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SOFT MACHINE: Middle Earth Masters
A tough one, this. First-off it has to be said that the sound, although worked on extensively, is rough -headphones may be the best option. On the other hand, this sometimes adds its own genius to the gig (notably in Robert's totally overloaded solo). And it's the voices that really suffer; the organ always sounds great, as does the bass. Drums suffer a lot in the first half of the CD and then suddenly come into the light - after this, the sound (except the voices still) is fine - and very live, very powerful - as the band was at the time, when they were a rock band doing interesting songs with extended, noisy, instrumental arrangements. This is the only live recording I know of any authority that captured the Ayers, Wyatt, Ratledge version of the band. Moreover, these concerts, in September 1967 and May '68, bridge the last days of the counterculture as alternative - it was already being tamed and made marketable - and this recording does nail, roughly, how the band sounded and what was remarkable about it at the time. Musically, there is a parade of ideas here that make today's bands seem half brain-dead, and there is some impressive playing. Unhappily, much is missing (because of the irremediable sound, according to the sleeve-notes) and thus the way the songs were linked together and the orchestration of SM concerts as a whole is lost. As a musician I am not sure how sanguine I'd be if it were an early Cow gig in this quality - but in this case, the band have all approved the release, and certainly, as a civilian - and as someone who saw the band a lot at this time, these concerts included - I recognise something here that is missing from the official record. So. For some, this will be invaluable - since it's close to something lost, and it does capture the root: that just about every band in the mid '60s was trying to extend the song form of rock, and Soft Machine was no exception. For others it may sound a mess and seem like a desperate search for more product offering scanty returns. I can't advise.