Quality: 4.5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.5 out of 5
As a child, I found this one hiding in the midst of my father's otherwise more mainstream record collection. I was never quite sure if I should have even brought it out with the naked woman hiding withing the evocatove spinning mechanical wheel cover, but I through it on and caught a spot of prime psychedelia at a nice young, impressionable age.
The early Soft Machine were at the vanguard of the underground British psychedelic scene along with the Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd. For whatever reason, they were latecomers in terms of making an LP, completely missing the red-letter year of 1967. By that time, they had lost later Gong-guru Daevid Allen due to immigration issues. Even with these problems that would have completely sidelined other bands, the Soft Machine's debut remains a must-have of vintage psychedelia.
Pink Floyd often gets cited as kings of 60's Brit freakiness, but they have nothing on these guys. In this incarnation, the Soft Machine held in its ranks Cambridge troubadour Kevin Ayers on bass, who would depart for a solo career following this disc, along with the multi-talented Robert Wyatt on drums and vocals, and Mike Rateledge on organ. The band was almost completely lacking in guitar, but the tumultuous buildup of jazzy drumming and organ swirls insures you'll never miss that particular six-stringed instrument.
On the exceptional opening suite "Hope For Happiness," the band takes its time with a minute-and-a-half long intro that seems almost there to insure the uncommerciality of the project. The songwriting chops here as enviable with both Ayers and Wyatt on board, but the band is fueled by its jamming prowess. This is not equivilant of a modern jam band with aimless noodling, but a jazz-inflected group with a sense of purpose marrying their excursions to some truly awesome freak-pop songs.
The top of these in my book is the Ayers' written "Lullabye Letter" which has managed to burrow its way into my head for many a year now. The lyrics are more than on the surreal side and powered with a great hook. On the other side of the equasion we find the seven minute long "So Boot At All" which includes some deep excursions into the stratosphere along with some amusingly goofy stereo effects. Somewhere between we find "I Did It Again" trying to turn it's simple repetitive hook into a mantra.
If there's any flaw here at all, it's in the lack of Kevin Ayers' vocals. I love his deep, strange bass singing, but the songs here stick around in the higher range of main vocalist Robert Wyatt. This is really just a completely subjective opinion as Robert Wyatt remains a great vocalist in his own right. I just dig Ayers a little more and wish I heard him distictively a little more.
Along with the Floyd's Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, the Soft Machine's debut disc is an absolute psychedelic necessity. The Soft Machine would continue to shine for many years, taking a much more jazz inflected role in the process, but for me the band never quite matched this one.
The Soft Machine - The Soft Machine