Album no. 194/1001
Soft Machine were from Canterbury, and took their name from a William S. Burroughs novel. Guess what number album this was.
This is another example of a band who never really hit the big time commercially, but are considered to have been very influential. They had the same management as Jimi Hendrix, and got to support him which was very helpful in the early going. They actually split up amicably in 1968, before getting back together to fulfil contractual obligations.
Third was a big step into what would later become jazz fusion, and although it didn’t chart well it remained in print for over a decade. A real slow burner.
Have you listened to this album before?
NK: Never heard of it, never heard of the band. Let’s go.
CL: Initially I thought this was the band Soft Cell who did the 80s classic ‘Tainted Love’. Spoiler: It’s not.
NK: Plot twist: jazz.
CL: NOT WHAT I WAS EXPECTING AT ALL.
NK: Good news, this was a double album, and each side was a single composition, meaning the shortest ‘song’ is eighteen minutes long. By good news I obviously meant terrible news. The highlight of this album is the beginning of ‘Facelift’, when what I think is an insane electric organ kicks in. I thought it was going to some some insane, angular, ahead of it’s time electronica. Instead, they threw that beginning away and got all jazzy. There is some pretty screechy and abrasive stuff on the first side, which is good, but after that it gets pretty aimless.
CL: True! That minute and a half into ‘Facelift’ fried my brain. It sounded a bit Pink Floydy – a bit ‘Interstellar Overdrive’. There’s a song on here called ‘Out Bloody Rageous’. I think that sums up this album, and not in a particularly good way.
NK: No vocals until the third track. What a ballsy move. That’s a whole record before you get to the singing.
When would be the best time to listen to this?
NK: Hard to say. I have been unpleasantly busy this week, and I wonder how much that affected my listening. The start was good, but I kept wanting things to happen. It varies quite a lot tonally, maybe put it on if you’re feeling changeable.
CL: It may well have been an exciting album at the time, but I’ve certainly not felt that way. Despite being ‘experimental’, it’s not very memorable.
Why has this album been included on the list?
NK: It is unusual for sure. Some of the jazzier progressive rock we’ve had. It’s like they had been big fans of Pink Floyd and then heard Miles Davis for the first time and jumped in with both feet.
CL: It’s definitely a new sound. Pushing the genre in a different direction – good for them, less so for me.
Will you be listening again?
NK: I will try to. It’s so long! But it was definitely interesting in places, especially the start. Also I was not in the best state of mind to enjoy this. Sorry Soft Machine, I will do my best to give it another shot.
CL: MMM. If I have time. Which I don’t. So that’s a no.
You can’t listen to Third on Spotify but you can buy it in iTunes.