By the time they released "Third", the Soft Machine had already acquired a reputation for their quirky brand of psychedelic pop music on their first two albums. With their third release, however, the band took a very different tact. Whereas most (though not all) of the pieces on their first two albums had been fragmented, at times catchy songs with vocals that show up the deficiencies in so much psychedelia from the 1960s, on "Third" the Soft Machine turn with new musicians such as saxophonist Elton Dean to epic jams that have some similarity with contemporaries Miles Davis, Weather Report and The Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Despite the radical change in style, the music on three-quarters of "Third" (which was designed as a double vinyl set with four side of equal length) is equal to anything from the period. The opening track, the live "Facelift", shows Hugh Hopper's bass playing the role of a lead instrument in a way that people often pretend has been tried but very few actually have. The distorted saxophone from Dean and the visceral organ work of Mike Ratledge are a perfect combination over the full duration of the song. Especially noteworthy for its memorability is the harsh bass riff "hm hm". The beauty of the later quiet section is extremely easy to overlook even for those who think they know the album well like myself.
"Out-Bloody-Rageous", the last side of the original vinyl, in heaven heavier and more visceral. However, the piece opens very jazzy and quietly for several minutes before the intense interplay of saxophone, organ, bass and drums really begins. The amazingly tuneful character of the quieter parts after about five minutes in are something that would be very hard to better with more conventional instrumentation - probably only My Bloody Valentine can claim to have done so.
Third side "Moon In June" is well-known as the last vocal piece ever done by the Soft Machine, but its touching beauty hold up perfectly over the duration of the vocal passages that are a lament for a lost home - and also over the piece's famous epic coda. there are trackes of the fierce bass playing of "Facelift" but they do not command the listener's attention . Still, their quiet passion is more than enough for a classic tune like no other.
Second side "Slightly All The Time" unfortunately showed where the Soft Machine were headed on some very bad later albums, but still does not detract from the greatness of the rest of "Third". All in all, this is a must-hear for three sides of music that were unlike anything else at the time and paved the way for many great bands in the future like Godspeed You Black Emperor.