SOFT MACHINE — The Soft Machine (review)

SOFT MACHINE — The Soft Machine album cover Album · 1968 · Jazz Related Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
The Softs' first proper album shows an incredible and immensely welcome growth in their musical style following their 1967 demos (available under various names - "Jet Propelled Photographs" being the more common one). As well as the band just plain being tighter and adapting well to the loss of Daevid Allen, the complexity of the songs - which in the demos were given a more simplistic psych-pop delivery - is upped significantly. Most importantly, the band shows a willingness to make a really big noise as well as providing stimulating and intelligent songwriting - perhaps picking up an influence or two from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, who they were touring with at the time they made the album (literally - the tracks were recorded during downtime here and there over the course of the tour). The production by Chas Chandler, Jimi's producer, evokes the murky, swirling morass which the Softs mould into wonderful, delirious proto-Canterbury psych visions.

Although Hugh Hopper wouldn't be a full band member yet (though he does guest on the closing Box 25/4 Lid, showcasing some of the tight bass playing he'd bring to the table on Volume 2), he and brother Brian remain a presence (thanks presumably to their earlier participation in the Wilde Flowers), with several compositions by the brothers Hopper showing up. The album kicks off with the delirious triptych of Hope For Happiness/Joy of a Toy/Hope For Happiness (reprise), sandwiching the Ayers/Ratledge composition between one of Brian Hopper's pieces arranged by the band, and Hugh Hopper's A Certain Kind provides the beautiful, haunting close to side one, featuring an impassioned and wonderful vocal performance from Robert Wyatt.

The two lead vocalists on their albums share their duties well, in fact; Wyatt's earthy, haunting voice adapts to a variety of material, whilst Kevin Ayers' deeper, rich, stentorian tones are perfect for his own Why Are We Sleeping? and back up Wyatt wonderfully on Save Yourself. Possibly *the* most out-there psychedelic album of its time, the Soft Machine debut is Canterbury's Ground Zero; whilst the Wilde Flowers and the Softs' own early demos showed a promising pop band, this is the album which raised the bar a hundredfold. A true masterpiece.
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