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Fourth (Remastered)

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Album Review

Soft Machine's collective skill is hyper-complex and refined, as they are extremely literate in all fields of musical study. Fourth is the band's free purging of all of that knowledge, woven into noisy, smoky structures of sound. Their arcane rhythms have a stop-and-go mentality of their own that sounds incredibly fresh even though it is sonically steeped in soft and warm tones. Obviously there is a lot of skillful playing going on, as the mix of free jazz, straight-ahead jazz, and Gong-like psychedelia coalesces into a skronky plateau. Robert Wyatt's drumming is impeccable — so perfect that it at times becomes an unnoticeable map upon which the bandmembers take their instinctive direction. Mike Ratledge's keys are warm throughout, maintaining an earthy quality that keeps its eye on the space between the ground and the heavens that Soft Machine attempt to inhabit. Elton Dean's saxophone work screams out the most inventive cadence, and since it's hardly rhythmic, it takes front and center, spitting out a crazy language. Certainly the band is the preface to a good portion of Chicago's post-rock output, as the Softs undoubtedly give a nod to Miles Davis' Bitches Brew experiments, which were going on in the U.S. at the same time.

Customer Reviews

Soft Machine: Fourth

While SM's rabid listeners may prefer the clarity of Third, Fourth is a challenge well worth attempting. It is exciting listening that involves all parts of your musical brain to identify the sources and inspiration involved in this effort. Wyatt's drumming is at its most complex, Hugh Hopper's "Virtually" is a trip through four different modalities of creating sound and themes. "Teeth," Mike Ratledge's most complex composition in reference to changing time signatures and soaring, rushing episodes is truly dizzying. And for $6.93, it seems crazy not to own it and master it in your memory.


It blends euphonic, gorgeous melodies and harmonies with dissonance as well. Whoever thinks free jazz is completely unmusical, well, this album proves otherwise. Elton Dean's improvising knows how to mix up modal playing with sometimes subtle/sometimes blasting free-balling improvisation. A great example of this is "Kings and Queens." The odd-time signatures and textural drumming gives the album a smoky, psychedelic charm. I agree with Lewis deSoto, this album is quite a steal at $6.93!


Formed: 1966 in Canterbury, Kent, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s

Soft Machine were never a commercial enterprise and indeed still remain unknown even to many listeners who came of age during the late '60s and early '70s, when the group was at its peak. In their own way, however, they were one of the more influential bands of their era, and certainly one of the most influential underground ones. One of the original British psychedelic groups, they were also instrumental in the birth of both progressive rock and jazz-rock. They were also the central foundation of...
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