Soft Machine
Softs


5.0
classic

Review

by menawati CONTRIBUTOR (91 Reviews)
May 11th, 2014 | 34 replies


Release Date: 1976 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A sumptuous blend of eclectic prog and jazz-rock fusion.

By the time Soft Machine released this album in 1976 they had undergone so many personnel changes that the group comprised a totally different set of musicians who debuted with 'The Soft Machine' ten years earlier. Founding members Kevin Ayers and Daevid Allen had long since departed and Robert Wyatt, who went on to form Matching Mole, had bowed out after the band's seminal masterpiece 'Third'. Journeyman guitarist Allan Holdsworth had come and gone and had been replaced by John Etheridge. The main driving force behind the band had now become keyboardist Karl Jenkins who is credited with most of the song-writing on here. As to be expected, such a plethora of line-up changes had altered the character of the music quite significantly and this album is quite far removed from the quirky Canterbury Scene progressive psychedelia of the early years.

Allan Holdsworth's contribution on guitar was undoubtedly the centrepiece of this album's predecessor, the jazz-fusion fueled 'Bundles', but he is hardly missed on here with Etheridge taking up his mantle with aplomb. One listen to the blistering fusion shredding of 'Camden Tandem' will dispel any doubts as to the man's dexterity. But Etheridge is by no means a one-trick pony and throughout the album his playing covers a range of styles and moods ranging from jazzy widdling to Andy Latimer style melodic leads. Indeed, the sheer variety of material on this album is its main draw, and not just with respect to the guitar playing. The bedrock for the album is surely jazz-rock but it contains some quite beautiful pastoral sections, compelling melodies and material that veers into symphonic prog, albeit with chamber orchestra dimensions.

Opener 'Aubade' is far removed from the free-jazz sensibilities of Wyatt-era Soft Machine and anyone reeling from the intensity of something like 'Third' would be forgiven in assuming, quite correctly as it happens, that it is an entirely different set of musicians at work on here. The yearning sax tones of Alan Wakeman take on a plaintive double-reed woodwind sound that perfectly suits the sonorous mood of the piece. The eclectic double header of 'The Tale of Taliesin' and 'Ban-Ban Caliban' serve as a perfect representation of what this incarnation of Soft Machine were all about and show how they were able to perfectly blend jazz and psychedelia with traditional progressive rock. Squelchy space-rock wah-wahs bubble underneath classically inspired piano structures and fusion style lead guitar with styles ranging from gentle rolling melodies to urgent jazz-fusion and bold symphonics. Wakeman's inventive sax and Etheridge's swaggering chops are inevitably the most conspicuous elements of the music but the expert rhythm section of Roy Babbington and John Marshall take the cake in a number of places, especially on the more frantic sections of 'Ban-Ban Caliban'.

As previously alluded to, the guitar playing of John Etheridge veers towards the more melodic end of the spectrum in a number of instances and this is exemplified on the lilting 'Song of Aeolus' which sounds like it could almost be lifted from an early Camel album. 'Out Of Season' is another example of the more melodic aspects that crept into Soft Machine's music on this release. This wonderful piece of music exudes a gently yearning yet unresolved quality and rolls along on a timeless main theme which wouldn't sound out of place as part of a modern movie soundtrack. The band do hark back to their earlier years on the jazzy 'One Over The Eight', an infectiously funky '70s police-theme jam that Starsky & Hutch would be proud of, and the traditional acoustic jazz vibes of the album closer 'Etka' serve as tasteful full stop to proceedings. But, on the whole, this album leans more heavily on recognisable structures and pleasing melodies than challenging free-form jazz aspects.

This is probably the most accessible of the many Soft Machine albums. Endless variations in personnel are usually not the healthiest thing to happen to any band and their wildly varying discography bears testament to that. On here, however, all the disparate elements gel remarkably well. Jenkins displays a wonderful versatility within his song-craft for different moods and structures and there is little of excess, at least by jazz-rock standards. The album is daring and experimental in some respects but captivates the listener from start to finish with its wonderful blend of styles and attention to melody. Progressive rock meets jazz-fusion on here in a very satisfying way and I'd urge any fan of those particular genres to check out this wonderful record.



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user ratings (11)
Chart.
4
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
menawati
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16057 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Full album :-
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjxgXDPmg8A

Digging: Lo-Pan - Colossus

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16057 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

cheers fripp, u dig soft machine ?

Atari
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


19921 Comments


A 5 eh? Gotta check, nice review!

Digging: Transit - Joyride

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16057 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

thanks atari, not sure it's your thing but you never know until you try

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16057 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

yes, its quite different to those though, try Bundles too Holdsworth is great on that

Atari
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


19921 Comments


I'm sure I'd dig this. I'm pretty open minded and I've been pretty impressed with most music from the prog genre, even if I am a prog noob ;)

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16057 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

well if you end up liking it Atari try 'Third' next it'll scramble your brain haha

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16057 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

got victims of deception queued up ill try it later

Atari
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


19921 Comments


I like Focus, is this similar to them maybe?

Atari
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


19921 Comments


Victims of deception is classic, but breaking the silence is great too and often overlooked

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16057 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

not really, far more jazzy and some of it is more mood/ambient feel than them

Atari
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


19921 Comments


I'll just check it out and see what I think later haha. Was trying to think of a band I like that might be similar style

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16057 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

i suppose some of Caravan is close to this and bits of it are Tangerine Dreamy

Atari
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


19921 Comments


I know I'm gonna get hate for this, but I've never heard Caravan :3

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16057 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

no probs , listen to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1cAZbw_gbY&feature=kp thats Caravan, them and the earlier Soft Machine is often called Canterbury Scene prog

manosg
May 11th 2014


6255 Comments


Whoa a 5?! I think I listened Third in the past and it's quite a demanding album. I'll definitely give this one a listen though.

Great job on the review too.

Digging: Acrimony - Tumuli Shroomaroom

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16057 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

thanks mano, this is a much easier listen than Third

JS19
May 11th 2014


4331 Comments


Much prefer Third, but great review!

Digging: Gates - Bloom and Breathe

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
May 11th 2014


16057 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

thanks JS, i like third a bit more too but well, this might as well be a different band

pragpro
May 11th 2014


83 Comments


This is very good album, Canterbury all grown up. Atari, try Hatfield & The North, eponymous and The Rotter's Club...and Camel, it's debatable if Camel is officially Canterbury, but I think so, especially their albums up to "A Live Record", which is a great place to start with them...Rotter's Club for Hatfield.

Evidently Holdsworth on "Bundles" was heavily influential to Eddy Van Halen...This is probably the last great Soft Machine album.



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