on 2 August 2009
Many discerning musicians regard this as one of the greatest albums ever made, but it seems to have flown under the radar of nearly everyone else. It's a controlled explosion of brilliant musical ideas and stream-of-consciousness verbal wit played with a warmth and vitality which leaves you with a big stupid grin on your face.
The first section, 'Rivmic Melodies', Wyatt's extraordinary arrangement of mostly Hugh Hopper's tunes, is an incredible achievement, an unstemmed flow of creativity fizzing and bubbling over and seeping into every nook and cranny. At this point their music could have been called 'Fission', it was only after years of entropy that the group could take on the 'Fusion' label.
The great Hopper's finest song, 'Dedicated to you but you weren't listening' prefigures all those wonderfully awkward Wyatt songs like 'God Song' and 'Muddy Mouth' which have become a tradition as distinctive as anything in music. Mike Ratledge's 'Esther's Nose Job' I find less enthralling, until its climax with '10.30 returns to the bedroom', a blisteringly intense performance which ends with the most thrilling meltdown you'll ever hear.
To me this is a small miracle of music, a crucible of white-hot diverse talents who could only briefly stand to work together but made it seem easy to fuse unlikely sources into a coherent and joyful whole. Lovely.
on 16 March 2013
My favorite two Softs albums are this and the first,known as simply The Soft Machine
The whole album holds together perfectly and there are beautiful song structures as well as some wonderful ensemble playing.
Robert Wyatt proves himself to be the most musical drummer to come out of Britain,Jon Hiseman apart.
Hugh Hopper was wonderful composer as can be seen especially later on Soft Machine Three and Four and Ratledge at piano as well as his famous Lowry organ provided depth and virtuoso playing.
I think this album is a great classic and should be treasured as one of the great works of the 20th century,whatever genre.
Of the 60's,I believe there were only three musical groups who challenged popular music.The Beatles,Cream and The Soft Machine.Each in their own genre.Just as Dylan changed Rock music intellectually and Stravinsky and Webern changed "classical music" and Charlie Parker,John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman in Jazz.
So I rate this album as not just a great piece of musical art but an important work and touchstone of 20th century art.
on 27 August 2010
A working definition of why the sixties were so great, part the second.
`The Softs' could have gone and got themselves a hit single after their first album. The time was right for it after all, and events have proven that it was the only chance they were going to get. But being wilful sorts they went and made this album instead.
It's all here anyway, apart from the hit single that is. But then it couldn't have been any other way when Engelbert Humperdinck was having hits could it? Daft songs,`freak-outs', the British alphabet, menacing riffs; not one of these things is spared a good seeing to.
What were they thinking of? Whatever it was it probably wasn't appearing on `The Jimmy Tarbuck Show' The chances are these boys would have been relegated to some late night slot on BBC2 (just before the national anthem and at least eleven hours of the test card)
But so what? If the definitive notion doesn't necessarily have to mean something singular then this is the other piece of essential British psychedelia for reasons too numerous to discuss here.
Buy with confidence good people. You know it makes sense.
on 14 June 2012
I seem to have a few sides to my musical nature, the dark and heavy, the damn good rocking, the blues, jazz, electronica and reggae, and there was always room for prog, my collection when younger being graced by the likes of Yes, Camel, ELP, Mike Oldfield, Sky and Jethro Tull. When I recently saw that compilation album "Wonderous Stories" I was appalled by it's seeming lack of understanding as to what Prog Rock really was with the inclusion of bands such as Gold Earing and the exclusion of luminairies such as King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator, Hatfield and The North, Soft Machine and Matching Mole.
I then got to thinking about the tracks I would put on a "best of prog" album and suddenly realised that although I had expanded to encompass Caravan and King Crimson, my own collection was woefully short, hence a buying spree which included Soft machine's first two albums.
Why would you be reading this review? Is it to see whether this remastered version CD is up to standard? Sorry I can't help you, I never owned any Soft Machine until now, all I will say is that if you want bonus material there is none. The clarity of the remastering is very good, but that's all I've got I'm afraid. If you are reading it (like I was previousley) to see whether you should get into Soft Machine, well, there I can help. My answer would be "yes". This was the late sixties, the time when music was coming to adulthood and much exploration was taking place, taking it to places it had never gone before and Soft Machine were at the forefront of that expedition. This is prog in a jazz mould not a classical mould, much free form music on display, however saying that, it is not as free form as say Weather Reports "Sing The Body Electric", there is structure here, some nice heavy, driving bass lines on tracks such as "Hibou, Anemone And Bear" and the classic "10:30 Returns To The Bedroom".
Compared to the first album Volume Two seems slicker and better crafted, even though Kevin Ayers had left at least Robert Wyatt was still at the helm and the music moves along at a rapid pace. The original vinyl of course had two sides and each had a name, side one was "Rivmic Melodies" and side two "Esther's Nose Job" and as such they just flow , one track into the next, the only pause being where you would have had to turn the record over. You have to listen to the album as a whole, the same applying to their first album (or a Robert Wyatt Matching Mole album), to buy a "Best of.." certainly would not do full justice to what a Soft Machine album is all about.
In conclusion, if you want to go back to the roots of prog Soft Machine must be on your shopping list and I would say start at the beginning, Soft Machine and Volume Two (Third being the last Robert Wyatt album)your musical thinking will be expanded as a result.
on 13 July 2013
Great music. This was one of the few records I bought way back in in the sixties. Now, I like it even more. I think that this was the finest moment of their career. I love the way Robert Wyatt sings and play so terrific on the drums. Although i was a young boy back then, I listened hundreds of times at that record.Still,I hear more nowadays. Glad I bought it.
on 14 March 2015
My take on this album is that a great deal of stuff was bubbling away in Miles Davis' Bitche's Brew and this work, in my opinion, is one of its ingrediants. The jazz on this album goes electric but it draws in all kinds of things from Dada to Swing to Be-bop to Free Form to pop to hard-rock to Latin (yep, Robert Wyatt sings in Spanish on Dada was Here). The album is a jazzed-out trip into a world musical possibilities. It produces the best in all the musicians - I get the feeling they really enjoyed making this album and it brings out the best in them. The horn sections are quite cool and dreamy; while Wyatt's drumming is amazingly techniquely perfect jazz (this is not bad considering he was not really happy with being a complete jazzer and his musical direction was more favoured towards rock and pop). Hugh Hopper's basswork provides the work with a good sense of gravity, much needed when you consider Ratledge's keyboards tend to head off into head into free-form (Out of Tunes) outer-space at times. Many of the tracks have a dream like quality to them, in particular Dada Was Here and Hibou, Anemone and Bear. The narrative is provided by Wyatt, not in the usual mid-Atlantic English, but in Estuary English which gives the album a quirkiness. The album is a great brew of musical styles and art and another trail blazer in modern musical history.