"I've just taken my first full listen of 'Out-Bloody-Rageous', so recently received from Amazon.UK, taking great pleasure in hearing some favourite tunes. This is the official double CD compilation of Soft Machine music taken from the albums 'Soft Machine' to 'Seven', i.e. the ABC/Probe Records to the CBS/Columbia Records period - although I have to ask why has it taken so long? But thank goodness it is here. (Now, one can only hope Harvest Records will issue a complimentary third album to give a full coverage of the band's career).
As a freak for nearly all and particularly their first 3 or 4 albums, I'm delighted at the choice of tracks taken here. Following the path taken by the now rare 'Triple Echo' 3 LP set (issued by Harvest Records some 25 years ago), CD 1 starts with a couple of their early single records, and then quickly gets to my favourites from their first self-titled album and 'Volume 2'. And great news, these have been 24 bit remastered (as I begged in print elsewhere for quite some time). A favourite of Gary Lucas and myself 'Hope For Happiness/Joy Of A Toy' is no longer a muddy mix; at last clarity and instrument separation - I can only hope that the whole of both albums will be available in remastered forms very soon! A couple of tracks from 'Third' finishes CD 1 - so providing a break from the Wyatt-influenced Machine and the subsequent post-Wyatt Machine.
CD 2 shows Machine in jazz rock jazz fusion mode and with a number of tracks each taken taken from 'Fourth' through to 'Seven'. These reflect the high quality of young British (and
'Out-Bloody-Rageous' is great compilation, and in some way better than the 2 double CDs 'BBC 1967-1971' & 'BBC 1971-1974' (Hux Records) for giving a "history". Anybody wanting to discover what Machine was about and how they changed during their formative period, and this set should be instantly recommended as the perfect recording to start. ." Read Dick's full review here
I’ve always thought the Jenkins-era Softs got a bum rap from many of the various commentators. True, the music would become a touch too anodyne and symmetrical in its delivery, losing some of the crooked ambience emanating from its psychedelic origins and that was down to Jenkins' influence. However to point to this period and dismiss it as merely the point where the jazz-rock rot set in would be a mistake.
Though the live and studio double album, Six (Softs’ Ummagumma?) brings Jenkins’ trademark cyclical ‘patterns’ music to the fore it nevertheless has a dream-like vibe that will reward the open-minded listener; notably Chloe And The Pirates and The Soft Weed Factor. This feel was consolidated in what I regard as the real jewel in the crown of this particular period, Seven.
First released in the autumn of 1973, it bursts into life with Nettle Bed, a prickly, pointed riff-erama workout on the bass-end of the Fender Rhodes piano, topped with a quirky graze of a synth solo from the by-then sole surviving founder Softy, Mike Ratledge. Quicker than you can jab a pin in the patchboard of your suitcase syhthi, the beautiful ballad Carol Ann slowly unfurls; a gorgeous slo-mo twirl of sine-waves and six string bass guitar (with tremolo arm!) courtesy of Roy Babbington. Having guested on Fourth and Fifth, ex-Delivery and Nucleus stalwart Babbington had taken over from the departing Hugh Hopper. His bubbling bass leaps out on Day’s Eye, perhaps the most controversial track on the album. Credited to Ratledge, it bares a remarkable resemblance to Arjen’s Bag, a track from the 1969 John McLaughlin album, Extrapolation. The similarities between the two tracks are striking even to the point of both having the principle melody delivered via baritone sax played in McLaughlin’s case by John Surman.
Whether an unconscious lift or not, there’s no denying the fiercely original trademark sound that erupts from Mike Ratledge’s organ, making its first dramatic appearance on the album. That frenzied, demented wasp-in-a-bottle fuzzed-up Lowery was a bristling signature with a sting in its tail. Though Caravan and Egg would both commandeer the device it was never as sharp or spiny as when Soft Machine deployed it.
After the stern push and shove of Bone Fire and Tarabos (with a storming soprano sax solo the ominous percussion solo by John Marshall, DIS with reversed tapes and Chinese cymbals brings the original Side One to a terse and abrupt close. What follows is best viewed as a side-long two-hander. From the ruminative, coddled doze of Snodland’s chimes and echo-perplexed piano, there emerges a stately parade through the Karl Jenkins songbook. The dusky tones of his baritone and soprano meld surprisingly well with the highly-wrought organ lines held crisply in place by Babbington and embellished by Marshall’s nimble kit work throughout.
Jenkins would be the first to admit that he was always a reluctant soloist and on the sprightly Block, he’s content to let Ratledge steal the show with a striking, typically caustic outing; the numbers of motifs and themes he explores here is astonishing and surely one of his best performances anywhere on record. Coming to a dead stop and barely pausing for breath, Down The Road opens pensively with a fluttering, evocative touch of recorder that brings memories of the oblique Bone that closed their fifth album.
A lugubrious climax is reached when Babbington dusts off the string bass to supply a splendid bowed solo across the lurching and choppy rhythms before receding into the cosseted glow of The German Lesson and it’s equally amorphous echoing partner, The French Lesson. Here, layers of Fender Rhodes are looped and piled one atop the other, producing a rich and glistening ending that has a vestigial connection to Third’s Riley-infused glory days but is satisfying enough in its own right.
Don’t believe the received wisdom that says this period is a little more than bleak fusion-fest of technique over content, devoid of any emotional impact. Though the flamboyant passions that originally ignited Soft Machine were by now burning low, the dying embers that Seven perhaps represented, showed them more than capable of radiating the warm rosy glow of excitement and raising the temperature.
In 1975, Bundles, documented Alan Holdsworth’s brief tenure in the ranks. With its medley of themes and interlocking tunes (amongst Jenkins’ best) the studio album was fatally wounded by a curiously flat production that failed to capture the substantial firepower generated in concert. With Ratledge gone, Jenkins spent the inheritance bringing in high-end achievers such as John Etheridge, Ray Warleigh, violinist Rick Saunders and (briefly) uber-bassist Percy Jones before finally grinding to a halt in 1981.
Standing proud and tall between the transitional wobble of Six and the frankly forgettable final trip that was The Land of Cockayne, Seven has a satisfying thematic cohesion and elegance that remains richly persuasive and that still has a bounce in its step 35 years after being recorded.