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The Soft Machine

Canterbury Scene

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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars (seventh in a serie of eleven) By this time Ratledge is the only remaining member and the rest are Nucleus Alumni. Every album is different and one understands how the Bitches Brew type of Jazz-rock evolved into this Weather Report fusion of the mid 70's by listening and analysing everyone of these S M records (from third until Bundles or Softs). By this time Hopper had left to be replaced by Nucleus alumni Babbington. Elton dean also had disappeared leaving Jenkins alone at wind instruments. The music is the logical continuity of 6 and we are again "blessed" by yet another drum solo from John Marshall. This will however be the last album for Columbia records .

Will then come a relatively long gap , a new record deal on Harvest and a new (and welcome) musical change.For a lot Soft Machine purist and many progheads the succession of numbered albums are less important than their psych debut or their fusion later career but I can onl;y tell you that everyone of these mid-life albums are very much worth a listen.

Report this review (#22070)
Posted Tuesday, February 3, 2004 | Review Permalink
2 stars A more consistent (than Sixth), but otherwise equally forgettable, addition to the post-Wyatt SM collection. The first two tracks are the only ones that are memorable. After this album, the Softs continued to go downhill. That they continued to use the name Soft Machine is a testament, I think, to how good the early stuff was, and thus to the drawing power of the name for live concerts. It is a shame that Ratledge and co decided to milk the name and thus legacy of the early Softs music in such a fashion.
Report this review (#22071)
Posted Wednesday, February 4, 2004 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This Canterburian fusion album is quite unique. The musicians play a disciplined music, although a bit repetitive. The tracks rather have varied sounds. This record is fully instrumental. The rhythmic low frequency keyboards on "Nettle bed" are a bit too repetitive; there are numerous moog solos, and the drums played by John Marshall are very fast and complex. The mellow "Carol Ann" has a relaxing combination of slow bass, moog and electric piano: this track is not very melodic nor catchy. On "Day's eye", there is an excellent Canterburian synthesizer, sounding like if you blow in a Chicklets gum carton package: I think it is a modified organ sound; a rhythmic electric piano accompanies it, with a punchy bass and fast & restless drums. Like on "Nettle bed", "Tarabos" has a rhythmic low frequency synthesizer, and it contributes to form a too repetitive rhythm. The not convincing "D.I.S." is very psychedelic and it consists in can percussions and other non- metallic percussions.

On side 2, "Snodland" is a delicate combination of percussions and electric piano. On "Penny hitch", the "Chicklets gum carton package" sounds reappear with some repetitive electric piano notes and curious oboe sounds; the rhythmic patterns are again very repetitive. "Block" still has those "Chicklets gum carton package" notes, and this track is much more loaded with TONS of complex drums, electric piano and punchy bass: the last part containing saxes is VERY structured and synchronized. "Down the road" seems to have flutes; the rhythm, again, is too repetitive, and the saxes sound a bit strange.

Report this review (#22078)
Posted Wednesday, April 14, 2004 | Review Permalink
3 stars SOFT MACHINE settles into a sedate mix of jazz and progressive rock on "Seven", suggesting the mellower side of KING CRIMSON and CAMEL minus the vocal identity. The tracks usually fade into one another, separated by short instrumental segues and occasionally veering into different directions during a single song, led by KARL JENKINS' solos and MIKE RATLEDGE's keyboard patterns. Drummer JOHN MARSHALL takes the spotlight for "D.I.S." but otherwise remains in the background, as does bassist ROY BABBINGTON; for the most part, it's Ratledge who anchors the material. Compared to the work of, say, BRAND X, "Seven" is a dreamy affair, making use of mesmerizing keyboards, percussive effects that evoke wind chimes, bubbling basswork, and horns that occasionally approach the phrasing of a violin (in fact, JEAN-LUC PONTY fans may find this music reassuringly similar). Although the band generates some interesting grooves on "Tarabos" and "Down the Road", even these are contained in well-defined borders.

"Seven" does not boast stunning solos or grandiose ideas; it's understated but effective as a collage of small, soft pieces placed together. Though hardly a jewel in the genre, and limited by a lack of fresh ideas, at least it's not standoffishly noisy.

Report this review (#22074)
Posted Monday, May 3, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars This album is one of the best things ever. This was my first Soft Machine album ever, and hey I would have given it a three the first time i reviewed it but i listen to it and it sound cutting edge. The titles of the songs are neat sounding and the album is mesmerising as well. The best songs are Block,Penny Hitch and Down the Road. Whats not to like!
Report this review (#22077)
Posted Sunday, February 20, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars A dramtic change of pace and move but Seven is another fine effort from the Canterbury oddballs and one of the most refreshing of the Karl Jenkins led Softs. At first though. First listen to the album was misleading, fast paced opener "Nettle Bed" completely threw me of, nut in many respects I may have been expecting another Third or Fourth perhaps, but after a few plays I warmed to the album and it does have its moments and a good blend of instrumentation and mood. Seven comes across as very atmospheric and soothing. Some parts of the album even sound a bit like Krautrock in its electronica like passages. As I have only heard bits and pieces of that genre I am only guessing, seen a lot of Kraut porn though... The songs are more complete and concise than on previous Soft Machine albums and Seven has got a good jazzy like vibe to it with subtle hints of laid back rock, and unlike other Soft Machine efforts it's consistent, all the titles flow in and out of each other seamlessly and create a good blend. The last great Soft Machine album? The last to bear any genuine resemblance to one at least. Good effort.
Report this review (#39080)
Posted Sunday, July 10, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Seven is a very organic record and is my favourite Soft Machine record of this period. There are no oustanding tracks, but all tracks flow nicely one in another and you have to listen to it as a whole and let you transport by the athmosphere. 'Flow' is the word that desribes the record best, a steady flowing groove with a special mention for Babbington and Marshall, a perfect rhythm section for the double keyboard work of Jenkins and Ratledge and the horn arrangements. In a way 'Seven' represents the revers movement to the beginning of Soft Machine : 'One' and 'Two' were more pop oriented and gave place to a jazzier orientation in 'Three' ,'Seven' is the climax of an orientation, based on composition, which was started with 'Six'. The departure of Elton Dean and the arrival of Karl Jenkins, a classical trained musician and composer who had already played together with Babbington and Marshall in Nucleus, changed the group from a freeblowing outfit to a more composition oriented outfit. Roy Babbington, who has already helped out on 'Four' and 'Five' fits perfectly into the group. While Hugh Hopper is more a root oriented Bass player, Roy Babbington plays the bass as an melody instrument like Steve Swallow and Scott La Faro. His bass playing on 'Seven' works in a counterpoint fashion with the double Keyboard play and the horn arrangements.My favourite passage is 'Carol Ann/Day's eye' a nice transition from a moody Jenkins Composition to a bouncy Ratledge composition.
Report this review (#39231)
Posted Tuesday, July 12, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars It was released in October, 1973 "7(Seven)". Hugh Hopper secedes by the former work. This work is not a free jazz. It is a work that emphasized the Electric jazz of "6" further. The lucidity of the theme, solo, and the riff came at the case. However, original music of SOFT MACHINE was not lost. The overall sound thinks near "3" or more than "4" and "5". Moreover, a long tune is lost and the number of short works has increased. It was recorded in July, 1973.
Report this review (#44206)
Posted Thursday, August 25, 2005 | Review Permalink
2 stars I've only listened "Third", "Sixth" and "Seven" Soft Machine's albums, and I can say absolutely Soft Machine's music is not my style of "great music". Well, I think "Seven" is boring, dull, repetitive, without any excellent theme. I don't say its music is bad, but I prefer more detailed things. Listening "Seven" and sleeping at the moment is an inevitable thing that I can't control. Excuse me. I prefer Brian Eno's "Evening Star".
Report this review (#96139)
Posted Sunday, October 29, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars When I first reviewed this album as part of a larger overview of the Soft Machine canon about nine years ago. I dismissed Seven as a "Windham Hill album on speed". Over the years, it has steadily become my second favorite of SM's work, tailing only "Volume Two" in terms of accesibility and intuitive progression. I should clarify, though, that I can only listen to Side A, but the strength of those tracks is enough to carry the value of this entry. "Nettle Bed" is an effective and energetic display of Karl Jenkin's formulamaic odd- time-signature groove-jam style first expressed ad nauseum on "Six", and neither before nor since would a better example emerge. Jenkin's follow-up, "Carol Ann", is a hauntingly beautiful suspended-animation Rhodes ballad a la Herbie Hacock's "Jessica". The album then takes us into Mike Ratledge's three-course swan song with regards to his material contribution to the Soft Machine franchise. "Day's Eye" is a smooth prog-groove showcase for Ratledge's signature distorted-Lowry organ soloing which had been such a benchmark of the Soft Machine sound going back to their beginnings. "Bone Fire", if only 0:33 in run time, serves more than simply to bridge "Day's Eye" with "Tarabos"; it marks the last time one of Ratledge's riffs which defy the boudaries of conventional time signature would be heard on a Soft Machine track, accented only the more by Jenkin's perfectly understated baritone sax lead. "Tarabos" manages to bleed from redundant unconventionally-metered groove to sickeningly redundant dynamic punch to John Marshall's free-form "D.I.S." The album, then transitioning to Side B, goes completely south, as does the overall quality off the output of the Soft Machine to my ears. Nonetheless, I still regard "Seven" as a strong curtain call for the last lingering elements of Soft Machine proper.
Report this review (#127077)
Posted Friday, June 29, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / In Memoriam

Have you noticed how the SOFT MACHINE releases can be grouped by pair; First you have the first album and VOLUME 2 exploring both the world of funny jazz/psychedelia, then FOURTH and FIFTH digging deep into free-form experimental jazz?. Now we have SIX and SEVEN entering the groovy fusion music scene. Even the next 2 albums BUNDLES and SOFTS can be associated as they are both guitar driven!

SOFT MACHINE wouldn't be SOFT MACHINE if a new album came out without a new change of personel. Now it's time for long time standing bassist HUGH HOPPER to leave the ship for a prolific solo carreer. His successor is logically ROY BABBINGTON who already has guested on several SOFT MACHINE releases in the past and, of course played with NUCLEUS as well like J. MARSHALL and KARL JENKINS.Contrary to them, BABBINGTON hasn't required on his contract to have a solo bass tune on each record with the band or the right to compose half of the music!!!

MIKE RATLEDGE is the lone survivor from the original band, but cannot even be considered the man in charge either anymore. The new direction taken on SIX can be attributed to KARL JENKINS, a classically trained musician who likes structured music better and is not fond of never-ending free form improvisations like SOFT MACHINE did in the past . He goes for shorter pieces with a very efficient rythm section. The bassist provides usually a groovy riff, definitely rock, helped by a solid drummer who doesn't spend his time having fun with his cymbals: a very solid foundation for the 2 soloists to show off their skills.

Not only KARL JENKINS changed the band sound, he is also now the main composer.He wrote seven out of the 12, RATLEDGE only 4, including 2 which don't reach the 2 mns mark. Of course, you have guessed the last tune DIS is the unavoidable drum solo from JENKINS which rather sounds like a very psychedelic experiment this time.

This is not a great album, not an album that is an essential addition to a prog selection, but still a pleasant one. The music follows the same pattern that we heard on SIX with those groovy bass lines, starting with the very speedy NEDDLE BED a very energetic rock sounding track with RATLEDGE synthetisizing all over the song .SOFT MACHINE with anphetamines indeed!. Could have been a good ELP or RETURN TO FOREVER track, i think.

The beautiful CAROL ANN follows as a wonderful intimate ballad with reflective keyboard playing, only helped by a few touches from BABBINGTON. Then the adrenaline goes up again with the 3 RATLEDGE compositions like DAY'S EYE reminding me the athmosphere of the great CHLOE AND THE PIRATES from SIX. TARABOS is once again built on a heavy bass riff letting RATLEDGE soloing with his organ.

Ex-Side 2 is almost exclusively penned by KARL JENKINS, except for the minimalist RILEY-esque 1mn 50'' THE GERMAN LESSON composed by the organist. All the tracks are pleasant but very, very reminiscent from SIX such as for example PENNY HITCH which has STRONG affinities to THE SOFT WEED FACTOR, but that's a good track anyway with this haunting sax sound. Talking about sax, it's worth noticing that the use of horns is dwindling as KARL JENKINS spends more time behind the keyboards, mostly the piano. A trend that will be confirmed firmly with the next 2 albums!

SEVEN is a good album but you know by listening to SIX and this one that this new formula already has reached the end of its course. It would not possible for SOFT MACHINE to come back with ''EIGHT'' and the same kind of music found on these 2 albums. A necessary change of direction was needed and indeed, there won't be a ''EIGHT''. Will be BUNDLES instead and -again- a new SOFT MACHINE with a new sound, but that's another story!


Report this review (#136512)
Posted Thursday, September 6, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars The Seventh album from The Soft Machine called Seven is a step in the right direction for the band. I can´t hide that their last four albums really haven´t been to my taste but with this album they have left the very unstructured and jamming jazzy approach that has haunted their music. Seven is much more streamlined and pleasant to listen to. Fans of the more avant garde jazzy parts of The Soft Machine will be disappointed with Seven. The Soft machine has a much more accessible sound on this album and there are even traces back to their Canterbury roots which I find very enjoyable.

Nettle bed starts the album and it´s a great song. IMO it´s obviously the best song here and it points toward their early Canterbury sound. Untill D.I.S. all songs are good. There are some really good jazzy themes in songs like Carol Ann, Day's eye and Tarabos. D.I.S. is one of those songs where I have to ask why I should waste my time with something like this which seems to be random notes played just for the sake of it. A step back on an else good album. Unfortunately Snodland continues the bad trend as it is a short interlude which is really unneccessary. Penny Hitch and Block seque into another. Penny Hitch being the structured part with themes and Block being the solo part. Down the Road is a pretty good song too while The German and the French Lesson songs are short rather unnessassary songs.

The musicianship is good but the bass is a good deal more subdued after Hugh Hopper has left which is a real shame. Roy Babbington is also a great bassplayer though and delivers what he should. Mike Ratledge is as a pleasant surprise very dominant with lots of soloing as a contrast to the constant wailing sax soloing on Fourth and Fifth. John Marshall is a great drummer and he delivers some good tight playing on Seven.

The sound quality is becoming more modern but it´s still great seventies sounding.

Seven has ignited my almost dying interest in The Soft Machine again even though the jazzy part of The Soft Machine´s sound never really appealed to me. This album is much better than the previous three and deserves a 3 star rating for that.

Report this review (#175798)
Posted Monday, June 30, 2008 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
5 stars This review is dedicated to febus, one of SOFT MACHINE biggest fans.

For most SOFT MACHINE fans "Seven" was a bit of a disappointment. The band has changed a lot here with Ratledge being the only original member left. In fact the other three members were once part of NUCLEUS, so this record may have more in common with that band than with SOFT MACHINE. This is more of a structured Fusion album with a lot of repetitive melodies. It's also more traditional fusion than the free form, experimental Jazz we're used to hearing from this great band. And I love it ! As febus mentions, the horns are not being used as much, instead we get 2 keyboardists, bass and drums that dominate the sound.

"Nettle Bed" is the uptempo opener to the album. I'm not sure what I like the best, the catchy melody or the fuzz bass. Everyone sounds amazing though, including the electric piano, synths and drums. "Carol Ann" is a beautiful track that reminds me of the album "Two Rainbows Daily". Beautiful music. "Day's Eye" opens with piano and drums as sax joins in. It settles 4 1/2 minutes in but not for long. Big finish. "Bone Fire" is a short track with more bottom end than usual. "Tarabos" is such a fantstic song. Love the way the sax plays over top of the drums and fuzz bass. Sax comes in too. The drumming late is incredible. "D.I.S." opens with a gong before we get some unusual sounds with no real melody.

"Snodland" has some nice atmosphere as the electric piano plays in the background. "Penny Hitch" is another favourite of mine. Again the atmosphere is incredible as drums, keys and sax stand out. Just a gorgeous track. It gets fuller 3 minutes in. "Block" just blows me away. There is so much going on here. I just like to listen to all the different sounds playing together. Excellent track. "Down The Road" is more laid back with a good repetitive beat. It becomes more raw sounding after 2 1/2 minutes. It blends into "The German Lesson" where the melody stops 15 seconds in and it becomes very atmospheric, almost Krautrock-like and spacey.This blends into "The French Lesson" where the same atmosphere and sound continues.

I know i'm in the minority here but for me this is a 5 star album. It has no average tracks, they are all amazing in their own way.This simply fits my Jazz tastes perfectly. I'm hitting the repeat button now. Goodbye !

Report this review (#196823)
Posted Thursday, January 1, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Compositionally, this is in my opinion one of the best Soft Machine albums. The whole album is very constistent, but the music also leaves lots of space for beautiful melodies and solos. Everything sounds in it's place here. There is still lots of diversity here on this album and the music shifts from groove to groove. Actually, I didn't had that much trouble with the record at first listen, but the record still gets better with every listen. Still, their First, Second and Third albums, seems to show more energy. This might turn the album to a slightly less exciting recording, compared to the days with Kevin Ayers or Hugh Hopper and Robert Wyatt. Still, the brilliant compositional work, beautiful melodies and heavenly solos are elements that makes the album exciting enough to rate it with four stars.
Report this review (#218302)
Posted Tuesday, May 26, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Soft Machine finally made a pretty straight jazz album on their seventh album. Gone is the magic weirdness from the Third and the Fourth album. The avant-garde elements from Fifth is also missing here. Seven is a continuation from disc 2 of the Six album. The Soft Machine is threading water on this album.

That is not necessary a bad thing, music wise. The music on Seven is actually good. The jazz is appealing, although a bit one dimentional. Most of the music here is laid back and a bit too repetetive. Karl Jenkins does a wind instrument impro solo and is backed up by Mike Ratledge on keyboard in the background as the basic melody. This is repeated over and over again on different melodies. I have to admit I like this music. It is easy on the ear where Third was one big camel of a challenge for me.

Seven is a good album, but I still miss the weirdness from Third.

3 stars

Report this review (#247768)
Posted Monday, November 2, 2009 | Review Permalink
The Quiet One
4 stars The Soft Weed Factor...

After the refreshment that Six brought to Soft Machine adding a groovier rhythm and approaching to the jazz rock sound that they would achieve with Bundles, Soft Machine chills out a bit. Also, Hugh Hopper is gone and Roy Babbington who had previously played some double-bass previously with Soft Machine now gets the full-job of playing some catchy bass lines.

Alike the live part of Six, Seven also presents a flawless flow meaning that from one track to the other there's a connection which makes a wonderful listening experience. Also this makes unrelated pieces (by name) be related, thus we've got two big pieces in each side: from 'Carol Ann' to 'D.I.S'. is one 17 minute piece that is mainly placid with spacey overtones, but there are some ocassional grooves and wilder keyboard and sax/oboe soloing. The other big piece is the entirety of Side 2, this "big piece" is akin to 'The Soft Weed Factor', an hypnotic long tune with repetitive notes but slowly builds up and gets better and better, simply sublime.

While Seven may be missing more upbeat and energized music, the album manages to be a great album for what it offers: mainly soft and floating keyboard-driven music with enough variety so as to not get bored.

4 stars: Seven is still worthy of the 4 stars for it being an excellent companion to Six, just like Softs is to Bundles. Highly recommended if you like spacey stuff in the likes of In a Silent Way by Miles Davis. If you're looking for either their more jazzy psych and elaborated stuff from the Wyatt-era or the more rockin' jazz stuff from Bundles, Seven won't satisfy you.

Report this review (#254201)
Posted Thursday, December 3, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Some respects might exist when talking about the situation in which a band the content of this album and at that time is opened. It is shown that the intention of the member who is related to appearance and the band of the music character that this band revolutionizes at the same time was remarkably expressed by the content of the work as for it.

It is a point that this album was first announced for CBS at the end. It will have been a situation that flowed as preparations for connecting with the following "Bundles" as a flow of the situation of the certainty and the music character. Or, it is partial of progressive Jazz Rock that was able to be listened in a past work. Hugh Hopper related to the element has finally parted from the band. As for it, Soft Machine meant the initiation of Karl Jenkins and John Marshall at the same time.

Composition of tune with element and length scale of Jazz Rock that Soft Machine originally has. As for it, a more lucid composition has finished by this album. It would be an emphasis and be an intention of the score and ensemble as the result by Karl Jenkins. The construction of the intention at which Hugh Hopper aimed as a result and the music character might have been different.

And, formal participation of Roy Babbington that participates in "Fourth" will be able to be caught as construction of the sound in Jazz/Fusion and Canterbury that Soft Machine at that time thinks about at the same time as expanding the width of the music character of the band. Roy Babbington performs six bowstrings Bass in this album.

However, it will have been Mike Ratledge the possession of flexibility for the band that revolutionized it. Soft Machine at this time also has the opinion made to have united with Nucleus well as a result. However, the element of minimal that was one of the methods of expressing Karl Jenkins might have united well with Jazz Rock that original Soft Machine had done. It is one of the albums where the part where Soft Machine is the best appears if this work changes the angle and it sees.

Report this review (#265779)
Posted Friday, February 12, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Once you reach the bottom, the only direction to go is up. Unfortunately, this was the once great Soft Machine's case after hitting sub rock bottom with their all night jazz hangover wank- a-thons featuring Elton Dean's *insert random dying animal sound here* bebop sax soloing splattered all over "Fourth" and "Fifth". Okay okay, they weren't that nasty and could be some okayish background sound on a good day but gradually and gradually the endless sax grinds into one's head and flows into all the pain areas of one's brain.

So, thankfully, once Dean flew the coop, the band moved on from pure jazz to the always reliable jazz fusion. Now, rather then the endless 'play your godforsaken instrument til the world subsequently blows up or at least until someone's spit valve overflows' style of "Fourth" and "Fifth", the band churns out grooves, riffs, and other moody textures and intertwine them with solos. This is good. The diversity of the band's past is slowly but surely regaining its place amongst their music once again but the one thing these wonky British dudes haven't managed to exercise from their songwriting is the boredom. The actually written music they come up with is both enjoyable and respectable but each piece of music seems grounded.

A typical song from the period of "Six" and "Seven" often has a riff that endlessly repeats over the course of five minutes creating a groove. Case and Point: "Day's Eye" and "Penny Hitch". I think these two songs can make some of the most palatable background music as they both have good, repetitive riffs but simply don't do enough to justify their lengths. Good "focusing" music though, especially when you're doing complex algebraic equations or something of that like matter.

Oh yeah, there is exciting music on here, by the way. "Nettle Bed" is hard and fast, (That's what she didn't say) two qualities that are guaranteed to hold down my attention for a while. Contained in this rollicking album opener are two great, flashy riffs that underpin a concise organ solo in which Ratledge experiments with the tonalities of his instrument. The only other thing that annoys me about this album is he never does that too much, usually sticking to a shrill, fuzzy pitch that isn't really unpleasant but gets boring fast. The lively "Nettle Bed" is the highlight of this bunch and brings some frantic energy to an album that's often too overly mellow.

Speaking of mellow, I also dig the following "Carol Ann", a haunting Jenkins piece played almost entirely by Ratledge and the band's double bassist, Roy Babbington. The melody played solely on synths and electric piano, not only has sereneness to it but also a melancholy feel. See, this is another track with discernable moods, something that "Fourth" never possessed in it's entirety.

Unfortunately, nothing else reaches the level of these two tracks in terms of emotional resonance. "Day's Eye" has a neat oboe filled opening and a bass riff that can prove to be very hypnotic on those long days when I feel liking paying attention to a jazz fusion record but it just goes on way too long. "Tarabos" has the same formula albeit with a much heavier arrangement. (The louder, the better I tend to prefer.) I draw the line at their egocentric drummer slapping on another one his patented percussion instrumentals, though. Look, we all know you had the finest pedigree when we bought you at the 'Very Rare and Exotic Jazz Fusion Drummer Store' but must you justify it every single time we make a danged record? Jeeez...

Well, other then the gloppy soloing boredom of "Block", the lethargic, bass driven "Down the Road", and "Penny Hitch" which totally sounds like it could have been the backing track to a slow free style rap, (I'm not kidding. Look it up on Youtube!) we have a few cute little ambient pieces that are simply nice to meditate too. And after them, we reach the end of our album. What a long, occasionally boring trip it's been.

Like I've mention above, this is all great background music but thinking man's music it ain't or at least mostly ain't. "Nettle Bed" and "Carol Ann" are fun, fun, fun but the rest are simply pleasant but boring. Still, at least I'm safe from the vengeance of that evil saxophone! C+

Best Songs: Nettle Bed, Carol Ann

Worst Songs: Block, D.I.S.

Report this review (#291521)
Posted Thursday, July 22, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars As you might have read in some prior reviews of mine for this band, I was quite alien to their music (except to their great debut) and the genre they are catalogued on PA is rather challenging. Nonetheless, I decided to go through and review each of their studio albums. this decison was fully dedicated to the memory of my fellow prog friend Antoine (Febus).

At this time of their existence, the fully improvised jazz feel has turned into a more structured and symphonic one. But don't expect anything too prog on this album. In my sense, it is only more bearable than most of their prior "experiences".

I knew beforehand that I would have a very though moment with "Soft Machine" while reviewing their works. My major concern was to pay tribute or challenge to my prog friend Antoine/ Febus.

For many reasons which are totally alien to my objective taste, I will rate this album with three stars although there are few great moments to share here. Just about average.

If anybody can highlight some shadow of the Canterbury style in here, I would be delighted. This is a good jazz-rock album.

No more, no less. Three stars.

Report this review (#338409)
Posted Monday, November 29, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars After not much successful Six album, another Soft Machine's founding member bassist Hopper left the band,he was changed by Roy Babbington who played with band some years as guest musician.With such line-up (only one founding member keyboardist Mike Ratledge stayed on board), band's musical direction was changed even more radically towards straightforward flat fusion.

Sax player Karl Jenkins became more influential building musical strategy,and in fact he is a new band's leader for now. Mike Ratledge uses synthesizers for a first time in band's history on this album,all these changes influenced album's music a lot.

It's almost impossible to compare music of Seven with band's compositions from "classic" fusion period (Third or Fourth). They sound just as two different bands. It doesn't mean Seven is bad album - well composed,structured and played,this album contains some really good compositions, but you will hardly find free jazz flavor or great interplays. Music there is framed between compositional, arrangement and soloing rules without much space for freedom and fantasy.Musicians are still great and album sounds pleasant and easy accessible,just the spirit of real Soft Machine is gone without traces.

Far from Soft Machine's best release,still competent transitional work.

Report this review (#392400)
Posted Wednesday, February 2, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars With Roy Babbington taking over Hugh Hopper's spot on bass, Seven sees Mike Ratledge in the unenviable position of not only being the sole remaining founder member of the band left on the album, but also the sole remaining member of the lineup that recorded Third (or Fourth if you don't count Babbington's guest spots on that album). With Karl Jenkins composing the majority of songs on this album, it's clear that despite Ratledge remaining very much a presence on this album, his position as band leader had more or less been ceded to Jenkins at this point.

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

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

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

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

Report this review (#508083)
Posted Wednesday, August 24, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars This album to me seems to put a full stop to all that had gone before within Soft Machine's development from the Dada practicing psychedelic funsters they started out as to the cerebral (some might say downright cold, clinical and mathematical) fusion practitioners that they had become by 1973. With Mike Ratledge the only founder member remaining from the original band, it's no surprise that you'll find no 'Hope For Happiness' here...

With no album having the same personel as the previous one (although one could argue that 'Third' & 'Fourth' defy that statement, but that's not something I need to elaborate on here) it's only logical that each subsequent album by this band would be different to the last whilst preserving the identity of this most unclassifiable band. Are they a rock band trying to play jazz? Are they a bunch of jazz players trying to play rock? Are they neither of these? That seems to be the constant debate surrounding this highly enigmatic group. Perhaps it would be best just to consider their output as simply Soft Machine music and leave it at that... Should one wish to listen to their entire studio output from beginning to end, there is a very strong continuity and, dare I say it, consistency to their canon that is quite unique.

Which brings us to the album in question. From the introduction of ex Nucleus drummer John Marshall on the second side of 'Fifth' via the replacement of the now sadly deceased Elton Dean with ex Nucleus reedsman Karl Jenkins to the replacement of long standing (and again, sadly deceased) Hugh Hopper with ex Nucleus (do you see a pattern forming here?) Roy Babbington as full time bass player, it wouldn't be unfair to say that this album would inevitably draw comparisons with that band's oeuvre. It's to the credit of the four musicians involved in this album that even with a cursory listen, it does not.

What it DOES bear comparison with is The Softs previous record: the ideas and musical tangents that had begun to be explored on that album are presented here with a much sharper focus and clarity. If one takes the rambling 'The Soft Weed Factor' from 'Six' and we're to listen to the highly crafted and MUCH more precise 'Snodland'/Penny Hitch' from 'Seven', this concentration of ideas is blindingly apparent. The other interesting factor is how the two main composers in the band at this point try harder than at any other point in the history of Soft Machine to write to the strengths of the musicians involved and the overall sound of the band as opposed to using the group as simply just a vehicle for their won musical agendas.

There are some very significant things that occur on 'Seven': the main one being it's the last album to feature Mike Ratledge's fuzz box powered Lowry organ (a Lowrey Holiday Deluxe to be precise, fact fans!) and the first to feature him soloing on that notoriously difficult to control instrument the EMS Synthi A synthesiser, notably so on the uncharacteristically rowdy (for Karl Jenkins) opener 'Nettlebed'. It's also highly noticeable that Karl Jenkins has by now adopted the rôle of principal composer and had begun to concentrate more on playing second keyboard rather than his usual oboe, baritone and soprano saxophones. It's also very noticeable that, as a soloist, Jenkins' limitations become very apparent in comparison to Elton Dean's highly fluent and breakneck speed flights of fancy on previous Soft Machine albums. The replacement of Hugh Hopper with Roy Babbington brought to the band a bass player who had enormous respect for how Soft Machine's music sounded under Hopper's tenure. He also brought the sound of another rarely seen instrument to the band's sonic palette in the form of the Fender Bass VI, giving a more melodic underpinning to John Marshall's faultless drumming whilst losing none of the rhythmic drive and pure groove of Hopper's style.

"So what's the music like?" I hear you cry. A very satisfying listen (to my ears) is the short answer. There's everything here that a fan of mid-period Soft Machine wants to hear: interesting musical schools of thought sometimes juxtaposed in unlikely yet successful combinations (fusion minimalism, anyone?), much more concise composition than previous albums which means that whilst not every piece on this album may be to your taste, none of them outstay their welcome by virtue of both their brevity and the incredibly high standard of musicianship on display. There's the hard 'n' fast riffing of 'Nettlebed', 'Tarabos' & 'Block'; the gentle, reflective tone poem that is 'Carol Ann', the measured beauty of 'Day's Eye', the showcasing of drummer John Marshall's percussion creativity with 'D. I. S.' (the story behind the naming of this piece and why it sounds like it does can be found in Graham Bennett's excellent book 'Out-Bloody-Rageous') as well as the aforementioned fusion minimalism of 'Snodland/Penny Hitch' and the two segued closing numbers 'The French Lesson' & 'The German Lesson'. What really makes the album a very satisfying listen is the running order: a near perfect ebb and flow of musical impressions that maintain interest by dint of their arrangements and the exceptional musicianship from all involved.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, 'Seven' is the full stop to everything that went before it in the Softs' history. With their next album came a label change and that most unexpected addition: guitars. Things went in a very different direction for Soft Machine after this. Given it's place in the Soft Machine timeline and the fact that in an interview at the time Mike Ratledge mentioned that he was rather pleased with it, anyone with a passing interest in Soft Machine could do worse than give this one a listen and try and enjoy it on its own merit, without the band's historical baggage, and I think you won't be disappointed! In the context of the rest of Soft Machine's output, I give 'Seven' a well deserved four out of five stars. Many thanks for reading!

Report this review (#1533402)
Posted Saturday, February 27, 2016 | Review Permalink
4 stars In the 1970's Soft Machine were one of those bands who developed and changed their music - and some listeners just didn't like it. Some didn't like them after Kevin Ayers left, some after "Third", some after Robert Wyatt's departure. Around the time of this album some reviewers thought they were "past their best", "trading on past glories" and press views of this and the following Harvest albums were often lukewarm.

Looking back, this is a well composed, well played and (to me at any rate) very enjoyable album, in line with what bands such as Nucleus and Isotope were offering. The next album, "Bundles", featuring the late, great Allan Holdsworth, continued this trajectory and remains one of the most special British jazz-rock albums of that decade. At the time, some people weren't impressed with that either.

In 2020 these albums are still available and perhaps are more appreciated than ever - they deserve to be anyway.

Report this review (#2312622)
Posted Tuesday, February 4, 2020 | Review Permalink

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