Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Soft Machine - Volume Two

Soft Machine
Volume Two

Released 1969 on Probe
Reviewed by stereomachine, 12/12/2004ce

Remember that "No Good Trying" song on Syd Barrett's first solo album "the Madcap Laughs", where the eccentric and manic feel of the tune is augmented by even crazier no-holds-barred drum insanity as well as some distorted soloing instrument to augment Syd's trademark spacey guitar as well as some fuzz-driven monstrous roaring bass riffs? Then be prepared for how "Pataphysical Introduction pt.1" opens up as if it were a lighthearted version of such exuberant eccentricity, the same roaring ripping monstrous fuzz-bass (by Hugh Hopper) is there, as is the pull-all-the-stops freewheeling drumming of Robert Wyatt, who seduces the newbies with his talent to both drum and also handle his charming, witty Cockney-accent-driven vocals, and Mike Ratledge`s piano gives the opening cut some lighthearted weirdness, as if the listener was hearing the musical equivalent for Monty Python. "A Concise British Alphabet" is a ten-second recitation of an alphabet, but you shouldn't write it off as a filler, it is the wittiest kind of humour one could find on a 60s psychedelic record.

If these kinds of first 70 seconds were an excellent foreplay, then "Hibou Anemone and Bear" is a superb start of one seriously stimulating intercourse, opening metallic fuzz-bass riff introduces one by one jazzy rat-a-tat drumming, complex rhythm piano chord fills, and the weird aforementioned tone which is Mike Ratledge's unique fuzz-organ solo which sounds like a cross between a distorted jazz guitar and a weird sax tone, three minutes of prime groovy jazz jam in weird time signatures, and then we are treated for Wyatt´s lovely vocal piece and we can hear how he thinks of sex in the spring and if you don't pursue all the life's good things, you'll either go berzerk or are bored to death.

Then you'll also hear more eccentric Monty Python-esque ditties, which include singing a Dadaist song in Spanish, a humorous hipster reference to Schoenberg, a tribute to Jimi Hendrix with fabulous "aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah" vocal harmonies, and then the original side 1 closes with a free-jazz jam aptly, albeit humorously titled, "Out of Tunes".

Soft Machine was in a transitional phase by that point with Wyatt wanting to continue pursuing the original Dadaist-inflicted pataphysical progressive psychedelia from the earlier days when Daevid Allen and/or Kevin Ayers were still in the band, and Mike Ratledge wanting to pursue more serious, more complex writing with odd time signatures, complex riffs and melodies, and NO vocals! If side one was more pop-oriented, then side two is more instrumental, although even there Soft Machine sounds like no other band, with manic drumming, thick bass roars, squeaky organ tones, lounge-lizard like piano playing, quirky sax tones and sporadical vocals here and there to suggest more weirdness than on any of subsequent Softs albums. Last five pieces on the album (other two on Side 2 are a jazzy pop tune below the warm blankets of fuzz soloing which is "As Long as He lies Perfectly still" and proggy acoustic guitar-driven ballad "Dedicated to You But You Weren't Listening") bear a collective title as "Esther's NoseJob", from the individual parts, I'd mention two to stand out: "Pig", starting out as a dark jam based on repetitive piano motif to feature the same notes you can hear on one of the basslines on Kraftwerk's "Autobahn", just misplaced and matched into 7/8 time signature, then it shifts into a charming lounge pop tune with Wyatt singing more about sex-related topics, like nudity. Finally, the album closer "10:30 Returns to Bedroom" has the same aforementioned proto-Krautrock bassline going on with Hopper contributing a proto-metal bass solo, followed by Wyatt being left alone to do his drum solo, before we'll have a catchy ending with Wyatt singing a wordless memorable melody, then another short jaunty lounge groove and finally, an eerie organ ending. Incredible!

The first album is considered as a twin brother to "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" (a psychedelic classic in other words), whereas "Third" is known for blending a 4*20' album format with jazz, rock and electronics, but "Volume Two" is easily the maddest album coming from the 60s and perhaps one of the most eccentric rock albums of all time.

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