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The Soft Machine - Third CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine


Canterbury Scene

4.21 | 984 ratings

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5 stars Like the mighty Chicago, this band titled each of its releases after which sequentially numbered release it was. So this was their third album. Unlike Chicago, though, they decided to can the numbered-album schtick after "Seven", whereas Chicago are still working their way headlong towards triple digits. The first two Softs albums were psychedelic rock with heavy experimental and slightly jazzy overtones. With this album, they were at least as much a jazz band as a rock band, but the synthesis they came up with nevertheless bore little resemblance to the Miles Davis/Bitches Brew school of Fusion. With its use of tape loops, organ and bass fuzz/distortion, and fairly free sections, this could almost be called avant garde along the lines of Frank Zappa.

Double album, with one 18-19 minute song on each side. Daunting, yes. But read on:

SIDE ONE: "Facelift" (by Hugh Hopper) - the most aggressive of the four sides. Built on a solid 7/4 riff with a good contrapuntal melody. Opens with some really ugly organ noises that almost put Keith Emerson to shame. Edited together from a couple of live performances, with some interesting tape effects along the way.

SIDE TWO: "Slightly All the Time" (by Mike Ratledge, but incorporating themes by Hugh Hopper) - the most conventionally jazzy of the four sides. This time the main section is in 11/8 time (take that, Hopper!), and has some nice ensemble unison horn work, including some fluid solos by Elton Dean (sax) and Lyn Dobson (flute). Then about halfway through it shifts to another song entirely (actually listed as "Mousetrap" on live recordings from this period), then a lyrical section (known as "Backwards", and also covered by Caravan!) before the abrupt conclusion.

SIDE THREE: "Moon in June" (by Robert Wyatt) - The most conventionally rock piece of the four sides, and THE ONLY ONE WITH VOCALS. This one actually has tons of vocals (by Wyatt), stringing together song ideas dating back to 1967 (demos of these are now on the market), while accompanying himself on drums, bass, and a gentle organ with a wah-wah effect. It's a wonderfully meandering piece that seems to embody the idea of "British Whimsy". It picks up steam about halfway through, when Hopper and Ratledge join in for a frenzied instrumental jam, then concluding on a lengthy (about the last 5 minutes) drone with tape effects, as trippy as it gets man.

SIDE FOUR: "Out-Bloody Rageous" (by Mike Ratledge) - the most "progressive" of the four sides (?). This one takes tape loops to a new level, opening and closing on an organ-driven tape loop that drives one to disorientation before an upbeat, brisk jazz theme comes in, showcasing the horn section again with a very Chicago-like jazz-rock melody. An unaccompanied piano solo comes in, mutating into a moody, murky section anchored by a bass ostinato in 5/8 and more wah-organ, with Elton Dean blowing freely on top. Then another tape loop section, even more frenzied than before, closes the album and fades out on a dizzying note.

I try to reserve "5" ratings for the true greats, and I can't think of any reason why this album shouldn't get that honor. A landmark recording, one without which the entirety of progressive rock just wouldn't be the same.

HolyMoly | 5/5 |


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