8. SOFT MACHINE — Third
Did my brain in, this one, the first few times I listened. Blasted a hole in my expectations of rock music. Of course, that is largely because Third is not a rock record. It is a progressive jazz-rock experimental break-the-mould throw-down-the-gauntlet challenge to pop-rock ears. Kind of like a prog Trout Mask Replica on magic mushrooms (as distinct from brown acid). Not really… the Beefheart double-LP has 28 tracks while Third has four sides and four pieces, but you get the drift; Third is one-of-a-kind and still provides a more-than-hearty meal for the 21st C listener. The interplay between the quartet of Mike Ratledge on organ (and piano), Elton Dean on sax(es) and the potent rhythm section of Robert Wyatt (drums/vocals) and Hugh Hopper on bass is both powerful and intricate. Guests add different textures now and then and other influences such as minimalism poke their noses in. If this is ‘cosmic music’—as it is sometimes described—then it is the sound of solar systems forming.
Despite only ‘getting’ a part of the music, I’ve grown to love this sprawling opus (there’s that double LP adjective again!) and play it (by VC standards) quite often. If you like the idea of having your head rearranged, give it a try*.
* Maybe don’t start with “Facelift” (side one). It’s a monster.
Afterthought: Although I cannot explain exactly why, this is one of my favourite album covers, ever. Perhaps it’s the hand-made quality, the elegant simplicity, or maybethe look of a brown paper package waiting to be wrapped up with string. Regardless, it’s one of my favourite things. I bought it at the long-defunct Blue Moon Records in Elwood for $6.95 in the mid-80s and didn’t play it much for the next 20 years.
Soft Machine take work but reward effort. Any friends of Third out there?