13 June 2007

The Soft Machine - Volume Two (1969)

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.

Buy Me:
The Soft Machine - Volume Two


Anonymous said...

have you got my mail?

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Most Web reviewers find this album is an improvement over the ir first. I still want to buy it though just to hear more of Robert Wyatt's supreme drumming. I've always wondered How their First Album would have sounded if Daevid Allen would have stayed. Speaking of Daevid Allen will you review some Gong records any time soon?

Hey I know this is kinda Mainstream but will you ever review The monkee's album Head. I would love to know your opinion on that one.

Dr. Schluss said...

I'll chalk up my love of the first one to my Kevin Ayers fascination and my preference for psych over prog.

Funny you should mention Gong. I almost started the Radio Gnome albums instead of the Soft Machine (Gong isn't on my main hard drive and the Soft Machine is). You'll see them soon. Maybe next. I'll be hitting up Steve Hillage's solo albums too.

I don't think I'm going to go for the Monkees "Head" as my CD of that is in the States and I have no mp3s of it here. I do have the movie here and love it. "Porpoise Song" is one of my all-time favorites, especially with the coda present.

Anonymous said...

Nice reviews - Soft 1 and 2 are incredible albums. The tunes and arrangements are all over the place. In a way they were the first best and only psychedelic swing jazz band -- on Three or Four they brought in the horn section, here they use Ratledge's famous organ sound (must be some sort of reverb / distortion box).
I played these to death long ago so I don't listen to them anyone.
Make sure you check out the Soft Machine live and bbc cds, Quiet Sun - Mainstream, and Xhol Caravan - Electrip (from germany).

Anonymous said...

I love the first three albums for different reasons. I don't prefer one over the others because I don't have to. When I'm listening to Third I'm not thinking, hmmm, this lacks the pop melodicism of the first album, I'm thinking, this is a fucking great album. Something I don't think from Fourth onwards, though.

Anonymous said...


i love One, Two and Three...

moon in June...

Anonymous said...


ElementaryPenguin said...

Have you listened to Robert Wyatt's solo work. I'd highly recommend Rock Bottom.