Review Summary: Welcome to the Soft MachineThe Soft Machine
, produced by Chas Chandler and Tom Wilson, is the self-titled debut album from one of the two groups that emerged after the demise of The Wilde Flowers and the beginning of a long and prosperous transformation that involves many subtle changes and styles mainly due to the frequent change of line-ups, making it a very important album as the start point of Soft Machine, a notable and influential band. As in all Soft Machine albums, it's important to mention the band members at the time: Robert Wyatt on drums and vocals, Mike Ratledge on keyboards, and Kevin Ayers on bass and vocals. This specific line-up, combined with the cultural environment in which the album was recorded resulted in a form of Canterbury psychedelic rock that draws influences from pop music, as it incorporates traditional song formats such as short song duration and lyric-oriented music.
The music is led mostly by the drums and the singing, while the bass and keyboards seem to simply accompany Wyatt's rhythms and melodies. It has a very complex progressive and particular Canterbury sound, which later so many groups where influenced by it. Long instrumental keyboard solos are always present throughout the history of the band due to Mike Ratledge's influence, even in the debut album, that has strong lyrical and anti-jam feeling compared to the rest of the music that Soft Machine has developed. Furthermore, the many experimental snippets, sound collages and purely instrumental passages the band managed to strew throughout this album give a rather childish and unexciting impression, especially if compared with the effects that had been achieved a full year earlier by their friends and colleagues Pink Floyd on The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
. Robert Wyatt's drumming needs to be mentioned as it's very adventurous and his vocals are also along with the vocals from Kevin Ayers are defining for the Canterbury scene, giving the album any semblance of direction.
All in all, The Soft Machine
is really great, but the overall sounding does not do justice to these musicians and sometimes it can end up being plain boring. Most of the tracks are played live with very few overdubs. Likewise, the sound is not as exciting as a live recording. Kevin Ayers once said this album could have been a way better, had the sound engineer been interested in the project at all. After all, this is a very important record, not only it was the very beginning of the progressive rock style, with a jazzy approach, like all the Canterbury bands, but also was the birth of a band that would proceed to break a lot of new ground and push several boundaries, even if remaining relatively unknown.