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The Soft Machine - Third CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine


Canterbury Scene

4.21 | 984 ratings

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Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / In Memoriam

What a difference a year makes!! It's very hard to believe that THIRD is following VOLUME TWO as there are barely any similarities between the band's first two releases and this then-double LP. Yes, this is the same trio RATLEDGE/HOPPER/ WYATT but SOFT MACHINE has expanded in the meantime to a .....septet adding no less than 4 horns indicating clearly which way the band intends to go. At the time of this recording, only ELTO DEAN on sax was left from this quartet and was added as a definitive new member of the band.

I only can imagine the facial expressions of some of the old SOFT MACHINE sound fans when they got this double album when it was released. I don't know of too many bands that so drastically changed their sound from one album to another. They left behind all the fun silliness, the wild psychedelism, weird lyrics , good humor to become a very serious jazz/rock/avant guardist band with very long uncompromising structured suites ( at least for some of them).

Where a lot of bands would have drown commercially with such a move, SOFT MACHINE would succeed and become one of the prog giant of the time with a very strong dedicated following. This is amazing as THIRD is a very,very challenging album, sometimes weird and definitely not very accessible, even for an advanced prog connoisseur. No one in the band was trying to hit the charts with THIRD. But the times were right for such a release in this burgeonning prog scene, especially in old Europe in countries such as England, Belgium, Holland and mostly France where they were considered as a leader of the prog scene as much as PINK FLOYD for instance.

By now MIKE RATLEDGE the keyboardist has taken control of the band, decided to go in a more jazz oriented way. He is responsible for the writing of 2 of the 4 suites that comprise this album. Also his organ playing all over the album is what makes also THIRD a stand-out; His organ is sounding absolutely sublime, haunting, i don't even know how he does to sound like that as i haven't heard anyone else doing the same thing.This is one of the magical aspect of THIRD as much is the Fuzz box bass from HUGH HOPPER who play lead most of the time adding rich unique textures to the music.

The role of ROBERT WYATT has been reduced to being a mere drummer (albeit always recognizable with his unmistaken very drums style)on the 2 RATLEDGE tracks and the HOPPER one...with no vocals at all. He is still the composer of one of the 4 sides of THIRD with one of my all time favorite tune , the beautiful MOON IN JUNE the only vocal piece, but what a piece. This is no longer like a funny silly ditty from the first two albums, but a well composed beautifully haunting memorable piece of music with the most gorgeous athmosphere only WYATT can create with its unique vocals. It is helped also a lot by the wonderful mysterious sound of the organ ,first played by WYATT himself, then helped by a great RATLEDGE solo and of course this rumbling fuzz HOPPER bass that add another layer of mystical beauty to the song. One of the most bewitching song i know, such a magnificent athmosphere, so unique no one else would be able to copy.

SOFT MACHINE was definitely not looking to please the masses with THIRD. How can you explain the decision to open the album with FACELIFT from HUGH HOPPER, one of the most challenging tune you will ever hear! Even from a prog stand, this is not easy listening, as many prog lovers have been turned off by FACELIFT. If you like challenge and new horizons in your prog, look nofurther: FACELIFT and THIRD are waiting for you, first to experience for sure, then hopefully you like them but this is not a guarantee!!!

FACELIFT is a live rendition of two different parts that have nothing in common being put together in a cut and paste style. The intro is very, very hard to get into with a lot of noise, distortions all over the place until an invasion of horns enter the scene helped by a powerful HOPPER. It took me many years back then to get into FACELIFT as i was listening only to the other 3 sides of THIRD. But little by little, with patience, i ''got '' it and now love this piece with its wonderful RATLEDGE organ solo and the no less great flute solo from JIMMY HASTINGS.

The 2 RATLEDGE suites are a little bit more ''easy '' to get in ( i said a little bit more!!!), especially OUT-BLOODY-RAGEOUS which starts and ends with tape loops of organ well in the style of avant-guardist musician TERRY RILEY. A vey spacey experience until the piano enters the frame and ELTON DEAN sax plays the main -great- theme followed by a -rageous-organ solo from MIKE until things quiet down very nicely for the second part of the suite with tranquil piano , then again the amazing sound of this gorgeous organ and ELTON DEAN horning nicely and emotionally all over.

The other RATLEDGE tune SLIGHTLY ALL THE TIME is a more delicate suite with different parts with some of sublime beauty like the inserted little HOPPER piece ''NOISETTE''. Some MILES DAVIS influences , especially from the 60s quintet, can be heard throughout, but it remains definitely a SOFT MACHINE affair with again the magic sound of this incredible organ, a delicate electric piano sounding in the background. The themes are played by the saxes of ELTON DEAN and LYN DOBSON ,but the hero is JIMMY HASTINGS who as a guest plays magical flute that adds another dimension to this great piece. The last part OF SLIGHTLY ALL THE TIME, named later BACKWARDS will even be covered by CARAVAN in their album FOR GIRLS WHO GROW PLUMP. BACKWARDS is the perfect example of the mesmerizing organ playing from M. RATLEDGE. A piece of utter beauty.

THIRD is one of the most amazing album ever released. It was well beyond its time opening the doors to plenty of other bands which would assume the continuity of the Canterbury sound. SOFT MACHINE was the pioneer and went no one else were before. THIRD would be their last great album as in the future other personal changes and lack of magical inspirations like on this album would dilute the quality of their next releases.

THIRD is an album of wild experimentations, utter sheer beauty, delicate sound landscapes and scary instrumentations exceptional musicianship and creativity, uncompromising stance......and with all that it was quite a successful commercial album and their concerts at this time were well patronized and often sold out!! The MIKE RATLEDGE CROWNING achievement ...with a little help of his friends HUGH and ROBERT! There is nothing similar to THIRD,an absolutely unique experience, of course not for every one taste , but an unforgettable treasure when you get into it. Just dare!! I am not allowed to give 6 stars, so will be...


febus | 5/5 |


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