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THE SOFT MACHINE

Canterbury Scene • United Kingdom


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The Soft Machine biography
The probably most important and influential band to grow out the Canterbury Scene was SOFT MACHINE. The band emerged in 1967 as the quartet of Robert WYATT (drums, vocals), Mike RATLEDGE (keyboards), Kevin AYERS (bass, vocals) and Daevid ALLEN (guitar, vocals). Through a persistence of personnel changes (totalling ~30), their sound was to changed continually over the years of their existence. This band along with CARAVAN (both to come out of the formative WILDE FLOWERS), would influence the emergence of the Canterbury Sound (MATCHING MOLE, EGG, HATFIELD & THE NORTH, and many more). Many careers began with SOFT MACHINE: Robert WYATT (MATCHING MOLE band and solo artist), Kevin AYERS (later his own WHOLE WORLD band and solo artist), and Daevid ALLEN (later GONG and solo artist). Virtuosic instrumentalists such as Hugh HOPPER, Mike RATLEDGE, Elton DEAN, Allan HOLDSWORTH, (briefly) Andy SUMMERS, Roy BABBINGTON, John MARSHALL and Karl JENKINS were attracted to MACHINE's ranks through out its history, leaving us a series of ground-breaking albums.

Now, briefly - what is the music like? The SOFT MACHINE were, for many listeners, the standard against which all jazz-rock fusion, including many of the big American names, had to be measured. (Alas SOFT MACHINE, has taken a mighty long time to be accepted even by part of the jazz fraternity). SOFT MACHINE's first three studio albums contain some of their best work. The first two demonstrate a progression from R'n'B psychedelia, increasingly heavily flavored by Mike Ratledge's free jazz improv tempered by modern serious music, towards their own idiosyncratic jazz fusion. The first album is very much in the psychedelic vein. In the instrumental section of "Volume Two" and "Third", they are found freely blending modern jazz with modern rock sensibilities, with more than a hint of heavy abstract stylings, e.g. minimalism - that is not to say, they were doing this all along - for instance as found on the 1967 recordings heard on "Middle Earth Tapes". "Volume Two" retains the psychedelia through the mixture of metaphysical and apparently ad-lib lyrics, while instrumentally the psychedelic jamming was heavily infused with a complex jazzy style. Here Hugh HOPPER, RATLEDGE and WY...
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Switzerland 1974Switzerland 1974
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BundlesBundles
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THE SOFT MACHINE discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

THE SOFT MACHINE top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.02 | 461 ratings
The Soft Machine
1968
4.02 | 410 ratings
Volume Two
1969
4.21 | 832 ratings
Third
1970
3.47 | 285 ratings
Fourth
1971
3.36 | 219 ratings
Fifth [Aka: 5]
1972
3.48 | 194 ratings
Six
1973
3.61 | 223 ratings
Seven
1973
4.00 | 286 ratings
Bundles
1975
3.78 | 186 ratings
Softs
1976
1.91 | 53 ratings
Karl Jenkins: Rubber Riff
1976
2.99 | 117 ratings
Land Of Cockayne
1981

THE SOFT MACHINE Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

2.80 | 63 ratings
Alive & Well - Recorded in Paris
1978
3.25 | 27 ratings
Live at the Proms (1970)
1988
3.94 | 29 ratings
The Peel Sessions
1990
4.27 | 17 ratings
BBC Live In Concert 1971
1993
3.67 | 15 ratings
BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert 1972
1994
3.90 | 31 ratings
Live At The Paradiso
1995
3.31 | 21 ratings
Live In France (Paris)
1995
3.70 | 36 ratings
Virtually
1998
2.77 | 17 ratings
Live 1970
1998
4.07 | 51 ratings
Noisette
2000
3.42 | 28 ratings
Backwards
2002
1.21 | 9 ratings
Facelift
2002
4.06 | 34 ratings
BBC - Radio 1967 - 1971
2003
4.08 | 25 ratings
BBC Radio 1971 - 1974
2003
3.00 | 7 ratings
Somewhere In Soho
2004
3.58 | 12 ratings
Soft Stage BBC In Concert 1972
2005
2.00 | 1 ratings
Orange Skin Food
2005
3.33 | 12 ratings
Breda Reactor
2005
3.35 | 14 ratings
Soft Machine & Heavy Friends BBC In Concert 1971
2005
3.81 | 28 ratings
British Tour '75
2005
3.80 | 36 ratings
Floating World Live (Bremen 1975)
2006
4.41 | 52 ratings
Grides
2006
2.58 | 19 ratings
Middle Earth Masters
2006
3.03 | 20 ratings
Drop
2008
4.19 | 23 ratings
Live At Henie Onstad Art Centre
2009
4.38 | 21 ratings
NDR Jazz Workshop, Germany, May 17, 1973
2010
0.00 | 0 ratings
Daevid Allen & Gilli Smyth With The Soft Machine Family: Live At The Roundhouse 1971
2012
4.04 | 5 ratings
Switzerland 1974
2015

THE SOFT MACHINE Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

4.50 | 22 ratings
Alive in Paris-1970
2008

THE SOFT MACHINE Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

0.00 | 0 ratings
The Soft Machine (Compilation)
1970
3.18 | 18 ratings
Face And Place Vol. 7 (also called Jet Propelled Photographs and At The Beginning)
1972
4.37 | 43 ratings
The Soft Machine Collection [also released as: Volumes One and Two]
1973
3.94 | 16 ratings
Triple Echo
1977
4.00 | 1 ratings
Rock Storia E Musica: Soft Machine
1983
3.08 | 23 ratings
Jet Propelled Photographs
1989
3.23 | 6 ratings
The Untouchable Collection (1975-78)
1990
4.38 | 4 ratings
As If...
1991
3.00 | 1 ratings
Soft Machine (Live & Demos)
1994
3.57 | 5 ratings
The Best Of Soft Machine...The Harvest Years
1995
3.41 | 28 ratings
Spaced (1969)
1996
3.58 | 22 ratings
Fourth / Fifth
1999
3.50 | 2 ratings
soft machine
2000
1.97 | 12 ratings
Man in a Deaf Corner: Anthology 1963-1970
2001
3.50 | 6 ratings
Turns On Vol. 1
2001
2.24 | 6 ratings
Turns On Vol. 2
2001
1.60 | 6 ratings
Kings Of Canterbury
2003
3.39 | 8 ratings
Six/Seven
2004
3.91 | 13 ratings
Out Bloody Rageous (Anthology 67-73)
2005
1.00 | 2 ratings
The Story of Soft Machine
2005
3.51 | 11 ratings
Original Album Classics
2010
0.00 | 0 ratings
Tanglewood Tails
2014

THE SOFT MACHINE Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.08 | 6 ratings
Love Makes Sweet Music
1968
4.00 | 3 ratings
Why Are We Sleeping?
1968
3.50 | 4 ratings
Soft Space
1978
2.00 | 1 ratings
Bundles (Promo Single)
2010

THE SOFT MACHINE Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Softs by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1976
3.78 | 186 ratings

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Softs
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by Greta007

4 stars Just forty years late in making this review and rediscovering this album after having owned the vinyl disc back in the Paleozoic Era, which I wasn't wild on at the time TBH. In retirement I've been catching up with old music that I'd missed. Unlike most, I find much of Soft Machine's much lauded, and more progressive, albums almost unlistenable and their Harvest period much more approachable without ever selling out.

Track by track:

1. Aubade (1:51) - a gentle pastoral guitar / alto sax duet - enjoyable background without being naff

2. The Tale of Taliesin (7:17) - Jenkins's atmospheric and hypnotic keyboard ostinato leads to an exotically tuneful head. This sails along gorgeously for a while before being abruptly interrupted by a brutally-shredded odd time guitar solo section.

Once the listener is beaten into submission the band slows back to the head, leading to a grandiose outro. (At the time of writing there is an outstanding YouTube live clip of this tune with a young Alan Holdsworth playing superbly, as John Etheridge does on this version). At this point they are sounding like an instrumental prog band with fusion influences). My favourite track on the album.

3. Ban-Ban Caliban (9:22) - the other epic-y piece, starting with a stereo-toggled electro synth sequence. This early early part of the the track reminds me of Passport's Ataraxia album - if Jazz Krautrock fusion isn't a category, it probably should be. New saxophonist, Alan Wakeman, soon enters and has his first chance to stretch out on the album, with some fine soprano work.

As the tune progresses the album for the first time sounds like the old Soft Machine of old before a bizarre, jarring change heralds in John Etheridge for another fast, old-time shred-fest duel with the similarly hyperactive Marshall.

Bassist Roy Babbington continues to play selflessly, holding the mayhem together akin to Rick Laird's anchor role on MO's Birds of Fire. Then a return to the "Krautrock fusion" Passport feel leading to the end with added drive and marimba. Excellent.

4. Song of Aeolus (4:31) - slow, atmospheric 6/8 tune in the vein of Jeff Beck's Goodbye Pork Pie Hat cover or John McLaughlin's The Unknown Dissident (which almost certainly took the same inspiration) but with more of a Floydish spaceyness. Luscious, soulful music. Excellent.

5. Out of Season (5:32) - Karl Jenkins loved beautiful, stately, hypnotic piano ostinatos, seemingly inspired by Philip Glass's minimalism. Etheridge joins with a melodic and sophisticated head and the rest of the band work around the ostinato. Nice.

6. Second Bundle (2:37) - starts with more of Karl Jenkins's psychedelic new-agey keys (move over Miquette Garaudy) - enjoyable background music without being naff

7. Kayoo (3:27) - drum solo piece by John Marshall. Musical use of bells and space early gave way to cacophonous shredding. At this length, it would probably work well live but is wasted in the studio IMO (maybe should have been a coda consisting of just the first minute)

8. The Camden Tandem (2:01) - drum duet between the two Johns - Etheridge on guitar and Marshall on drums. I guess it wouldn't be Soft Machine album without at least some fierce harshness. This tune is seemingly inspired by Mahavishnu Orchestra's Noonward Race and, especially so, by King Crimson's Groon (which I much prefer to either).

9. Nexus (0:49) - a lovely grandiose introduction to the next tune. Why did they make it a separate tune? No one knows.

10. One Over the Eight (5:25) - let's get down, baby, it's Funkytime! Well, it started out funky and again reminded me of Ataraxia's edgy moments with a stylish and intelligently-built sax lead. The jam gradually loosens and intensifies until a new bass riff is introduced and, with Wakeman's tenor by now honking, wailing and squawking we're sounding more like the old Soft Machine again before the entire thing falls into a horrid cacophony that thankfully, bot not too soon, shifts into a 6/8 outro. As a drummer, I find that cacophony is far more fun to play than to listen to. Otherwise excellent.

11. Etika (2:21) - during this era it was fashionable to let the guitarist have an acoustic tune for variation. This is that track, arguably better than most, and enough edge to be more than background.

 Alive in Paris-1970 by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover DVD/Video, 2008
4.50 | 22 ratings

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Alive in Paris-1970
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by ALotOfBottle
Prog Reviewer

5 stars The amount of live Soft Machine material released since the 90's may seem overwhelming to many listeners. However, so far, only a few concerts have been officially released on DVD. In 2008, the English record label Voiceprint, released the French POP 2 TV recordings of the band performing at Théâtre De La Musique in Paris on 2 March 1970.

Since the very early days of Soft Machine's existence, France has been showing big enthusiasm for their music. Way back in 1967, the band spent the whole summer gigging local venues in Saint-Tropez, one of the major towns of the French Riviera. Although in those three years the band's musical direction has changed drastically, the French audience proved equally welcoming and interested in 1970.

The line-up of Soft Machine at the time included the studio personnel that recorded Third with the extraordinarily talented wind player Lyn Dobson, who appears on the live-cut "Facelift" on the album. The atmosphere of the concert looks and sounds unrepeatable and after all these years, one can still feel the incredible chemistry between the musicians that was at work at that very point in time. The band not only presents incredible amounts of energy and vigor, but also technical and musical know-how, together with a rare ability to build powerful tensions, hypnotizing the audience. The set lasts just over an hour and during that hour, Soft Machine perfectly capture the spirit of their style around this period, which so many live releases have tried to document. The visual aspect undoubtedly adds to the experience, enabling us to witness, among many elements, Mike Ratledge's Keith Jarrett-like trance movements at the keyboards, the power and dedication Robert Wyatt puts into his drumming, the interaction and sax duels between Lyn Dobson and Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper's agile fingers pulling off difficult grooves and melodies on bass guitar, and young French audience, completely astonished by the music. As to the filming, the camera work is decent, except for a few unneeded shots and sudden cuts from one track to another. We get to view the band clearly from numerous different perspectives and have a close inside look at their stage set-up.

The opening of "Facelift," kept in an unsettling experimental psychedelic manner, may remind one of a slightly more technical and rock-oriented version of the way Miles Davis redefined jazz on the revolutionary Bitches Brew, which, interestingly, was released three weeks after this concert took place. The main theme of the piece, played by the whole band simultaneously, is followed by lengthy improvisation, which starts out on a steady rhythm, but fades into a mellower, remote and illusory territory after a few repeats. Lyn Dobson gets to really display his multiinstrumentalist abilities. He switches between soprano sax, flute, harmonica on his solo, and even uses his voice as an instrument briefly. When the tempo picks up once again, Elton Dean first appears with a saxello - a small variant of a soprano saxophone, different in build and, obviously, the sound. Seemingly out of nowhere appears what is credited as "Robert Wyatt Vocal Improv." Here, Robert Wyatt uses tape echo and spring reverb devices in conjunction with his voice for a very odd, yet immensely expressive effect. This transforms into "Esther's Nose Job" (what was it about those plastic surgeries?), a classic Soft Machine piece, which, strangely, did not make it into any of the band's studio albums. The track alternates between a simple laidback progression in 7/8 and a rapid passage with notably interesting work by Robert Wyatt on drums and Hugh Hopper on bass guitar. If "Facelift" was, for a good part, a demonstration of Lyn Dobson's abilities, Elton Dean showcases his own approach to improvisation on "Esther's Nose Job." The track is closed by a few more blurred sentences from Wyatt and a reprise of the theme at a break-neck speed.

After a break, the band comes back on stage with "Eamonn Andrews," yet another classic piece, which never made it into any studio record. The pulse of this one is once again quite tricky with the main motif combining classic jazz-fusion methods with somewhat of a minimal influence on the rhythm. After fine solos from both of the wind players, "Eamonn Andrews" suddenly cuts into "Backwards," a really touching, beautiful, calm, romantic piece with a very interesting progression. The emotional, lyrical flute playing by Lyn Dobson is supported by Robert Wyatt's sublime drumming and light liquid organ touches from Mike Ratledge. "Backwards" slowly starts growing in power, with the theme of "Mousetrap" making a short appearance, to finally settle on "Out-Bloody-Rageous," arguably one of the better-known Soft Machine compositions. Of course, the live scenario cannot reproduce the Terry Riley-like intro heard on record, but this version is very good nonetheless, with great improvisation on Mike Ratledge's overdriven Lowrey organ, Elton Dean's alto and Lyn Dobson's soprano saxophones. After a loud and effective ending, the band walks off stage, only leaving an even louder standing ovation behind.

I daresay Alive in Paris 1970 is an essential watch and listen for every Soft Machine enthusiast and is recommended to those wanting to get an all-around taste of the incredible energy and passion the band presented live. The musical content is of the highest order, the recording quality is very high, and the image is more than satisfactory, which leads me to a conclusion that this DVD is one of the "ultimate" Soft Machine live documents. The Voiceprint label definitely deserve a big acknowledgement for allowing the listeners to get as close as possible to what the lucky audience got to experience on March 2 1970 at Théâtre De La Musique in Paris. Definitely worth your investigation. 4½ stars rounded up!

 Switzerland 1974 by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Live, 2015
4.04 | 5 ratings

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Switzerland 1974
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Another archival SOFT MACHINE release that I just couldn't say no to, yes I have a problem. They are a top ten band for me though and in my opinion it's the DVD here that makes this a solid 4 star album. Not that I have any issues with the audio cd it's just that I already have "Floating World Live" with this same lineup but recorded a year later, and I just like the audio better from that one. Both of course feature guitarist extraordinaire Allan Holdsworth along with Babbington, Jenkins, Marshall and Ratledge. It is interesting that when Holdworth joined the band SOFT MACHINE decided that any live shows would feature new material with Holdsworth as they never had a guitarist before, let alone one of the best on the planet. Okay I just remembered that Gary Boyle played on the live archival release from the "Seven" tour called "NDR Jazz Workshop-Hamburg Germany 1973" my favourite live release by the band. Another excellent archival live album is "British Tour '75" with John Etheridge on guitar who was recommended by Holdsworth. The latter left when Tony Williams asked him to be part of his band, an offer Holdsworth says he couldn't say no to, just a great opportunity to play with the best drummers ever.

So this 1974 live recording is from Switzerland and more specifically the Montreux Jazz festival on July 4th. So people in the audience would be hearing material not yet released that would mostly appear on the "Bundles" album. I like when the boys finish playing and the announcer comes out and introduces each member of the band then before he walks off he says it was nice to see John Marshall again and he mentions seeing him at the same festival 4 or 5 years earlier with NUCLEUS who came away with first prize at the time. And yes everyone but Ratledge in this lineup played for NUCLEUS at some point.

The highlight for me is the almost 17 minute version of Jenkins "Hazard Profile". Just a classic tune where Holdsworth shows off his chops beginning just before 3 minutes and he does light it up. I like the fuzz after 10 minutes then the horn after 12 minutes as the rhythm section turns more intense. "The Floating World" has this mood that draws me right in. The atmosphere and keys especially. Some vocal melodies from Allan then the bass comes to the fore. "Ealing Comedy" has some massive fuzz in it, very growly and powerful stuff. "Bundles" is one of my highlights, especially the guitar and drums. "Land Of The Bag Snake" has Holdsworth just ripping it up.

"Joint" sounds like electronics and drums mostly, quite avant sounding like smoking a joint I suppose(not even close). "The Man who Waved At Trains" like "The Floating World" is simply an uplifting and laid back tune with keys and drums leading this time. The bass and horn that follows adds a lot. Trippy stuff(like smoking a joint). It will be reprised later on(the song). "Peff" is intense and horn led. "LBO" is all about Marshall and his drum set. "Riff II" is a pretty heavy tune man as Marshall continues to impress. "Lefty(Collective Improvisation)" is experimental with drums leading early as the horn comes in. It settles late. "Penny Hitch(Coda)" has a good groove to it as the horn plays over top. The guitar joins in before 2 minutes. It settles 4 minutes in as light drums, bass and keys lead the way to the end.

Another fine live recording and these guys have a lot of those.

 Rock Storia E Musica: Soft Machine by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Boxset/Compilation, 1983
4.00 | 1 ratings

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Rock Storia E Musica: Soft Machine
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by thwok

— First review of this album —
4 stars This is a 3 song compilation from what many regard as The Soft Machine's best period. I agree that the band was at its peak between 1969 and 1973. They had done away with the absurd, unnecessary lyrics and disjointedness of their early records. Later in the decade, the band slips into fusion that's proficient, but somewhat anonymous. However, these are some of my favorite Soft Machine songs, especially "Chloe and the Pirates" and "Teeth".

I will concede that these three songs are readily available on various other releases. Therefore, we could wonder why these three particular songs were grouped together into one short album; they're readily available elsewhere. I don't see that issue as a problem that decreases the value of this release. I usually don't have the attention span to sit through an hour or more of most band's music. So If you're looking for a Soft Machine fix, this ROCK STORIA E MUSICA compilation fills the need very nicely.

 Fourth by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1971
3.47 | 285 ratings

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Fourth
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by ALotOfBottle
Prog Reviewer

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

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

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

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

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

 The Soft Machine by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1968
4.02 | 461 ratings

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The Soft Machine
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Jazz-Rock / Fusion / Canterbury Team

3 stars The album that launched a subgenre. Experimental pop rock jazz with a sense of humor both musically and lyrically. Experimentalism seems the band's modus operandi as almost every song seems to be trying something new or unusual. Not nearly so bold or boundary pushing as their next album, this one does push boundaries--and buttons. I find that the band has not yet established its propensity for melodic hooks--though the lyrical/linguisitc hooks are certainly full on display. Also, the individual members are still honing their instrumental skills--a fact that gets much more exposure with each successive album (Soft Machine and Matching Mole). My two favorite songs also happen to be the two shortest: the organ beauty, "Priscilla," and "Plus belle qu'une poubelle"--though the beatnik "Why Are We Sleeping?" is also great. The others remain musical oddities that test already-proven styles and sounds though usually contributing Robert Wyatt's unusual approach to both vocals and lyrics. If you want great music, memorable music, with the more fresh innovative spirit, go to their second album.
 Seven by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1973
3.61 | 223 ratings

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Seven
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by MusicHead196809

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!

 Volume Two by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1969
4.02 | 410 ratings

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Volume Two
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by ALotOfBottle
Prog Reviewer

3 stars After a succes of their debut, Soft Machine setteld in the United States after playing support for Jimi Hendrix. Robert Wyatt stayed in New York producing his solo material with Jimi Hendrix on bass guitar, which was released on an album "'68" in 2013. Kevin Ayers could not stand the tension of touring, so he left the band recommending Hugh Hopper as a replacement. In 1969, the band reformed and recorded "Volume Two".

To start out, I could never really like this album. After a fantastic debut, Soft Machine produced material which was sort of a let-down (I'm talking about this album in particular, because "Third" was a really solid effort). The case with this one, I think is similar to Rick Wakeman's solo albums. It does have a true potential lying in great musicians, but for most part its sound is a big overload of ideas thrown here and there. The tracks like "A Concise British Alphabet" or "Pataphysycal Introduction" are interesting with a sense of humour typical of Soft Machine, but these kinds of ideas are all over the place. The thing is, "Volume Two" lacks a climax that is hard to achieve. Some albums do not need a climax, that's true. Nonetheless, the music quickly becomes a collection of short comedy sketches that don't contribute to a reasonable whole with just a few extended jams (which indeed are interesting). However, this album does feature some neat moments like "Hibou Anemone and Bear" which is undeniably Soft Machine's classic, signature sound, or "10:30 Returns To the Bedroom".

I want to give this album 3 stars, as it does have a potential, could be a nice work and it showcases good musicianship. A lack of flavor lets it down. I wouldn't recommend this album to anyone, because I wouldn't be honest. Sorry, Soft Machine. Much better things were to come! However, this is definitely recommended for a Canterbury scene fan. Even if you won't like it, this is an essential Canterbury album.

 The Soft Machine by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1968
4.02 | 461 ratings

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The Soft Machine
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by ALotOfBottle
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Ground zero for Canterbury scene. This is arguably where it all started for Canterbury scene. Although still a psychedelic rock record, this incorporates proto-prog and jazz elements. It is the only Soft Machine album to feature Kevin Ayers, who is indeed an excellent bass player with a very distinct sound, capable of laying down outstanding grooves. Robert Wyatt's drumming is very unique, pushing the whole machine (Soft Machine) forward. Mike Ratledge's organ replaces any guitarist you would ever want. His break-neck, speedy salvos are what makes his playing style so unique. Overall, a really good album with some great songwriting. The highlights of the work are "Hope For Happiness", "Lullabye Letter" and "Why Am I So Short/So Boot If At All". A must-have for every progressive rock fan!
 Third by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.21 | 832 ratings

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Third
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by ALotOfBottle
Prog Reviewer

5 stars Out-Bloody-Rageously good.

With their second album, Volume Two, Soft Machine were clearly transforming into a much more jazz-oriented outfit. The piquancy of psychedelic rock for which the band became renowned for was by 1970 nearly gone from Soft Machine's music. The group recruited a four-piece horn section, which soon found they did not find comfort in constantly being on-tour with a loud rock band, so they decided they would only appear on the band's studio albums. The exception was Elton Dean, a young saxophonist, who had previously played in Keith Tippett's sextet. He stayed with Soft Machine, therefore he is listed as a full-time member, rather than a guest musician (like the rest of the horn section). In April the same year, the quartet entered the doors of IBC Studios in London to record a two-disc release named simply Third.

Third is an absolutely exceptional progressive rock album, a journey into the extremely gifted minds of Soft Machine's members. The album is made up of four long pieces, each a side of two discs. The music on Third is mainly centered on improvisation, relying strongly on urban jazz methods. However, it goes far beyond sounding like sterile noodlings, which is often the case with the style. What makes this album really stand out for me is a phenomenal variety. "Moon In June" is probably the most progressive rock-like sound that the band has in its catalog. It is Robert Wyatt's own multimovement epic which goes through many different segments, all varied, presenting many different moods in an incredible tasteful and attractive manner. Another track which is really one-of-a-kind experience and a highlight of the album is "Out-Bloody-Rageous". It starts out with minimalistic electronic ambient passage which repeats itself adding more layers. In fact, the peace is very similar the first part of Terry Riley's Rainbow in Curved Air, proving how forward-thiking and unorthodox the Softs were, looking far beyond just jazz influences. It's one of the most beautiful soundscapes I have personally heard in my life. Then, it resolves into a very catchy jazz theme with long free jazz improvisation. "Facelift" showcases the psychedelic edge of the album. Although the band checks in for an incredibly tasty jam in 7/4, the piece remains very experimental throughout, featuring a lot of fascinating knob-tweaking and raw fun with timbres. "Slightly All The Time", Hugh Hopper's composition, is the jazziest of all. Some listeners familiar with Caravan's For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night might be familiar with one of the parts of the piece, "Backwards", whose portion Caravan did perform three years later. This one in particular is built around a beautiful progression with a great flute solo from Jimmy Hastings. The musicianship is excellent throughout with every band member contributing crucially into the fantastic fruit.

Third is a phenomenal, unique work with a very distinctive sound and is a must-have for every progressive rock fan. It occupies a territory of the genre that no other album has ever got close to. Words cannot simply describe how amazing this album is - everybody needs to listen to it, then the world will be a better place. Highly recommended for newcommers to jazzy prog and prog veterans alike! Five stars!

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