Perhaps the leaders of the progressive rock scene out of Canterbury, England in the ’70s, Soft Machine’s stamp on the scene was far from accessible. In fact, the rules that the band played by weren’t really rules at all. Progressive rock and rules have always had a testy relationship, but Soft Machine were able to take that concept to a whole other level. Where was all of this coming from? Well, the outfit was essentially the brain child of Robert Wyatt. Listed as an influence by many artists over the years, including, not insignificantly, Roland Orzabal of Tears for Fears, Wyatt’s mind at the center of the band was able to further the intricacies of their overall center, their reason for existence.
The opening track on their third record, appropriately titled ‘Third’, released in 1970 is “Facelift” and immediately it becomes clear just why these guys were considered by many to be one of the foundations of jazz-fusion. The title of the track isn’t at all insignificant or misleading. You do indeed feel as if you’re receiving a facelift while listening to it. The sonic tonality of Soft Machine’s onslaught very much possesses the sensation of melting. Quite possibly, the reason for this is the fact that the band purposely thrusts this sensation upon the listener. On their first two records, though, the band would only hint at the full-bodied sensationalism that was to come on this third outing. Perhaps an appropriate way of viewing this record is to treat each of the four tracks as part of a much larger phenomena. Each one builds to the inevitable conclusion. Before you reach orgasm, as most of you well know, there are many sensations that pop up along the way. Like an eccentric orgasm, Soft Machine doesn’t go straight for the jugular. “Slightly All the Time”, at least initially, backs off on pace pushed ahead in the previous track. Like the sensation this record is being compared to, though, it doesn’t forget its central theme or purpose. The calculations and mathematical precision of this record are of such an astute profundity that it’s often difficult to fully intellectualize what it is you’re experiencing, much like… well, you get it. By the time the band break into “Moon in June”, it’s clear that they aren’t planning on slipping up on this record. Let your eyes not be mistaken, this is truly an example of what music is capable at the peaks of its power. Existence of God found in each carefully executed arrangement. Never fear, the moment you’ve all been waiting for happens during the final track “Out-Bloody-Rageous”, the record’s undisputed highlight and, of course, this isn’t surprising giving what this record sets out to do.
This is a flawless record of carefully crafted, well executed, not-of-this-world proportion. Soft Machine manage to make Yes sound like the Monkees on this record and you know what? Thank God for that. Many find Soft Machine to be too much. This is poorly-thought out judgment. What this band was, at the peak of their powers, was something truly extraordinary; something that didn’t understand or even care about the idea of conventional musicality. The jazz and classical sensibilities ring true throughout the full duration of this record and are, at the end of the day, certainly more telling to the band’s center of gravity than good ole rock n’ roll music. So, sit back, relax, and take your time with this one. This record is sure to be a slow-burner for most everyone, especially those unfamiliar with the Canterbury scene or progressive rock music as a whole. If you stick it out, though, you just might find a little something about yourself that you didn’t before spinning this one. Perfection.