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The Soft Machine

Canterbury Scene

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The Soft Machine Fourth / Fifth album cover
3.59 | 27 ratings | 6 reviews | 19% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Boxset/Compilation, released in 1999

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Teeth (9:13)
2. Kings And Queens (5:01)
3. Fletcher's Blemish (4:36)
4. Virtually Part 1 (5:15)
5. Virtually Part 2 (7:05)
6. Virtually Part 3 (4:37)
7. Virtually Part 4 (3:23)
8. All White (6:07)
9. Drop (7:42)
10. M.C. (4:55)
11. As If (8:23)
12. LBO (1:31)
13. Pigling Bland (4:21)
14. Bone (3:35)

Total Time: 75:44

Line-up / Musicians

- Hugh Hopper / bass guitar
- Mike Ratledge / organ, piano
- Robert Wyatt / drums
- Elton Dean / alto saxophone, saxello, electric piano
- Roy Babington / double bass
- Mark Charig / cornet
- Nick Evans / trombone
- Jimmy Hastings / alto flute, bass clarinet
- Alan Skidmore / Tenor saxophone
- Phil Hayward / drums
- John Marshall / drums

Releases information

COLUMBIA (COL 4933412)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to snobb for the last updates
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THE SOFT MACHINE Fourth / Fifth ratings distribution

(27 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(19%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(56%)
Good, but non-essential (11%)
Collectors/fans only (11%)
Poor. Only for completionists (4%)

THE SOFT MACHINE Fourth / Fifth reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Syzygy
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars 4.5 stars really. The two albums brought together for this release were the first and probably best of Soft Machine's completely instrumental releases.

Fourth was Wyatt's final album with the Softs, and in addition to no longer singing he is also the only member of the band who doesn't get at least one writing credit. Elton Dean had become an integral part of their sound and his expressive alto sax effectively replaces Wyatt's lead vocals. The first three tracks were side 1 of the original release, and they make for a pleasing slice of Canterbury tinged jazz rock.Hugh Hoppers Virtually parts 1 - 4 took up side 2 and features a host of guest musicians familiar to any fan of British 70s prog. Although portions of Virtually are very effective, particularly parts 1 and 3, it doesn't really hang together as an extended piece, and does not so much end as gradually fizzle out.

Fifth featured a different drummer on each side of the vinyl release. Phil Howard played on All White, Drop and MC, which together probably represent the peak of Soft Machine's post Wyatt output. Elton Dean was on spectacular form for these session, leading the compositions through all manner of unpredictable twists and turns. This is jazz rock, but in many ways it's closer to the other worldly explorations of Can circa Soon Over Babluma than it is to Weather Report. The second half of Fifth saw John Marshall (Wyatt's replacement) on the drum stool. Mike Rateledge's As If opens the proceedings, continuing in the same manner as the first 3 tracks and featuring some wonderful bowed double bass by Roy Babbington. This is followed by a 2 minute drum solo from Marshall - a very well played drum solo, but not so great on repeated listening, and it rather disrupts the atmosphere of the album. The closing tracks are closer in feel to Fourth, and bring the album to a slightly inconclusive end.

Neither Fourth nor Fifth was a wholly consistent album, but well over half of each album was excellent and this two for one release is superb value. Recommended.

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars The Soft Machine - Fourth/ Fifth

This is a box set where The Soft Machineīs fourth and fifth album is included for the price of one album. A great deal of course if you like the contents of these albums.


Fourth is the ( well yes) the fourth album from The Soft Machine. On the previous album Third The Soft Machine was almost transformed from a psychadelic canterbury rock band into a jazz combo. There were enjoyable moments on Third for those of us who are not very interested in jazz, but those moments were far between. The most of Moon in June was great though. On Fourth the transformation is complete. The Soft Machine is now a jazz band.

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

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

The production is also very good.

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


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 Iīm 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 donīt 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 donīt like. Iīll recommend that you buy the two first great albums from The Soft Machine instead. They are both great examples of Canterbury rock at itīs best.

There is a saying that Two wrongs donīt make a right and that saying fits this box set completely. Getting two albums for the price of one is of course always a great thing, but when the music isnīt more exciting than on these two albums Iīll have to pass. 2 stars is what I rated both original albums and thatīs exactly what this box set will also receive.

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars "4" was one of the first Soft Machine albums I owned (along with "6" and "7" - I never located the LP of "5"), and since this period represented my favorite of this band, when I found this CD of the two albums together, I bought it immediately.

These two albums, originally released in 1970 and 1971, demonstrate two points. First, they show that not all of the great fusion groups of the very early seventies were born from jazz groups. Secondly, not all of the great fusion groups were Americans. These guys came from the British art rock and Canterbury music scenes, and the albums are every bit as good as what was coming from all of those Miles Davis proteges at the time (The Mahavishnu Orchestra had not his the scene yet).

Both of these albums feature inventive fusion, both tonally and in timing, featuring primarily the saxes of Elton Dean and the keyboards of Mike Ratledge. The songs are both eerie and beautiful.

It's too bad that Robert Wyatt left the group after "4", but the band doesn't miss a beat (get it?).

4.5 stars.

Latest members reviews

5 stars Connoisseur's choice in Jazz. Interesting to see these two albums released on one disc. Common practice is of matching a better album with a bonus-like weaker one. This is not the case here as both of them - albeit slightly different - are excellent works on their own, if for various reasons. ... (read more)

Report this review (#961850) | Posted by BORA | Saturday, May 18, 2013 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Two albums for the price of one CD. First a healthwarning: If you do not like their most avant-garde improvisation jazz period, do not buy this CD. This CD contains their most musically unaccessible albums and pieces of music. The music is not possible to understand/penetrate without an open ... (read more)

Report this review (#240984) | Posted by toroddfuglesteg | Wednesday, September 23, 2009 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Combining "Fourth" and "Fifth" on a single CD makes sense chronologically, as is obvious by the title, and there is a stylistic continuity as well, as yet a major fracture in the Soft Machine history occurs between these two recordings -- the departure of Robert Wyatt, whose playful, tubercular ... (read more)

Report this review (#22146) | Posted by Sir Realist | Tuesday, May 24, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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