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The Soft Machine - Softs CD (album) cover

SOFTS

The Soft Machine

 

Canterbury Scene

3.88 | 242 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars This review is dedicated to our regretted friend febus, may you rest in prog peace.

Funny thing about the Soft Machine as the fan base is often divided in 2 separate camps, one preferring the Ratledge/Hopper/Wyatt period encompassing Vol 1,2,3,4 and the Jenkins/Babbington/Marshall agglomeration that produced the amazing Bundles and this utter marvel. Truth be said that many love both, as I do. Nevertheless, having seen the Bundles tour live and witnessed the 'Holdsworth experience', I remain partial to this guitar drenched period. My original 1976 vinyl copy of 'Softs' has more holes in it than an Aero chocolate bar and I finally received my CD version (yeah, colder sounding but durable') , so I was looking forward to this review with unhinged trepidation. While Bundles is a jazz-rock jewel in its raw form, this record shows a different side that has not been repeated since, with the inclusion of the revoltingly underrated axeman John Etheridge, some savvy electronics twiddling, even some funkier patterns that are pelvic shake inducing. 'Aubade' is a precious entr'e en matiere , a drop dead gorgeous melody on acoustic guitar and soprano sax (courtesy of Alan Wakeman 'no relation to the Yes/No man ) and the gargantuan guitar plunge 'The Tale of Taliesin' , a sensational Youtube video is available on the Soft machine PA page you should check out. This piece remains within the realm of my all-time favorite guitar tracks, a 7 minute exploration of some Andalusian knight conquering enemy windmills with his Gibson SG , ripping, raging, rattling and then cajoling, undeterred. I remember the comments back then 'Hey man, this cat is faster than Alvin Lee' (who at the time was the speed demon on guitar). This track alone is worth the effort of inclusion in your collection but by no means are the other tracks shabby. Case in point, the delectable 'Ban-Ban Caliban' featuring cameo synthesizer work from former leader Mike Ratledge which is simply unreal, swerving nearly into T Dream zones , sequencers leading the path towards a tight percussion-heavy workout that hints almost at Caravanserai period Santana, the sultry sax carving out heady emotions and then followed by a whiplash Etheridge solo that devastates everything in its passage. But the groove, of my goodness, tight as a Scotsman! The insane Babbington and prolific Marshall are in sync like few rhythm section ever. The best word to describe this osmosis of sound and rhythm is SMOOTH. It segues straight into another colossal winner, the soporific 'Song of Aeolus' which remains my preferred SM track ever. A guitar lullaby par excellence, the obvious restraint is a timeless jewel that defies categorization, crushingly serene and yet poignant. Etheridge makes his axe cry, sob and you can feel the pain within the notes. Such beauty! The moody and meditative 'Out of Season' has a piano intro that maintains the gentleness, very English, sounding almost like a Rick Wakeman piece, Etheridge carving out a nice little solo once again. The dynamics are held in check, pastoral and repetitive. Please note once again the restraint exhibited by the musicians that keeps this highly charged and emotional piece breathing. Stellar! 'Second Bundle' is a short synthesizer quiver that serves as an interlude, in fact the first of a series of smaller pieces, including a Marshall cymbal driven spot ('Kayoo') that blooms into a flat-out speed freak drum solo. Then we have a wee guitar/drum duet penned 'The Camden Tandem' where both Etheridge and Marshall show off their deranged and plenteous skills. Monstrous! 'Nexus ' is less than a minute long and leads into the hilarious 'One Over The Eight' , as fine a Canterbury piece as you will ever hear, with smoky tenor sax, machine-gun drumming, groovy bass and tchakatchaka guitar rhythms. This sounds almost like Didier Malherbe Gong blow-out, though less spacey and way funkier. The Brits certainly have a recipe on jazz-rock that is hard to beat, ballsier, humorous and whimsical. 'Etika' is an Etheridge acoustic piece that tucks this baby to bed, warm beneath the sheets of progressive posterity.

5 hard ones

tszirmay | 5/5 |

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