FIFTH

1. All White
2. Drop
3. MC
4. As If
5. LBO
6. Pigling Bland
7. Bone

The 2007 CD reissue has one bonus track:
8. All White (Take Two)

Recorded:  November through december1971 and January through february 1972 at Advision Studios, London
Released: July 1972

Elton Dean: alto sax, saxello, electric piano
Hugh Hopper: bass
Mike Ratledge: organ, electric piano
Phil Howard: drums (1-3)
John Marshall: drums (4-6)
Roy Babbington: double bass (4-6)  

the american version (soft machine in all white)

cd-version (2007)


Phil Howard: windy cymbals


elton - phil - hugh - mike


elton - john - mike and hugh






Fifth is a dark album. The original lp was housed in a black sleeve with a huge number 5 on the front, also in black; even their name was in black and hard to see. Rather impressive isn’t it?. Maybe it was a view on Soft Machine’s lives and times at that moment. Recently the musical direction had developed more and more into a jazz orientated style, whic was not the case in the early years of the group. That jazzy way was very different from the first two more pop-rock orientated albums. Original member, drummer and vocalist Robert Wyatt had been thrown out the band. The chemistry was gone, but not only that, Robert’s vocal parts were gone as well. All part of another problem; Wyatt was often too drunk to play or to create new music. His palls, Mike and Hugh, had tried to keep him in the band, but matters got worse and everybody got frustrated. So they told him it was over. For long the issue ‘to be thrown out of his own band’ had been a real problem to Wyatt, just only recently he put things into perspective. It was a hard time for everybody: a band without a drummer, a band without direction, but also without main composers, because of all the problems in the band Hugh and Mike weren’t that creative anymore. This also was a Soft Machine with Elton Dean on saxes; a person who would love to direct the band in a more free jazz style unit. What to do and where to go? First of all they had to find another drummer. They found one in a friend of Elton’s, Phil Howard. Phil, a somewhat indistinct figure, but an excellent drummer, helped out in concert as well on their new record. Like Elton, Phil was a free player and he had difficulties with the more structured parts of the Machine. He just couldn’t handle them, so he left. What the band needed was a drummer who could play free (jazz), but also could handle the more structured music, often on the verge of rock music. John Marshall seemed the right one. John had played in Nucleus, a befriended English band, and was willing to play the drums on the album so they could finish it. Since half of the album was ready, they decided to split the album in two: Phil playing drums on side one, John on side two. Another friend, Roy Babbington, helped out on side two as well. Roy - at that time - was a very talented bass and double bass player and yes, he also had played in Nucleus. But he also had played on their previous record, Fourth, and his input on that album was very much appreciated.
‘All White’ is the first track and starts with low bass grumbles and Saxello wrapped in echos; Phil joins on windy cymbals and drums and finally Mike adds the surprising, but recognizable sound of the Fender Rhodes piano. Immediate clear is the new, freer style of this band. ‘Drop’ has indeed drops of water, with a layer of minimalistic piano drips, but slowly turns into a more familiar Soft Machine-way, after Mike starts playing his Lowrey organ in his typical way and brings us his first solo. ‘MC’ hoovers us back to an All White feeling: lots of space, cymbals ride and a hazy sax solo is displayed on minimal droplets. End of side on, enter a new drummer. ‘As If’ starts with a drum break from John and that makes things clear: yes, here is another drummer with a different approach, hit that drums! A theme, comparable to the themes used on Fourth, develops slowly; Elton plays an impressive solo and Roy bows his double bass. Later on Roy takes over the solo part and creates a fine and mystic mood. ‘Pigling Bland’ is a thematic song with tight structures. It has yet another solo by Elton and definitely marks John’s point of drumming. ‘Bone’ is the track which closes the album; it is a bit like ‘All White’ containing flutes, low bubbling bass, percussion and a Lowrey solo, which is mixed in the back of all ongoing sounds. A nice piece to close the album, which also takes us back to the mood of the first track on side one.
On recent cd-releases one could find an additional track: ‘All White - Take Two’. It is a nice track, not the better one of the two, not necessarily needed on this release and even not the best track to end the record. But that’s something no one cares about anymore.
Although somewhat strange, a split album with different drummers on each side who have their own style and approach, Fifth is a very strong album. As mentioned before, it is a dark album and has to be discovered to be appreciated. But by doing so, one learns Fifth is a very fine album indeed, still underrated. One of their better albums, I think.

Paul Lemmens © 2012/2014