Quality: 3.5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4 out of 5
The Soft Machine came straight off the heels of their debut with this second volume. Of course changes were nonetheless afoot as Kevin Ayers had departed for poppier territories while the talented (and former roadie) Hugh Hopper stepped in on bass. At this point the band gained some extra instrumental chops with Hopper on board, but they weren't quite as immediate as before.
Although the jazz edge was noticable on the first album, it starts to take center stage here. I have to admit that I'm pretty much of the opinion that The Soft Machine started out with their best material and slowly went downhill, especially once drummer/vocalist Robert Wyatt left. As this is the second album, things are going pretty well but the songwriting has noticably deteriorated in favor of jazzy explorations. It's a telling sign that my favorite tracks here are the two 10 second iterations of the alphabet song. The most songlike segments here are the shortest tracks.
Still more of a psychedelic tinged rock band, the Soft Machine do a respectable job jumping into trippy jazz. It's not quite electric Miles Davis or Herbie Hancock, but this band has a distinctive sound and cool jamming technique. Somehow, this disc feels like less than the sum of it's parts and seems to run longer than its 33 minute running time.
Keeping things mildly stitched together are Robert Wyatt dreamy and slightly off key vocals. He's pretty much alone here without Kevin Ayers, but maintains a charming edge that reigns in even the more chaotic tracks like "Out Of Tunes." I haven't been mentioning too many specific tunes as they all kind of blend into each in a messy, but interesting, mix.
Volume Two is a key disc by the Soft Machine, and the only album that can match the underground psych vibe of the first disc. Although a little unfocused and spotty, it still creates an otherworldly zone that can aurally transport you to other places.
The Soft Machine - Volume Two