SOFT MACHINE — Volume Two (review)

SOFT MACHINE — Volume Two album cover Album · 1969 · Jazz Related Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Warthur
The first album from the best-remembered Soft Machine Lineup of Wyatt, Ratledge, and Hugh Hopper (with Brian Hopper guesting on sax), Volume Two is the sound of a Soft Machine that has toured with Hendrix, mastered its sound, lost Kevin Ayers and received some timely advice from Frank Zappa. Including two epics - Rivmic Melodies, which takes up the entire first side, and the mostly-instrumental Esther's Nose Job - and incorporating a heavy dose of jazz into their sound, the Softs defined their own unique variety of fusion just at the same time as the likes of Miles Davis and Frank Zappa were also making their own headroads into the nascent fusion genre.

The loss of Ayers leaves Wyatt as the sole vocalist, and - as well as slipping in thanks to the Jimi Hendrix Experience in Have You Ever Bean Green and wishing good luck to Kevin Ayers in As Long As He Lies Perfectly Still - this album sees an expansion of his use of his voice as an instrument as varied and interesting as his drums, his ethereal wails providing a unique texture. Between his drum attack, Ratledge's fat organ and Hopper's meaty, growling bass playing, the classic Softs sound was realised. It's no surprise that this album represents the start of the Softs' career that is best represented by live recordings and bootlegs, since the structures they created provide fertile ground for improvisation - as well as being sufficiently complex to reward both repeated performance and repeated listening.

On Third, a similar approach would be taken, though Wyatt's vocal contributions would be more curtailed; it's on Volume Two that the classic-era Softs were at their most harmonious and united in their approach. I think it's their true classic.
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