Third (Soft Machine album)
|Studio album by|
|Released||6 June 1970|
|Recorded||April–May 1970 at IBC, London ("Facelift" live in Croydon and Birmingham, January 1970; re-issue bonus tracks live at the Royal Albert Hall, London, August 1970)|
|Genre||Canterbury scene, jazz fusion, progressive rock, experimental rock, free jazz|
|Label||CBS (UK), Columbia (USA), Sony BMG (UK re-issue)|
|Soft Machine chronology|
Third is the third studio album by the Canterbury associated band Soft Machine, originally released in 1970 as a double LP, with each side of the original vinyl consisting of a single, long composition.
Third marks the most major of Soft Machine's several shifts in musical genre over their career, completing their transition from psychedelic music to jazz, and is a significant milestone of the Canterbury scene, featuring interplay between the band's personnel: Mike Ratledge on keyboards, Robert Wyatt on drums, Hugh Hopper on bass and newest member Elton Dean on saxophone. Lyn Dobson appears on saxophone and flute on "Facelift", recorded while he was a full member of the band (then a quintet), although he is credited as an additional performer. Jimmy Hastings (brother of Pye Hastings from Caravan) makes substantial contributions on flute and clarinet on "Slightly All The Time", free-jazz violinist Rab Spall (then a bandmate of Wyatt's in the part-time ensemble Amazing Band) is heard on the coda to "Moon In June", and Nick Evans (a member of the band during its short-lived septet incarnation) makes brief appearances on trombone in "Slightly All The Time" and "Out-Bloody-Rageous".
The original release of Third had an unpolished sound quality, including tape hiss on the live recordings and abrupt editing. This is partly through combining home recordings and various sound collages, recorded by the group's soundman, Bob Woolford, against professional studio-quality work. "Slightly All the Time" and "Out-Bloody-Rageous" are the most straightforward tracks on the album, representing the jazz-rock sound that would be explored further on subsequent albums.
"Esther's Nose Job" on the bonus disc originally appeared on Volume Two, and no longer includes its cacophonous introduction, but adds a new section, "Pigling Bland", which appeared as a track on its own on the group's Fifth album a few years later. This version does not contain the lyrics found in the original, but it does include some scat singing from Wyatt. All three pieces on the bonus disc are performed as one continuous suite. (The original vinyl edition had a fade-out and fade-in of the drum solo connecting the second and third pieces, as was necessary for a two-sided LP.)
"Facelift" is the most radical track. The version on the album was recorded live at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, 4 January 1970 (the first by the quintet version of the band), with a brief section from the Mothers Club, Birmingham, 11 January 1970, and some recordings from the 1969 Spaced project.
While a large part of the finished product is essentially a live recording, parts involve tape collage and speeding up, slowing down, looping and backwards playing of tapes, the ending being the most memorable part, where two different treatments of the same basic riff (one from the live concert, the other, at double speed, from Spaced) are heard simultaneously, backwards.
At the time of the 5-piece line-up, "Facelift" was typically expanded with solo improvisations and showcases by Lyn Dobson on flute, vocals and harmonica.
"Slightly All the Time" is a medley of different jazz pieces, including Ratledge's "Backwards" and Hopper's "Noisette". "Backwards" later appeared on fellow Canterbury Scene band Caravan's 1973 album For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night, as part of the "A-Hunting We Shall Go" medley.
"Moon in June" is the last song with lyrics that Soft Machine ever recorded, and their last look back to their progressive rock, pre-jazz sound. The song is in three parts. The first is a pastiche of vocal themes delivered in a stream of consciousness which varied in live performances. Wyatt plays all the instruments in this section. The lyrics borrow from Soft Machine's earlier "That's How Much I Need You Now" and "You Don't Remember", but largely from new vignettes recorded in a demo by Wyatt in October 1968 while on holiday in New York state. An excerpt from a different demo of Part 1, recorded in November 1968, was included on Robert Wyatt's 2001 Flotsam Jetsam archive compilation. The second part features the whole band, and is an instrumental similar to other jazz-rock pieces on the album. The third is a drone featuring Wyatt and violinist Rab Spall; Spall's part was recorded separately and was sped up and slowed down to make the violin fit the beats of the music. This section also features Wyatt scat singing uncredited renditions of two Kevin Ayers songs: "Singing a Song in the Morning" and "Hat Song". A demo of the second and third parts was recorded in Spring 1969, which was spliced onto the October 1968 demo to be included on Soft Machine's 2002 Backwards archival release. A live recording from 24 May 1970 in London was released on Backwards, containing a shortened version of parts 2 and 3. A pre-Third performance that includes a shortened instrumental Part 1 was recorded live at the Fairfield Halls concert and appears on Soft Machine's 2000 Noisette archive release.
The final song on the album is an instrumental composed by Ratledge, and contains a number of tape loops inspired by the work of Terry Riley. Its name inspired the names of the 2005 Soft Machine biography Soft Machine: Out-Bloody-Rageous, and a 2 CD anthology from 2005 entitled Out-Bloody-Rageous An Anthology 1967–1973.
In 2007 the album was re-issued on CD by Sony BMG with a second disc comprising a complete live album, Live at the Proms 1970, which had been previously released by a small independent company called Reckless Records in 1988. This album was recorded at The BBC Proms in Royal Albert Hall in The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, London, for BBC Radio Three on 13 August 1970. The band's performance, opening for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, marked the first time that a popular-music band played at the classical festival. The disparity of Soft Machine's concert as compared to the hall's usual fare is explained by Robert Wyatt on the Reckless album's liner notes:
We was invited by Tom Souster, who had an evening using the hall to do what he liked with. I believe he'd heard our second LP, asked us on the strength of that. He discovered us on the way to discovering Motown. Via the Who, I think. Anyway it was brave of him to invite us despite the withering contempt of the posh music establishment. Before our bit, I went out the back for a quick fag and then the doorman didn't want to let me back in. "I've got to play in there", I said. "You must be kidding, son", he said, "they only have proper music in there". Not that night they didn't.
- Robert Wyatt, album liner notes
Both discs were re-mastered for the re-issue, improving the sound quality significantly.
- "Facelift" (Hugh Hopper) – 18:45
- "Slightly All the Time" (Mike Ratledge) – 18:12
- Including: "Noisette" (Hopper), "Backwards" (Ratledge) and "Noisette Reprise" (Hopper)
- "Moon in June" (Robert Wyatt) – 19:08
- "Out-Bloody-Rageous" (Ratledge) – 19:10
Bonus disc from 2007 CD re-issue
- "Out-Bloody-Rageous" (Ratledge) – 11:54
- "Facelift" (Hopper) – 11:22
- "Esther's Nose Job" – 15:39
- "Pig" (Ratledge)
- "Orange Skin Food" (Ratledge)
- "A Door Opens and Closes" (Ratledge)
- "Pigling Bland" (Ratledge)
- "10:30 Returns to the Bedroom" (Ratledge/Hopper/Wyatt)
- Mike Ratledge – Hohner Pianet, Lowrey organ, piano
- Hugh Hopper – bass guitar
- Robert Wyatt – drums, vocals (3), plus on 3 (uncredited): Hammond organ, Mellotron, Hohner Pianet, piano, bass
- Elton Dean – alto saxophone, saxello (all but 3)
- Additional personnel
- Lyn Dobson – soprano saxophone, flute (1)
- Jimmy Hastings – flute, bass clarinet (2,4)
- Rab Spall – violin (3)
- Nick Evans – trombone (2,4)
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