Soft Machine – Third (1970)

Artist Credit
Elton Dean Sax (Alto), Saxello, Saxophone
Lyn Dobson Flute, Horn, Sax (Soprano)
Jurgen D. Ensthaler Photography
Nick Evans Trombone
Jimmy Hastings Clarinet (Bass), Flute, Wind
John Hays Cover Design
Hugh Hopper Bass, Composer, Guitar (Bass)
Andy Knight Engineer
Mike Ratledge Composer, Keyboards, Organ, Piano
Soft Machine Primary Artist, Producer
Rab Spall Violin
Bob Woolford Engineer
Robert Wyatt Composer, Drums, Vocals

Soft Machine plunged deeper into jazz and contemporary electronic music on this pivotal release, which incited The Village Voice to call it a milestone achievement when it was released. It’s a double album of stunning music, with each side devoted to one composition — two by Mike Ratledge, and one each by Hopper and Wyatt, with substantial help from a number of backup musicians, including Canterbury mainstays Elton Dean and Jimmy Hastings. The Ratledge songs come closest to fusion jazz, although this is fusion laced with tape loop effects and hypnotic, repetitive keyboard patterns. Hugh Hopper’s “Facelift” recalls “21st Century Schizoid Man” by King Crimson, although it’s more complex, with several quite dissimilar sections. The pulsing rhythms, chaotic horn and keyboard sounds, and dark drones on “Facelift” predate some of what Hopper did as a solo artist later (this song was actually culled from two live performances in 1970). On his capricious composition “Moon in June,” Robert Wyatt draws on musical ideas from early 1967 demos done with producer Giorgio Gomelsky. Lyrically, it’s a satirical alternative to the pretension displayed by a lot of rock writing of the era, and combined with the Softs’ exotic instrumentation, it makes for quite a listen (the compilation Triple Echo includes a BBC broadcast recording of “Moon in June” with different albeit equally fanciful lyrics, and the Robert Wyatt archival collection ’68, released by Cuneiform in 2013, features a remastered version of Wyatt’s original demo of the song, recorded in the U.S. following the Softs’ tour opening for the Jimi Hendrix Experience). Not exactly rock, Third nonetheless pushed the boundaries of rock into areas previously unexplored, and it managed to do so without sounding self-indulgent. A better introduction to the group is either of the first two records, but once introduced, this is the place to go.

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