|New issue of the these Soft Machine albums from 1971/72 (used to be available individually in the US via One Way, but now deleted). "Two early-period Softs albums (one pre, one post accident) presented as a European mid-line two-fer. Fourth contains such era chestnuts as 'Virtually parts 1-4' played by the classic lineup of Hugh Hopper, Mike Ratledge, Elton Dean & Robert Wyatt & wanders into a more ferocious Miles/ancient Egypt-inspired jank whilst retaining the psychedelic weight accumulated on previous efforts. Fifth adds Roy Babbington on select tracks and replaces Wyatt alternatingly with Phil Howard and John Marshall, who seemingly steer the group into more vamp-oriented zones. Both are highly worthwhile nuggets of concentrated group-sound, not to be lost in the mire. Classic." -- Hrvatski.
Releasing Soft Machine's Fourth and Fifth on one album isn't only convenient, but rather intriguing as well. While both albums display the band's wonderful jazz-rock abstractness and frittering "saxophone versus drums" interweaves, Fourth has the distinction of being the last album to feature drummer Robert Wyatt before he went on to form Matching Mole. The differences between Fourth and Fifth aren't startling, but to true Soft Machine fans they are blatantly apparent, since it was Wyatt's free-ranged approach which led the band to where they were at that point. Fourth romps and frolics with Mike Ratledge's erratic organ meandering under the off-beat but highly colorful drum playing from Wyatt, while Elton Dean's sax and saxello playing is nothing more than frantic throughout, gelling their progressive tendencies as a whole without notice. With Phil Howard and John Marshall sharing the drum work for Fifth, there are remnants of Soft Mahine's non- structural artiness still remaining, especially on "As Is" and "Pigling Bland," but the same level of groovy spunk and improvised metaphysics in the form of Wyatt's off-centeredness is gone. Tracks such as "All White" and "Drop" can't match the hectic, fused frenzy of "Fletcher's Blemish" or the excitability that builds during "Teeth" from Fourth. Still, grouping the two albums together as one package is the best way to hear both, even when taking the comparison factor out of the picture.
Soft Machine: Robert Wyatt (sax); Marc Charig (cornet); Elton Dean (electric piano, saxes); Alan Skidmore (tenor sax); Roy Babbington (double bass); Nick Evans (trombone); Jimmy Hastings (bass clarinet, flute); Hugh Hopper (bass guitar); Phil Howard, John Marshall (drums); Mike Ratledge (organ, piano, electric piano)