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The Soft Machine - Third CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine


Canterbury Scene

4.21 | 983 ratings

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4 stars This double album was a pretty dramatic departure from the psychedelia-drenched quirky pop that populated the first two albums. With four tracks each weighing in at least 18 mins long (Tales Of Topographic Oceans, anyone?) the new line-up of Ratledge, Wyatt, Hopper and Dean (plus four friends including Canterbury stalwart Jimmy Hastings) ventured out to make challenging music that can both infruriate and exhilarate.

Penned by Hugh Hopper, the album's starter Facelift is an edited live song (from two different live performances a week apart, mind!) that requires a lot of patience. It starts off with heavy organ feedback dominating a sparse aural soundscape that features violin and an assortment of brass instruments making fleeting non-melodic contributions. After nearly five minutes of this, Hopper's bass line kicks in and from then on we are treated to high quality free-form jazz-rock. Ratledge's organ is probably my favourite instrument here, although Hastings weighs in with some distinctive flute playing at around the 11-minute mark.

Slightly All The Time is more structured jazz-fusion with a big band feel that reminds me of the kind of work Zappa would soon emulate with the Waka Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo albums. Featuring multiple brass instruments, it's a fine generally laid-back song that breaks into a livelier tempo at around the 6 minute-mark and goes on to about four different sections without ever changing the mood, even though by the end of the piece the band is pretty much racing along. Replete with all those odd-time signatures (I read somewhere that they include 7/8, 11/4 and 15/16) that were a particular hallmark of Ratledge's songwriting, this one's a real winner.

The third track Moon In June is written by Robert Wyatt and it shows! I'll admit it took me a long time to get into his high-pitced vocal style (and I had to turn to Matching Mole and a solo album first) but I now really enjoy his singing on this most idiosyncratic of songs. Apparently Wyatt took a few segments from unfinished songs and stuck it all together, but I really like the end product, which veers from avant-garde to jazz to blues in just the first six minutes before a lovely piano/electric piano interlude takes the song into the next part of the song. Wyatt's lyrics at this point are ...

"Just before we go on to the next part of our song/Let's all make sure we've got the time/Music-making still performs the normal functions/Background noise for people scheming, seducing, revolting and teaching/That's all right by me, don't think that I'm complaining/After all, it's only leisure time, isn't it?"

Not everyone's cup of tea, but I love it! Around about the 10-minute mark, the song goes into overdrive courtesy of Ratledge's distorted fuzz-organ and some sizzling sax (presumbaly from Dean) before eventually fading out with a Rab Spall violin extravaganza.

And then there's Out-Bloody-Rageous which often gets the nod as the best song on this album. It emerges from a rippling, murky, backwards-effect laden keyboard intro to become a lively fusion piece, with Ratledge (the song's composer) and Dean once again to the fore. Around the 10:30 mark it all becomes a whole lot more delicate and beautiful, but no less compelling with Wyatt's scintillating drum work playing a great role in holding it all together. The almost customary repeat of the original motive then closes the curtains on what must have been a mind-boggling album way back in 1970.

As far as I'm concerned, despite the worthy contributions of his cohorts ... this album is Ratledge's magnum opus ... the work by which his outstanding playing and writing skills should be judged. A word of caution, though ... this is one of those "acquired taste" affairs ... I was really disappointed when I first got this album and it was a good couple of years before I put it on for fun. Nowadays I'm a convert, but I can easily see why this is one of those great polarizing albums of progressive rock. ... 74% on the MPV scale

Trotsky | 4/5 |


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