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The Soft Machine - Third CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine


Canterbury Scene

4.22 | 971 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Warning: This album is not easy to digest!

However, once you do, you will almost certainly be 'full-up'. What I'm trying to get at, is that this expansive double album of avant-garde, psychedelic, prog-jazz music is an absolute masterpiece that I have yet to get tired of.

Firstly, a little history of how I came to buy this album. From listening to the likes of Yes, Rush, Gentle Giant etc, I knew buying and listening to a Soft Machine album was going to be a big step, as the group seemed remarkably 'un-progressive' from what I'd heard. I'd never been a huge fan of jazz, but the reputation of this group within prog circles had kept me intrigued, and when I saw 'Third' for a low price, I thought I should at least give it a shot in the name of prog. Since then, it has been one of the most rewarding albums I've ever purchased.

If you hadn't listened to any Soft Machine before, those bold letters spelling THIRD on the front look extremely intimidating. You have absolutely no idea what to expect from an album like this. Of course, the four sides of vinyl each have one long track, in the same manner of Yes's 'Tales From Topographic Oceans' (although here, I must stress, the similarities end).

The first of these is Facelift, a 'live' track, where I've put inverted commas to signify that this is actually a montage of two different live versions, where the tapes were cut and pasted together. After a few listenings, the cuts become quite easy to notice, especially when the band seem to get really quiet or really loud all of a sudden, or all the instrument noises change dramatically. This track is probably the most difficult to get into of the lot, mainly because of the experimental keyboard intro from Ratledge. After screeching away for 5 minutes, the music gets underway, and there are some amazing themes, and I personally love the opening melody, which is reprised near the end. On the latest CD version, a bonus live disc is included with an alternate version of Facelift, which gives you an idea of what this track would have actually sounded like in concert.

Side 2 brings us to Slightly All The Time, which is a no-bullshit jazz work out, and a sublime one at that. The fuzzy bass sound brings with it a warmth that will relax you as you listen to some brilliant music. I remember on the first listen, having already been nonplussed by Facelift, then listening to this track at the same level of indifference. That was until something caught my ear... that riff... it sounded similar to something I'd heard before... it was exactly the same as what I'd heard before... it was from Caravan's A Hunting We Shall Go suite! I couldn't believe what I was hearing! Being a Caravan fan, I relished this treat of a recording, and in fact, I think it's the little things that helped me to enjoy the album in its entirity. Whenever I need a good jazz song to relax to, I will turn to Slightly All The Time, as it is truly a wonderful piece of art.

I'd read before that Soft Machine had done away with all vocals in their music quite early in their career, so I was very pleasantly surprised when I heard Wyatt's voice ringing out at the beginning of Moon In June. I was also surprised at how long the lyrics lasted. I was expecting there to be extremely few lyrics, but Wyatt sings almost continually for about 9 minutes, with the remaining 10 minutes devoted to an intense instrumental section. This is definitely the best track of the lot, and is extremely similar to the material heard in the previous two albums. The lyrics are full of meaning and emotion, and the music grabs hold of you and really makes you listen. The best part of the song (and indeed of the album), is the 3 minute section that starts at around 10 minutes in. These 3 minutes are so fiercely intense, and yet somehow restrained, and the whole section never fails to give me goosebumps. The final 4 minutes of the song is devoted to a repetitive experimental drone, which includes a recording of a violin played at different speeds. Whilst it would be easy to argue that the drone is there to bring the song to 19 minutes, I actually think it's wonderful, as it gives you some time to work out what the hell you've just been listening to. This track truly blows my mind, and it'd be worth buying the album just to hear it!

The final side houses Out-Bloody-Rageous which is halfway between Facelift and Slightly All The Time. The song begins with a 5 minute ambient intro, which seems to last an eternity. After this, hot semi-improvisational jazz erupts seemingly from nowhere. The final ten minutes of the song seem darker in nature, but are nonetheless entertaining. Probably my least favourite of the four songs, but still a worthy listen.

After I'd heard this album for the first time, I recall bugging my friend loads to try and get him to try it. I wasn't really sure why I was doing this, as I didn't really like it that much at that point, but I just knew it was a really striking album. Eventually it grew on me, and I realised it was a fully fledged masterpiece, and undoubtedly worthy of 5 stars. With this album, Soft Machine opened my eyes (or indeed my ears) to a whole new kind of music and listening experience, one that I previously thought I personally could never enjoy. Even if you're not into jazz, you should give this album a go, and maybe you'll understand it too.

baz91 | 5/5 |


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