Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
The Soft Machine - Fifth [Aka: 5] CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine

Canterbury Scene

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Bookmark and Share
3 stars For those of you thirsting for the Wyatt years, but who have everything else, the first half of this album is pretty good (with Phil Howard on drums, who is excellent). The second side, though, is when John Marshall joined the band, and it was downhill (except for select recordings) from there. Nonetheless, "As if" is saved (thankfully, Marshall drums more like Howard here than his usual boring style).
Report this review (#22055)
Posted Monday, February 2, 2004 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
2 stars (fifth of a series of eleven)

2.5 stars really! The logical follower to four and not only numerically so: the musical evolution takes another leap "forward" towards the fusion of later albums. Wyatt is replaced by Phil Howard for the first side and John Marshall for the second side. This is the start of a "progressive" invasion from similar group Nucleus alumnies.

As opposed to their previous one , most of the number are penned by Ratledge except for a boring drum solo from Marshall. The album has the same very cold feeling as 4 and rendering the appreciation of the music difficult. This is probably due to poor (or strange) production. Babbington provides some strange bowed double-bass sounds and there is a fair bit of improvisation throughout the album.

Best seen as a transitional album (but most of their album are) , this one misses slightly the mark, and is probably their poorer effort until their last album.

Report this review (#22056)
Posted Tuesday, February 3, 2004 | Review Permalink
3 stars If being one of the most inventive, oddest and most unique bands around at the time was not enough for the Soft Machine they take it a few steps further and make an album that is even odder and unique but unfortunately more in a negative sense. Eclectic may be one word but inconsistent is a better one when concerning Soft Machine's fifth album. During this time Soft Machine started a domino effect of change within the band that would prove fateful. The departure of founding member Robert Wyatt started the ball rolling and as he was replaced by Phil Howard, Howard himself was soon out of favor by Mike Ratledge and in came John Marshall but to the annoyance of Elton Dean who decided to leave to be replaced by Mr. Boredom and the straight laced but well schooled Karl Jenkins, a man who would help to sterilize the Soft Machine and what they originally stood for, but that is another story, lets roll back a bit and see what 5 is all about. Third was a monumental album, a double containing four side long tracks and remains the pinnacle of the Soft Machine out put for many which was in turn followed up by Fourth, shorter pieces but nevertheless it was a welcoming warm and enjoyable album but the departure of Wyatt had unsettled the mood largely and there is little cohesion on the seven cuts that make up 5. And though the band may have been exploring the realms of jazz further with the aid of their new drummer (s) something is certainly missing here.

Like the cover of the album the music tends to come across dark and brooding and at times uninteresting, from the eerie tone of Elton Dean's echoed instrument on the opener "All White" to Ratledge's and his fuzzed up and throbbing organ that laces the album right through t o album ender "Bone". It seems to me that, by 5, as a unit they have either lost interest in the Soft Machine as a working unit or simply reached a peak already and were ebbing back and replacing Wyatt were pursuing a new avenue to freshen the tone up, though there are some fine pieces of musicianship here and there it plays rather uncomfortably throughout and the only track that for me at least contains any of the previous magic is the Mike Ratledge composition "Pigling Bland", it is a smooth piece of background jazz and it is something I could listen to a whole album off as it breezes along in a dreamlike fashion floating on... "Drop" is a good tune too but much of the rest is like a group of musicians with the right instruments coming from a rock influence mixing an Avante Garde sense of jazz expression as opposed a straight fusion of jazz and rock but if it works or not is another matter. Soft Machine have always been a complex unit but the usage of two drummers for this album only complicates matters further. Robert Wyatt was, to be a fair,part of the backbone and an essential member of the band and now here they were unsure of how to progress and dumping one guy for another mid session and playing rather aimlessly and lacking in focus, though the drumming is quite good if a little detached from the other wild goings on. Including "L.B.O", a drum solo thing by Marshall is nothing but a waste of time and generic filler, something Soft Machine would get fond of on latter releases. 5 is not a bad album but it is obvious that something is not quite right at this stage in the bands career. Stable.

Report this review (#22058)
Posted Thursday, January 20, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars This album is good, but it's a little bit dissapointing, it misses the profound exitement (of the earlier albums) and the absence of Robert Wyatt demonstrates once more this album was recorded after their creative peak. One of the spare things I really like about this album is the mellow atmosphere. Personal highlights are: All White, Drop and Pigling Bland (the drumming at the end!!).
Report this review (#22059)
Posted Wednesday, February 9, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars By 1972, even Robert Wyatt had left Soft Machine, and the fifth album saw keyboardist Mike Ratledge, saxman Elton Dean and bassist Hugh Hopper plough more determinedly down the jazz-rock furrow. The absence of the whimsical charm of writers like Wyatt and founder bassist Kevin Ayers to balance out the fusion means means that while this album has some great playing, it doesn't match up to earlier Soft Machine albums, nor in fact to the work that the likes of Hatfield And The North would soon cut.

That said with new drummer John Marshall on board (Phil Howard actually drummed for the first half of the album, but Marshall was the long-term replacement for Wyatt) the new Soft Machine actually showed marginally more energy and innovation than the previous album Fourth had possessed. Unfortunately it only happened in fits and starts.

Ratledge's Drop starts off as a trippy aquatic journey that is eventually fuelled by some great exchanges between Dean and himself. Another one of his tunes, Pigland Bland is probably my favourite tune here (at least it twists and turns and rocks along nicely) but his other contributions All White and As If are jazz-rock-lite with too much "dressing" and not enough meat. In fact the last time I listened to the album the Marshall drum solo L B O actually woke me up from an "As If" slumber! Hopper's M C is quite a disappointing, aimless affair that doesn't match up and Dean's Bone is also one of those sparse ambient aural improvisations.

This album like Fourth, can get pretty boring at times, and one has a right to expect more from an innovative group like Soft Machine. ... 52% on the MPV scale

Report this review (#39983)
Posted Friday, July 22, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars The fifth work of SOFT MACHINE announced in June, 1972 "5(Fifth)". Work of which Robert Wyatt finally seceded. The wind instrument became only the saxophone of Elton Dean. This album was recorded in November, December, 1971 and February, 1972.Mysterious work with wonderful tightened performance. It is beautiful work.It is a finished type of the sound at time when this group devoted themselves to the free jazzs most.

Report this review (#48952)
Posted Wednesday, September 28, 2005 | Review Permalink
Zac M
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Well, what do you expect after Fourth? This was the logical follow-up to the previous release. Many people claim that Six and Seven are incredibly similar, it's Fourth and Fifth that are the most alike. The avant-jazz feel is still there, although Elton Dean is the only wind player left. This is actually his last album with the band; he went on to create a plethora of extremely interesting avant-jazz projects with his own band.

The best track here is "Drop," which starts with slow, water droplet effects. The compositions here are less interesting than those on Fourth. John Marshall (ex-Nucleus) makes his first appearance on half of this album and even has his own drum solo ("L.B.O."), a tradition which he started on Elastic Rock and restarted on this album. He is a technically proficient drummer, but to me, his drumming lacks the spirit and umph (a technical musical term if I've ever heard one) that Wyatt had. Actually, his drumming gets more interesting as the years go on. "As If" and "All White" are pretty good, but still do not reach the level of interest in "Drop." The other tracks are somewhat forgettable.

In my opinion, this is the worst of the "numbered" releases. Again, this album is of interest to mainly already initiated Softs fans and is of little interest to the average Prog fan. Again, I award this three stars, but in this case, it's more like 2.75 stars, still good, but not remarkable by any means.

Report this review (#64652)
Posted Saturday, January 14, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Many believe Soft Machine Third is their best LP. Fifth deserves additional consideration, even though Robert Wyatt is not involved. Fifth represents the best blend of Soft Machine's most remarkable elements: Hugh Hopper's fuzz bass, Mike Ratledge's Lowery organ, and Elton Dean's saxello. All three instruments have a fuzzy edge to them that some find irritating. A friend of mine has gone so far as to dub it "mosquito music." Give it an objective listen and compare it to what what was being released in the rock and jazz genres at that time. What distinguishes Fifth is what jazz commentator Joachim Berendt described in Soft Machine's music as "monumental coldness." Add Elton Dean's electric piano to the aforementioned trio of instruments and you have a sound that is unique and compelling. For its day, Soft Machine Fifth was the pinnacle of electric jazz and one cannot help but think that Mike Ratledge's opening number "All White" is a boast that white Brits and an Aussie could crank out the hottest jazz sounds that were being played at the time. By turns, this album swings and punishes with a palette of sounds that has never been duplicated. Fifth is the only Softs LP that works as a whole; the opening theme in "All White" is actually a segment of Elton Dean's composition "Bone," which closes the set. Thus, the LP is a complete compositional loop that includes manic, powerful solos from Ratledge and Dean and the kind of stunning spacey bass work by Hopper that was more fully explored in his album "1984." Phil Howard's drumming on the first several tracks is explosive, but controlled. John Marshall's work on the remainder is more traditional and makes one long for the excitement that Robert Wyatt conveyed on Soft Machine Four. Wyatt's absence is tolerable only because the other members crafted a beautiful and powerful set of compositions that display their best talents, without venturing into the boredome of Virtually: Parts 1 through 4.
Report this review (#66670)
Posted Wednesday, January 25, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars When I heard that our country prog band DISCUS would do a tour in Germany especially to participate in ZAPPANELLE mid of July, one of the promo said that Discus would share a stage with Soft Machine - I then remember that I have this Soft Machine 5 CD that I never (rarely) played. It's probably because of too much jazz in it. But hey, .. it's okay . nothing wrong with jazz, right? So that's why I pick up this CD to review.

WOW! In fact, I enjoy this CD when I spin it. The opening track "All White" gives a long solo of Elton Dean's alto sax. But it's not just the solo that makes it nice to enjoy: it's the accompanying music in repeated chords that serves as rhythm section. The combined work of Hugh Hopper's bass guitar, Mike Ratledge's electric piano, Phil Howard's drums which makes the song is enjoyable.

"Drop" explores the use of electric piano and its effects, accentuated with sax. At first, it reminds me to Chick Core or Return To Forever. What follows is a dynamic interaction between electric piano, bass guitar and jazzy drumming. Oh yeah . the bass guitar work is excellent, combined with fast snare drum beats. Alto sax enters the music, accompanied with electric piano. The tempo gradually increases into a faster one and a more complex arrangement. The next track "MC" lends similar style with previous one, but instead of electric piano, this song offers drum solo at the beginning which reminds me to avant-garde music.

"As If" is a complex music combining jazz with avant-garde style. It sounds that way during opening part and it continues in mellow style with a touch of saxophone solo and floating electric piano augmented with bass lines. The song continues with sax solo, followed with electric piano solo and some sound effects. "LBO" is a short bridge with the domination of drum solo and accentuated by brass section - like in a big band concept. It's really an excellent drum solo with dynamic variations. John Marshall plays drum on this solo. "Pigling Bland" is a song with beautiful composition - alto sax as soloist. The concluding track "Bone" is another excellent track with contemporary approach .

Overall, it's an excellent addition to any prog music collection and it's suitable for those who love jazz-influenced prog music. If you cannot tolerate jazz, please do NOT buy this CD. But I leave it up to you to decide.

Life without music is a mistake. Music without progressive is a fatal tragedy!

Yours progressively, GW

Report this review (#83108)
Posted Saturday, July 8, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / In Memoriam

After the disappointing FOURTH ,ROBERT WYATT has definitely left the SOFT buliding and would be replaced by PHIL HOWARD on drums who won't last too long due to personal incompabilities with the boss MIKE RATLEDGE as he played only on the first side of the album. Another NUCLEUS ex-member will join the band with JOHN MARSHALL a very talented drummer who will stay with the band until the end. Another look-alike serious college professor with a moustache!! Long time ago the groupies of KEVIN AYERS are no longer around.

What we have on FIFTH is somehow a little bit different that what we had to endure with its predecessor, as this album is a little more energetic than FOURTH. Not that there is anything new as we are deep into this avant guard/jazz feel , but the music is a little bit more inspired -in its own style.

When i listen to the opener ALL WHITE, i wonder if this album FIFTH had any influence on the jazz musicians who will be part of the ECM label a few years later. This is very moody, very dark jazz , very cold some would say well in the manner saxophonist JAN GARBAREK or guitarist TERJE RYPDAL would play later on.ALL WHITE or the HOPPER penned'' M C'' sounds like coming from a GARBAREK album.

If you like this ECM european jazz school, you will love this album; this is very athmospheric,very sad music for a winterish bleak scenery, but that can be majestic like on the wonderful AS IF, a nice RATLEDGE 8mn trip with a beautiful and moving performance from the double acoustic bass of future SOFT MACHINE bassist ROY BABBINGTON who is once again guesting on this album.

As i said there is no real warmth through this recording as the black simple cover design matches perfectly with the sound of the music. But the compositions are way more inspired than on FOURTH. DROP and PIGLING BAND are 2 MIKE RATLEDGE up-beat with great themes and wonderful inspired saxo playing by ELTON DEAN.

Even ELTON DEAN penned a better tune than his horrible FLETCHER'S BLEMISH from FOURTH for this album. The very, very moody melancholic BONE with DEAN playing a sad sounding saxello only accompanied with cymbals and depressing synth noises in the background.A very nice tune, indeed !This is no ''WHY AM I SO SHORT'' anymore by any means.

Last remark: I don't know what was written in the contract of KARL JENKINS when he joined the band, but starting already with FIFTH, he is getting the privilege of ''composing'' a drum solo in all future SOFT MACHINE releases, so we have here a not so great 1mn 54 MARSHALL performance named LBO ....with many more to come!

FIFTH didn't bring any new fans to the band, maybe even losing more of the old ones, but that doesn't mean it's a bad album. If you like contemporary old europe sounding dark Jazz, this is an album to consider and i am sure to enjoy!

If you only live by SUPPERS' READY, please move on! this is definitely not for you! Not an important album in the SOFT MACHINE discography , but a pleasant one ....if you are in the mood, a very dark mood!!


Report this review (#136338)
Posted Wednesday, September 5, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars A year on from 4th finds The Softs Wyattless and the drum chair in a period of transition from Phil Howard to the redoubtable Mr John Marshall.

The music now had an even freer feel, as on the opener 'All White' and moments of surreal experimentation as with the sound effects on the Ratledge led 'Drop' with its gorgeous intro and fuzzed organ.

'MC' follows in a similar vein to 'Drop' before the free workout of 'As If' and John Marshall's, I am a master, statement on 'LBO'.

Ratledge's 'Pigling Bland' shows us the direction 'Six' would take (recorded after the departure of Elton Dean) and the album closer 'Bone' is an odd piece of minimalism to be sure.

Report this review (#172579)
Posted Friday, May 30, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Fifth is the fifth album from The Soft Machine. The Soft Machine started as a psychadelic vocal based canterbury styled pop/ rock band but from their third album on their style shifted towards jazz. Their style on Fifth is like on Fourth very inspired by Miles Davis late sixties and early seventies albums. The characteristics that I normally associate with Canterbury bands are nowhere to be found on neither Fourth or Fifth. This is essentially a jazz album.

The songs seem to be very jamlike and I sense no real structure in these songs which is a thing I need to enjoy music. Lots of soloing is not a problem for me but soloing just for the sake of it is generally a bit too boring for me. There are some themes on the album but they are not that obvious or easy to listen to and as such this album for me is one long solo mostly done by Elton Dean on sax. Allthough sax is a very nice instrument I´m not that excited about this be-bop/ free jazz sax soloing. There is a great organ solo in the end of Drop that I enjoy very much though.

The musicianship is really great and the technical skills are the most exciting thing for me on Fifth. I especially enjoy the bass from Hugh Hopper.

The production is very good. A really enjoyable sound.

Even though I enjoy the musicianship I don´t enjoy the music much. I like prog rock with jazz tendencies but not jazz played by prog musicians without prog tendencies. Fifth fail to capture my attention completely. For me this is a 2 star album. Good musicians that play jazz I don´t like. I´ll recommend that you buy the two first great albums from The Soft Machine instead. They are both great examples of Canterbury rock at it´s best.

Report this review (#175521)
Posted Friday, June 27, 2008 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars Well I do prefer this one to "Fourth" but it's close. Ratledge composed most of the music on this one. Wyatt and just about all the guest musicians who were on "Fourth" are gone except for Roy Babbington and his double bass.

"All White" doesn't have much going on for the first 2 minutes except for Dean's meandering. Then bass, drums and piano arrive and Elton becomes more prominant with his sax melodies. "Drop" opens with the sound of water dripping as liquid piano joins in. Cool sound. Drums and bass arrive 3 minutes in with sax following. Ratledge is all over this with his fuzz organ. Great sound. "MC" is a Hopper tune, and his only composition on here. More liquid keys in the intro from Ratledge. Drums take over as sax sounds come in around 1 1/2 minutes. Keys return to this atmospheric section that has little in the way of a melody. Mostly sax, drums, piano and bass sounds. I like it a lot though.

"As If" is the longest track at 8 minutes. We get outbursts of sounds before it calms right down. Sax, piano, bass and light drums start to slowly get louder as it builds. Sax is leading the way. Hopper makes some noise before 4 1/2 minutes until piano starts to become more prominant 7 minutes in. Big finale. "LBO" is a short Marshall tune where he offers up a drum solo. "Pigling Bland" features smooth sax melodies. Much better. The tempo picks up after 3 1/2 minutes. Very enjoyable song. "Bone" has to be a Dean composition, and it is. Lots of atmosphere and experimental sounding. I like it though because it has this Krautrock vibe in it.

Like "Fourth" we get some experimental passages with some Avant-garde Jazz. I like this style of music a lot. Easily 4 stars.

Report this review (#179654)
Posted Friday, August 15, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars After it parts from Softs so that Wyatt may pursue a further creation, the band will face the major break further. The style reduces the superfluous flesh further and gives the dropped impression in "Fourth" with men's who transfered the register to CBS showing the glimpse of the style of mid-term Softs obviously by "Third". Softs which Wyatt came off abolishes the section of the wind instrument related to the recording till then and types out the direction as Soloist of Dean. Softs in addition to the member of the current main invites a new drum player. It is said that neither Hopper nor Ratledge were suitable for the style of Howard because the performance that valued an original score was requested though Phil Howard active as the semi-professional is called in Softs and Dean was received. And, the drum player who changed into Howard and had participated was John Marshall. He was a drummer of Nucleus that was already active with Jazz Rock Scene of Britain. Drum Solo of Marshall is collected in this album. It might be evidence that such an approach began also to walk in the route besides the revolution and Wyatt for Softs. And, it can be discovered that the specific gravity of the tune that Ratledge composed is large in this album. And, it participates in this album as Roy Babbington to participate in the recording by "Fourth" continues, too. Some anacatesthesia overflows in the overall impression and the flow has the impression that extends from "Fourth" to the outside. The band's having the oneness or more though Wyatt came off and the band was revolutionizing it might have understood the point that the member of the main had to propose to the period at that time to some degree. Mid-term Softs contains a fluid little by little element on the boundary of this album. However, the music that they had to propose was always being offered to the listener through the album.
Report this review (#223156)
Posted Thursday, June 25, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars This band deeply fascinates me. They are miles away from what I always thought was my type of music. But still, I really enjoy albums like Third, Fourth and this one.

Fifth is probably the most introvert and improvisation based albums of them all. I am not sure if there is any major concept in any of these tunes. They are that improvised. But they still work. Drop is a very good song. The same goes for As If. The rest, and the album as a whole, is very introvert and difficult to grasp. It is avant-garde. It is still a joy to behold.

The problem though is that this album is too introvert. I have been informed by better informed people than I that this is their most interovert album ever. That's a relief...... Maybe they took this alley to it's natural conclusion and then turned around again. In my view, this album is good, but nothing more. It is simply too introvert to be a really good album. Still, it makes my day.

3 stars

Report this review (#240875)
Posted Tuesday, September 22, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars I totally agree with the majority of my fellow colleagues.

"Fifth" is the legitimate follower of "Four". But to summarize my view, I have to add that I didn't like "Four" at all. That this was just a collection of pure jazz songs without inspiration and that there were no relation AT ALL with the Canterbury style wth this album (even on "Third", only one side out of four ? the brilliant "Moon In June" - could apply IMHHO).

You can take exactly the same words and apply them to this "Fifth" album and you'll get the picture.

What I mean is that this music doesn't work on me. Their first album was psychedelic and great. Their second one did belong to the Canterbury style (and it is the only one from their whole discography to fulfill as far as I am concerned). But I told you this already while describing their "Third" album.

I guess that jazz-rock would suit them better? Two stars for this one (désolé Antoine). No highlight, no vibrant passage. This is really upgraded.

Report this review (#338390)
Posted Monday, November 29, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars When after release of Fourth founding Soft Machine member Robert Wyatt gone unhappy with too jazzy band's direction,he was replaced soon by Elton Dean's collaborator Australian jazz drummer Phil Howard.Band played with new drummer on tour (the live material was released by Moonjune Records in 2009 as "Drop" album)and started to record Fifth album.

Phil Howard was capable but egocentric free-jazz influenced drummer (you can hear all his drumming pros and cons on above mentioned "Drop" live album in full),bringing serious improvisational element to band's music.Hoper and Ratledge were unhappy with such trend and fired Howard somewhere in between of Fifth recording sessions.As a result, first three songs on an album are recorded with Howard (all side A of original vinyl release), and all other songs - with new drummer John Marshall, recruited during recording sessions.

Musically album continues pure jazz fusion direction of Fourth,with two serious differences. First, Ratledge uses generally Fender Electric piano on all album instead of organ of previous releases,as a result all sound is more smooth and jazzy-relaxed.Second,there are plenty of free form sax soloing of Elton Dean on this albums,obviously influenced by electric period of Miles Davis.Album in whole sounds more relaxed and classically jazz fusion than any previous band's work. I prefer three first compositions with Howard on drums - his more complex and free-form drumming brings some adventure in sound, Marshall's work is competent,but too predictable.

Really competent jazz fusion album,but not of the highest Soft Machine standard's level.My rating is 3+.

Report this review (#391757)
Posted Tuesday, February 1, 2011 | Review Permalink
Man With Hat
Jazz-Rock/Fusion/Canterbury Team
3 stars 3.5 stars really!

The machine's first outing without founding drummer Robert Wyatt. First on the drum chair is Phil Howard, a "traditional" jazz drummer whose specialty is free jazz (or so I'm told). Perhaps ironically, the opening side (featuring Howard) isn't the most chaotic sounding to these ears. Filling out the album is the Softs only other drummer, John Marshall. It's interesting to hear Marshall in this freer context with Dean on board, however this isn't his best performance IMO. I think he is much better suited for the sound the Softs developed (somewhat) on Six and Seven through Softs. Not to say his work is bad, just perhaps underwhelming. Of course, one could argue that this isn't a fault of Marshall, being there are parts of this album that just aren't as successful as they could have been. Perhaps meandering too long, or just floating along without much purpose. Indeed, a bit of the energy from Fourth is missing here. But there are still a good deal of highlights.

The good news is, the three longest songs are the best here. All White probably contains the best drumming from Howard from his stint in Soft Machine (and probably best drumming on the disc as a whole) over a bit of an infectious theme. Drop starts relaxing with synthesized sounds of water droplets hitting a surface and contains some excellent playing by Ratledge. As If has the most ominous bass line in Softs history. A wonderfully off putting riff from Hopper pulsates it's way throughout the entire piece. (Perhaps my only complaint here is that it doesn't build or climax as much as I would have liked it to.) Also of interest is the shorter Pigling Bland which recaptures some of the Machines traditional energy. The other songs are less successful. MC isn't at all interesting to my ears at all. LBO is a short, mostly drum solo piece that isn't too bad, but isn't as outstanding as it could have been (or other Marshall drum solo pieces). Bone is an interesting character indeed, being I think it could have benefited from being longer. But, it is perhaps a fitting way for Dean's (studio) Soft Machine career to end.

All in all, this really isn't a bad album at all, although it may be my least favorite of all their studio albums (barring LOC of course). In a way, it pains me to not give this more than three stars officially. There is some excellent work on the (perhaps) confused Fifth. All White and As If really are classic tracks from the Softs catalogue. Maybe it was just the inconsistency of a line up that prevented this album from "clicking" fully, but thankfully they would rebound quite well. I wouldn't recommend this be your introduction to Soft Machine but once you're accustomed to the beast this is a good one to pick up (especially if you're interests lay in jazz). 3.5 stars.

Report this review (#397406)
Posted Thursday, February 10, 2011 | Review Permalink
2 stars If Fourth captured the Soft Machine drifting towards pure jazz territory, Fifth sees them having travelled most of the way there. With Robert Wyatt having been jettisoned, the first half of the album sees temporary replacement Phil Howard on drums, with his replacement John Marshall (who would be the sole member of this lineup to survive to the very end of the band's career) taking over on side two.

As well as losing Wyatt, the band also appears to jettison most of its connection to the Canterbury sound with this album, with the music being gentle, quasi-ambient fusion showing a clear influence from In a Silent Way, with Mike Ratledge's keyboards at points taking on a quasi-New Age sort of sound - as can be heard on Drop. Personally, I tend to regard this album and Fourth as being a failed stab at establishing respectability amongst the jazz establishment - as I said about the Fourth, often the music here sounds more conventional and less interesting than a lot of fusion worked made by highly respected jazz musicians of the era. Following this one, a few rock elements would return to the band's music, bringing them closer to the jazz-rock fusion mainstream.

As it is, Fifth is an album which will presents nothing whatsoever that is related to the Canterbury sound, won't excite fusion fans, and isn't likely to convince jazz fans either. It captures the Softs in the act of essentially abandoning their earlier audience in the hope of finding a different one, only to produce an album incapable of pleasing anybody. It's not flat-out incompetent and it's probably worth a listen if you are a major fan of the Softs, but there are many better Canterbury albums, many better fusion albums, many better jazz albums, and a good number of better albums that mix all of those three styles together than this one.

And in the last category, to illustrate the failure of the Softs' Fourth/Fifth-era approach, I'd include Matching Mole - which is, of course, Robert Wyatt's first post-Machine album. That just about says it all really. Thankfully, the band would undergo another evolution in time for Six, which improved its fortunes immensely and is probably responsible for allowing it to survive as long as it did; I think another album in this vein would have killed Soft Machine stone dead.

Report this review (#491089)
Posted Wednesday, July 27, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars A lot of people blame Wyatt's lack of input and exit for the direction of Fifth and Soft Machine's subsequent albums, but I don't think this is valid because a)Fifth is very similar in sound and atmosphere to Fourth which had Wyatt playing brilliantly and intensely even if he still hated the material and b)since 1970, Wyatt didn't write any compositions for the band, at least none of it was allowed in their albums since then, so, instead of blaming Wyatt's exit for Fifth, I would rather say they would have pursuit this path sooner or later, Robert staying in the band or not, specially since he was the only one of them who "wasn't fond of playing jazz" (Ratledge's words).

Wyatt's exit was more simbolic really but, in the drumming department at least, his absence was felt: his two replacements, first Phil Howard then John Marshall, as good as they are, don't match Wyatt's inventiveness, sense of dynamics or even his classic drum sound, in some instances (like "All White" and "Pigling Bland" for example, both songs Wyatt originally drummed on) there's even an sense of overplaying, worse, Marshall contributes a drum solo, his first of one on each record up until Softs from 1976, and, as you would expect from such solos, it's boring as hell. Howard is freer in his approach, almost as if he didn't care for what everybody else was doing, and he probably didn't, so every single passage of his is like a big solo itself and, because of this approach, Ratledge and Hopper having started to feel superfluous under the noise he was making, sacked him, much to Dean's distaste, leading to his own exit, in early 1972. Marshall, on the other hand, has a more straightforward and simpler approach, basically the rock ethos to support the 'main' instruments, but even then, he sometimes sounds high on steroids.

The atmosphere itself is very much like Fourth, barren, cold and dark, only darker this time because of the sparcity of the arrangements and more songs with quiet intros and even thoroughly quiet. Fifth begins with the grumbling rasp of "All White", one of the record's best examples of a dark and quiet introduction; I would have very much liked it if they kept it's nature and developed it around the theme to create a slow-burning song, but instead, it turns into a somewhat bland jazz tune including the time-unkeeping monster Howard on the drum stool, yet, I consider it to be one of the best pieces here. "Drop" once again has a dark intro, this time with drop sounds and Ratledge's Rhodes piano emulating them, just to turn into a very propulsive but untimately faceless fuzz-organ-dominated tune. "MC" is certainly not on par with Hopper's compositions from Third and Fourth, if "Drop" was faceless then this is bodyless; I quite like the atmosphere of it, again very dark, yet, atmosphere itself doesn't lead very far, so this could have been edited to one minute or even less, because almost 5 minutes of it was unnecessary. "As If" is better than "MC" if only because Marshall keeps a certain rhythm with dynamics without overpolishing it, while the bass weaves some puzzling riffs and themes around it; but I could live without the 'freak-out coda', that most certainly was added just to give Marshall his cue to solo, a piece called "LBO" which I won't even discuss. "Pigling Bland" exists since 1970 (at least), sometimes being played as part of "Esther's Nose Job" and sometimes on it's own; it's a good tune, of course, I just wish it was Wyatt playing, Marshall gets too over-the-top too often. "Bone" is my favourite song from Fifth, it's pure atmospheric free jazz and, apart from "As If", is the only instance from this record where Marshall uses the less-is-more ethos; kudos goes to Elton Dean, because "Bone" resembles almost in nothing the falling-apart "Fletcher's Blemish", I also like the ethnic percussion and the bone flutes in the background as well as Mike Ratledge's fuzz organ soloing in the foreground, it's arguably the last time he sounded so menacing.

Fifth is a good album, but it stops at it. I don't consider it excellent or even very good, but some of it is.

Report this review (#628809)
Posted Wednesday, February 8, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Considered the most difficult and inaccessible of all their studio albums, 'Fifth' certainly finds the jazz-prog ensemble at their most experimental though at the same time this is just as memorable as the likes of previous albums 'Volume One', 'Third' and 'Fourth' and follow-up effort 'Six', proving once again just what a versatile and innovative outfit Soft Machine were in their pomp. Those familiar with the group will know just what to expect here as cosmic saxophone breaks, brooding keyboard passages, oddly timed sonic signatures and mysterious, slow-burning interludes combine once more to create another scintillating late-night jazz odyssey. Those yet to experience this key British group are in for a real treat, whilst fans of Nucleus, Catapilla, Thde Keith Tippett Group, Miles Davis' electric period and Herbie Hancock are all urged to investigate immediately. All of Soft Machine's first seven albums are fusion classics in their own right and 1972's highly atmospheric 'Fifth' is no exception. Original, daring and most of all, brilliant.


Report this review (#720485)
Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars In the rock music world there are recordings that have become landmarks; decades may pass over its original production but a consensus perdures on its exceptional qualities, even among those that may have born long after. In other cases the consensus does not exit, by one reason or another, an outstanding work can push the limits in such a way that it alienates part of the listeners' spectrum. [i]Fifth[/i] by Soft Machine is one of these records.

Soft Machine was on of the bands emerging in Canterbury in the late 1960s towards international recognition. They took a particular approach to Rock, embedding elements of Jazz, in what would become known as Jazz-Rock. In spite of being one of the unavoidable precursors of the genre, Soft Machine remained for a few years well ahead of its peers, avoiding any fall into stereotypes. These first few LP evolved around the trio composed by Mike Rutledge (organ), Hugh Hopper (electric bass) and Robert Wyatt (drums), later with the important addition of Elton Dean (alto sax). This core line up featured in the first four LP of the band, each time diving further into Jazz, composing what are today its most appreciated recordings.

Robert Wyatt would leave the band right after, still in 1971, and almost two years passed before the band returned to studio. Late in 1972 the band would finally release their [i]Fifth[/i] LP, which would be the last in several aspects: the last featuring Elton Dean and the last really experimenting into Jazz (actually Free Jazz) for instance with concurrent double bass and electric bass. It went once again into territories where neither Rock nor Jazz listeners feel completely comfortable. However, in doing so, the band epitomised the work of its early carer and perhaps even the true essence of Jazz Rock.

[b][i]All White[/i][/b]

A spacey intro with a reverbed saxophone and fuzz bass that sounds completely apart from anything else immediately grabbing the listener. Eventually evolves into a familiar jazz rock piece with Mike and the drums joining in. Still, it sounds well ahead of its time.


Another eerie intro, this time using a repeater plugged to the electric piano, again recreating the sense of vanguard. A lead organ slowly emerges, backed by a full jazzy ensemble. The remainder of the musicians, although having great freedom to improvise, still keep the listener focused with simple melodies here and there. It gives a warming sense of discovery and leaves the listener looking forward for what may come next.

[b][i]M C[/i][/b]

A collective improvisation from which no distinguishable rhythmic structure or melody ever emerges, producing a somewhat dysfunctional exit to side A. This is one of the efforts that may have lend some bad reputation to the LP, but it makes sense.

[b][i]As If[/i][/b]

A short bass phrase on tame tempo sets the scene for a great deal of experimentation from the other instruments, especially the double bass, here played with the bow. Slowly the song melts down, like a painting washed by rain, loosing the rhythmic structure and melody. Expectation builds up, in away that can be painful for the less jazzy listener, eventually leading into the follow track.

[b][i]L B O[/i][/b]

A noisy and chaotic intermission with all the instruments together closing the previous track and opening up for a short drum solo, still leaves the listener in uncomfortable territory.

[b][i]Pigling Bland[/i][/b]

Totally cuts with the previous chaos in a very elegant way. The band brings you back again to comfortable territory with the familiar and plasent Soft Machine signature sound of the previous LP. This time the leading melody is produced by Dean.


It comes out of nowhere, putting an end to the previous track and again immersing the listener in a futuristic soundscape. A tame but spacey bass supports a melody by the organ with an out of this world reverbed flute improvising. It is a mysterious sound alike anything else that slowly fades away.

The LP takes an arc like shape going from comfortable Soft Machine sounds, plugging into full fledged Free Jazz and then coming back again to the familiar Jazz-Rock.

[b]The Veredict[/b]

Apart from the dearths into Free Jazz this LP also contains some outstanding space pieces, especially in [i]All White[/i], [i]Drop[/i] and [i]Bone[/i], that make it all the more interesting. These are unique experiments that the band would never try again, producing sounds well ahead of their time.

The early 1970s were a time of great experimentation. Jazz musicians where captured and drawn to Rock and Rock musicians boldly delved into Jazz. This record is likely the best portrait of this epoch, blurring the boundaries between the two genres. Some might say that Soft Machine went too far, but Progressive Rock is just that, going where no one went before. Thus I can only classify this work as a Masterpiece.

After [i]Fifth[/i] Hugh Hopper and Mike Ratledge kept Soft Machine going but rapidly retreating to the comfortable sounds of bare Jazz-Rock, at times producing pleasant music, but never daring as before.

Report this review (#1007526)
Posted Sunday, July 28, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars A flawed gem

Although it continues with much the same types of compositions as on Fourth, this is the first album without Robert Wyatt on drums and this is its Achilles heel. I actually really like the album, and have played it a ton of times over many years. I disagree with those who say it is boring noodling, as I think it is quite inventive - the first I know of that created a new sound by doubling the electric piano using a delay pedal. The compositions are great, and there are great distorted organ, fuzz bass, and sax/saxello solos. However, unfortunately, the drumming does not pull its weight. The first side, which features Phil Howard on drums is the (much) better of the two. Howard plays in a similar style as Wyatt on Fourth, albeit even more free (and thus less tied to any tempo). So, while not nearly as good as it would have been with Wyatt, side 1 is generally listenable. However, side 2 is painful. John Marshall is on drums here (Howard was fired before he could record on side 2), and he plays these songs very straight, very little improvisation, completely precise and very sparse. The contrast with Howard is stark. While Marshall would come into his own on later Soft Machine albums where they went full Mahavishnu-style Jazz Fusion and do very well (e.g. Bundles), on this album he simply does not fit the music. You can hear the problem right away if you compare the version of "As If" (the long song that opens side 2) here to the version on the Peel Sessions which features Phil Howard. The Peel Sessions version is vital, organic, full of life, pulling you along, albeit a bit temporally-challenged, while the version with Marshall is drab, dull, dead. It is really too bad Wyatt didn't drum on this album - it would have (likely) brought this up to or above the level of Fourth and given these recordings the vitality they deserve. I still love the rest of the playing, and the compositions - to my mind these pieces are better than most of what the Softs would produce afterward (particularly Sixth, but even the jazz fusion albums after that). This is innovative music. However, issues within the band meant they couldn't see how to make best use of these compositional gems, and ended up with some sub-par drumming/recordings. Saying this, "All White" is much better here than on the live album on Sixth, "Drop" is a classic Softs composition, up there with their best, and "As If" is also a fantastic composition (but the Peel Sessions album has the best version of that). On balance, I give this 6.1 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to 3 PA stars.

Report this review (#1697013)
Posted Sunday, February 26, 2017 | Review Permalink

THE SOFT MACHINE Fifth [Aka: 5] ratings only

chronological order | showing rating only

Post a review of THE SOFT MACHINE Fifth [Aka: 5]

You must be a forum member to post a review, please register here if you are not.


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives