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The Soft Machine

Canterbury Scene

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The Soft Machine Fifth [Aka: 5] album cover
3.43 | 316 ratings | 25 reviews | 17% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Studio Album, released in 1972

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. All White (6:06)
2. Drop (7:42)
3. M C (4:57)
4. As If (8:02)
5. L B O (1:54)
6. Pigling Bland (4:24)
7. Bone (3:29)

Total Time 36:34

Bonus track on 2007 remaster:
8. All White (take 2) (7:14)

Line-up / Musicians

- Mike Ratledge / Lowrey organ, Fender Rhodes
- Elton Dean / alto saxophone, saxello, Fender Rhodes
- Hugh Hopper / bass
- Phil Howard / drums (1-3)
- John Marshall / drums (4-7)

- Roy Babbington / double bass (4-7)

Releases information

ArtWork: John Hays

LP CBS ‎- S 64806 (1972, UK)

CD Epic ‎- ESCA 5418 (1991, Japan)
CD One Way Records ‎- A 26227 (1995, US)
CD Sony BMG ‎- 82876872902 (2007, Europe) 24-bit remaster by Paschal Byrne with a bonus track previously unreleased

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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Buy THE SOFT MACHINE Fifth [Aka: 5] Music

THE SOFT MACHINE Fifth [Aka: 5] ratings distribution

(316 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(17%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(36%)
Good, but non-essential (37%)
Collectors/fans only (8%)
Poor. Only for completionists (2%)

THE SOFT MACHINE Fifth [Aka: 5] reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
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.

Review by Philo
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.

Review by Trotsky
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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

Review by Zac M
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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.

Review by Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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

Review by febus
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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!!


Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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.

Review by 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.

Review by Kazuhiro
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.
Review by ZowieZiggy
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.

Review by snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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+.

Review by Man With Hat
COLLABORATOR 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.

Review by Warthur
3 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.

In particular, Karl Jenkins joining the band for Six would go a long way towards righting the group's course. The big problem Fifth has isn't that it's bad - it's a perfectly serviceable fusion album - so much as it's a little directionless. Well done gang, you've gotten rid of Robert Wyatt - what do you actually want to *do* now that he's gone? With Jenkins onboard, the Six-and-after lineup ended up finding an answer ("See what Nucleus would sound like without Ian Carr", basically), and with it sufficient musical direction to keep chugging on for some years yet.

Whilst I have warmed a little to Fifth - with recent remasters teasing out some of its finer details - I have to say that it might be the weakest studio album Soft Machine put out in the 1970s, being as it is a transitional work from a time period when the group were juggling drummers and were otherwise in a time of creative and directional flux.

Review by stefro
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.


Review by A Crimson Mellotron
3 stars Soft Machine remained unapologetically consistent in releasing music throughout the 70s no matter what was happening inside the band, and so their fifth studio album (Can you guess how it was named?) was presented to the world in July of 1972. At this point in the band's career, it is obvious that Soft Machine is a jazz (sometimes even free jazz would be the more appropriate term) and fusion collective that tries to write unnerving and experimental music, often unmatched by their peers and strictly at the foreground of the innovators' list, if I may put it like that.

The turbulent events surrounding the band's previous record, 'Fourth', resulting in drummer Robert Wyatt's departure did not leave the rest of the members stunned or unable to continue in any way; Even more, they replaced Wyatt with not one but two drummers (Ha!) - one for each respective side of the album. This makes up, of course, the following line-up: the enigmatic Mike Ratledge on keyboards, Hugh Hopper on bass, Elton Dean on saxophone and saxello, Phil Howard on drums for side one, John Marshall on drums for side two, and Roy Babbington appearing once again as a contributor, on double bass for side two. Although the subtitle of 'The Mike Ratledge album' could be given to 'Fifth', the Softies seem to apply the same formula that worked well for them on 'Fourth' - everyone contributes to the album, the songs result clearly from 'jams' or probably from single riffs by Ratledge or Dean, around which everyone starts building up something.

Opening up 'Fifth' is the great fusion track 'All White', one of the fan-favorites that would also appear often on stage, a great Ratledge composition that is in the same vein as 'Teeth' from 'Fourth' but somehow tamer and more purposeful at the same time. Then comes another song written by the enigmatic Fender Rhodes freak, 'Drop' that begins with soundscape-like keyboard loops just to morph into another explosive fusion track. 'M C' concludes side one; this is Hugh Hopper's contribution to the album, an OK one for the standards of Soft Machine.

Side two is introduced by Ratledge's 'As If', another one of the stronger moments on the album, a more manic composition that sets the mood for the whole second side. 'L B O' is a John Marshall drum solo, leading to 'Pigling Bland' - another fantastic jazzy number that is once again written by Mr Ratledge (At this point in the album, which is almost at the end, of course, I cannot help but think that this man is severely underrated for what he has composed, and could have easily written the whole album?). Finally, 'Bone' is another soundscape-like composition, the only one by Elton Dean.

All in all, this record cements Soft Machine's reputation as a special and different jazz and fusion act, a prominent and important exponent of the Canterbury Scene, and a leading force in the progressive rock ether. However, 'Fifth' is far from being a perfect album, and I believe that better jazz albums have been released at the same time, which does not make 'Fifth' less enjoyable, for the most part.

Review by Dapper~Blueberries
4 stars After 4 albums, Soft Machine made it big in the Canterbury Scene. They started off with a more psychedelic sound with The Soft Machine and Volume Two. Then they experimented and became a more experimental, free form jazzy band with Third and Fourth. And now we see the fifth culmination of that, which so happens to be called 5. I had no idea where Soft would go after Third and after the more lack luster Fourth. I wanted to find out and have an open mind about the album.

The first song, All White, kickstarts the album with a slowly building tune of basses and saxes until it bursts into a freeform tune of drums and keyboards. The song is a very cool and fusion based tune that sounds very wild and crazy. The next song is Drop. It builds up the song with a cool and crisp keyboard and a worbly synth sound in the back. This song also has some kazoos? Or guitars? I can't really tell. But nonetheless the song has this aura of cool and crispness to it. The next song is M C. This is a very experimental song. It has weird instruments all over the place. Now I am perfectly fine with that, however I think I know why some might think it's kinda strange and dumb. But personally I like when Soft Machine goes into more avant-gard-ish territory and do something experimental. I like it. The next song is As If. The song feels like a interrogation scene to a detective film. As the scene rises in tension so does the instruments and it sounds like the sax is pleading for life. It is very very awesome that Soft Machine can give life to so many instruments like they are talking and having a convo with one another. Also that cello is just super creepy I love it. The next song, L B O is basically a drum solo. If you like drum solos than you'll like this song. Other than that, it's a drum solo. The next song is Pigling Bland. It is a cool and jazzy song with an awesome drum beat. 5 to me sounds like a experimental detective film and this song feels like a detective sitting down in a rainy street, about to have a smoke when he gets a call. This song and all the other songs reminds me of just some cool noir stuff. I know it's a bit off topic but it just does. Also this is the best song on the album, it's cool, it's crisp, it has a great beat. I love it. Now we have the last song, Bone. It is another experimental track except instead of a jazzy sound, it goes for a wavey sorta creepy sound. No more horns, just weird eerie noises and a deadly synth. Pretty creepy, I like it. Now the biggest issue to me about this album is how experimental it is. It's not one of those albums where everyone can dig it and while I do enjoy experimental music, I know most people won't which would make this album pretty hard for some people to listen and like it, which is fine but that could be a big turn off for a lot of people.

So I thought this album was really good. It has a lot of personality and experimentations that I love this band for and it feels like the best direction the band took after Fourth. After this was a good experience and I am starting to see the full scope of Soft Machine's sound and the potential of it. Very cool band. Very cool.

Latest members reviews

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 b ... (read more)

Report this review (#1697013) | Posted by Walkscore | Sunday, February 26, 2017 | Review Permanlink

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 ou ... (read more)

Report this review (#1007526) | Posted by Luis de Sousa | Sunday, July 28, 2013 | Review Permanlink

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 mate ... (read more)

Report this review (#628809) | Posted by JackFloyd | Wednesday, February 8, 2012 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#240875) | Posted by toroddfuglesteg | Tuesday, September 22, 2009 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#172579) | Posted by Karyobin | Friday, May 30, 2008 | Review Permanlink

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. A ... (read more)

Report this review (#66670) | Posted by | Wednesday, January 25, 2006 | Review Permanlink

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 performa ... (read more)

Report this review (#48952) | Posted by braindamage | Wednesday, September 28, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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 atmos ... (read more)

Report this review (#22059) | Posted by Jaap | Wednesday, February 9, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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. None ... (read more)

Report this review (#22055) | Posted by | Monday, February 2, 2004 | Review Permanlink

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