Soft Machine

Volume Two

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The first Soft Machine LP usually got the attention, with its movable parts sleeve, as well as the presence of ultra-talented songwriter Kevin Ayers. But musically, Volume Two better conveys the Dada-ist whimsy and powerful avant rock leanings of the band. Hugh Hopper took over for Ayers on bass, and his fuzz tones and experimental leanings supplanted Ayers' pop emphasis. The creative nucleus behind this most progressive of progressive rock albums, however, is Robert Wyatt. He provides the musical arrangements to Hopper's quirky ideas on the stream-of-consciousness collection of tunes ("Rivmic Melodies") on side one. Unlike the first record, which sounded choppy and often somnolent, this one blends together better, and it has a livelier sound. The addition of session horn players enhanced the Softs' non-guitar lineup, and keyboardist Mike Ratledge, whose musical erudition frequently clashed in the early days with the free-spirited Wyatt, Ayers, and Daevid Allen, lightened his touch here. He even contributes one of the album's highlights with "Pig" ("Virgins are boring/They should be grateful for the things they're ignoring"). But it's Wyatt who lifts this odd musical jewel to its artistic heights. He uses his tender voice like a jazz instrument, scatting (in Spanish!) on "Dada Was Here," and sounding entirely heartfelt in "Have You Ever Bean Green," a brief tribute to the Jimi Hendrix Experience, with whom the Softs toured ("Thank you Noel and Mitch, thank you Jim, for our exposure to the crowd"). Fans of the Canterbury scene will also relish "As Long as He Lies Perfectly Still," a loving tribute to ex-bandmate Ayers. This is the one record that effectively assimilates rock, absurdist humor, jazz, and the avant-garde, and it misses classic status only due to some dissonant instrumentation on side two.

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