such as Popol Vuh. Fourth also has a one-of-a-kind, inexplicable flavor that indicates that Soft Machine is a European outfit and differentiates them from contemporary groups from the United States. Similarly to Third, Fourth is largely focused on improvisation, therefore showcasing the instrumentalism of the musicians.

The newly-recruited horn section helps the band in reaching a certain amount of versatility in their sound. Although Elton Dean's alto saxophone and saxello is still dominant in the band's soundscapes, they are now enriched with sounds of a flute, a trombone, a cornet, and a tenor sax. Most often, these instruments play together, creating an interesting 'metal wall' of horn sounds, but solo parts on each of them are not uncommon. Mike Ratledge's keyboard rig is extended with a Hohner pianet, which the virtuoso finds particularly useful on parts, where strong rhythmical background is needed. His signature fuzzed-out Lowrey organ sound, which is one of the few common elements between Soft Machines debut and Fourth, plays an important role on his break-neck speed solos. With a double-bass player onboard, Hugh Hopper's contribution might seem limited, but the bassist's unique style and bass timbre is still crucial to Machine's sound. Robert Wyatt, who quite rightfully might not have been happy with a direction his band took, proves how much of a versatile drummer he was with his accurate and precise drumming.

Side one of Fourth is occupied by three tracks. The work starts with Ratledge's composition 'Teeth'. It starts out with a complex theme, which smoothly dissolves into a jam (which at parts reminds me of 'Hope For Happiness' from Soft Machine's debut). Then, we are approached by Hopper's piece 'Kings and Queens', which despite following a simple structure is one of the most memorable tracks from the album with a slightly gloomy, melancholic feel. Side one is closed with 'Fletcher's Blemish', a loud, atonal, horn-driven jam that lies just on the border of being classified as free-jazz and fusion. Side two comprises Hugh Hopper's four-part suite 'Virtually'. Part 1 is kept in a traditional jazz feel and is based on improvisation. Part 2 builds up tension, which leads to an atonal jam with Elton Dean's saxophone in the foreground. Part 3 opens with dissonant noises achieved by manipulating instruments with studio equipment on dreamy electronic ambient basis. Part 4 is basically an extension of Part 3 with smooth passages fading until the end of the album.

Fourth marks the end of Soft Machine's Canterbury scene years and begins what is known as group's 'classic' era as a jazz-fusion act. The music on the album might not be very compelling, at least in my book, but is a much-needed listen and is crucial to the development English jazz to come. A lot of the times, one will find their thoughts drifting far away from the music, which might be a testimony of its' well, soporific aspect. The album is more than decent in its own right, but is rather stodgy, insignificant, and unmemorable at the same time. No wonder why Robert Wyatt left Soft Machine. However, it is recommended to listen to the album and forge your own opinion. Fourth gets well-deserved three stars!

Report this review (#1571726)
Posted Sunday, May 29, 2016 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
4 stars Although they had only formed a mere five years prior from the ashes of the Wilde Flowers, THE SOFT MACHINE had transmogrified from a beat inspired 60s psychedelic pop and proto-prog entity into a fully fledged jazz-fusion behemoth after adding Elton Dean to the roster for their epic 1970 double length album "Third" which found the trio turned quartet not only dropping the definite article "THE" from their moniker but also found the role of founding member Robert Wyatt's input quickly diminishing from the overall scenario. On the first two SOFT MACHINE albums, Wyatt's role was the main feature with his unmistakably unique vocals showcasing the music but with the addition of Dean along with an additional cast of guest musicians mostly out of the jazz circuits, Wyatt found himself ever more estranged from the creative direction that his fellow band mates were conjuring up around him and by the time "Third" came out he had to fight tooth and nail just to get the one vocal song to be sandwiched into the jazzy skronk wonderland of all things free form jazz surging with psychedelic overtones.

On the logically yet uncreatively titled 4 (pronounced FOURTH), the SOFTS had all but jettisoned their Canterbury influences and psychedelic vocal whimsy in favor of an all out instrumental jazz-fusion attack set on sizzling with Elton Dean casting his weight based off his recent solo album "Just Us" of the same year. The result is the beginning of the classic jazz-fusion era of SOFT MACHINE and on FOURTH they followed Dean's lead who developed his fierce alto sax and saxello playing skills in his days with Keith Tippett. While the avant-garde Ornette Coleman styled free-for-all sax solos whizzing around at light speed play a central part of the overall sound of FOURTH, the psychedelic 60s hadn't been totally erased from memory as Mike Ratledge finds the perfect way to engage his complementary Lowrey organ and Hohner piano riffs into the jazz-rock paradigm that hearken back to the swinging 60s so close yet so suddenly so very far away. Likewise Hugh Hopper's grounding and stabilizing bass lines rein in the loose-wire horn sections augmented by Dean's frenetic sax attacks along with guest musicians Mark Charig (cornet player also of Keith Tippett fame), Nick Evans (trombonist of Keith Tippett fame), Jimmy Hastings (alto flute / bass clarinet of Caravan) and Alan Skidmore (tenor sax also of Keith Tippett fame).

The result of the heft of this brass heavy congregation steered the SOFT MACHINE sound into extreme avant-garde jazz-rock fusion territory which even added yet one more guest musician: Roy Babbington of Delivery to contribute his double bass. The tracks run the gamut of chilled to frenetic. The moderately improvised nine minute opening track "Teeth" takes influences ranging from the bop fueled epics of John Coltrane to the fuzzed out surrealism of Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" era. The track exhibits the perfect compromise between the structured hard bop chord patterns and sophisticated harmonic idioms with the unstructured improvisational soloing of Dean's hyperactive sax runs. "Kings And Queens" offers a completely chilled out contrast, a bass groove dominated Hopper contribution in between the more frenetic constructs created by Ratledge and Dean.

"Fletcher's Blemish" on the other hand is a Dean written piece that takes the free form avant-garde schizoid madness of crazed masters such as Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor and channels their unhinged tendencies through a flurry of tortured jagged sax attacks in a style that is directly lifted from Dean's solo debut. On the original album the second side of FOURTH was completely consumed by the four part suite "Virtually" which are treated as separate tracks but thematically connected and constructed out of a more collective approach of various extended themes that keep enough structure in the mix to allow individual members to go off on musical tangents all the while finding the perfect tension between composition and improvisation although like most of the running time of FOURTH, Dean does seem to get more than the lion's share of soloing time.

While utterly musically ostracized in the very band he helped create, Robert Wyatt may be silent and sitting in the back corner like a castigated child misbehaving on the playground but he is in fact on the album and it would be his last one with SOFT MACHINE before permanently solidifying his newly found Matching Mole (which as is commonly known a parody of SOFT MACHINE from the French translation "Machine molle.") However despite any demotion in creative input to the band's musical selections, Wyatt performs like a pro easily pounding out the heavy duty hardcore jazz drumming skills required of a seasoned veteran to handle when playing in a jazz-fusion ensemble of such magnitude and while he may have suffered a terrible accident which would rob him of his talents, on FOURTH his talents are eked out in a most satisfying way as he effortlessly and impeccably morphs his stylistic approach between the fuzzy psychedelic Gong inspired brume into the punishing freneticism of Dean's sax abuse segments in full hard bop mode.

SOFT MACHINE's FOURTH has been chastised and kicked around since it was released and to this very day remains substantially less revered than its predecessors as well as later releases with some even calling it the absolute nadir of the SOFT's vast and overarching career and i for one am quite disconcerted with how Wyatt's bandmates treated him and subjugated him to the role of a circus chimp who merely went through the motions of what he was told to perform, however at the same time i'm rating the music itself and as a lover of free form jazz and all things musically extreme, i have to fall on the side of loving this one with the caveat of agreeing with the almost universal consensus that it is indeed a step down from the SOFT's first three classics. One of the problems results of course from the obvious overreach of Elton Dean's influence which affects Ratledge's ability to stand out for much of the album despite his warm and inviting key runs filling every nook, cranny and cadence. Taken as a representative album of the Canterbury Scene, this one will surely disappoint but if accepted as a unique slice of early 70s jazz-fusion that happens to have a little of what came before in the mix with an emphasis on free form improv passages, then i have to say that this album easily achieves the "excellent" seal of approval.

Report this review (#1914965)
Posted Monday, April 16, 2018 | Review Permalink

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