1. Teeth
2. Kings and Queens
3. Fletcher's Blemish
4. Virtually parts 1-2-3-4

Recorded: October through November 1970 at Olympic Studios, London
Released: 28 February 1971

Hugh Hopper: bass
Mike Ratledge: organ, piano
Robert Wyatt: drums
Elton Dean: alto sax, saxello
Roy Babbington: double bass (1,3,4)
Mark Charig: cornet (2,3,4)
Nick Evans: trombone (1,2,4)
Jimmy Hastings: alto flute (6), bass clarinet (1,4)
Alan Skidmore: tenor saxophone (1,4)

Alternate cover-version without the '4' (dutch-lp)

add for Fourth (and Third)

robert (with son Sam) - mike - hugh - elton
bw-pictures © Barry Plummer

Fourth is the last album with Robert on drums. After Third the band had been looking for a new direction, not limited by vocals and/or the piano-saxophone solo restriction. Guests, mostly well known jazz musicians, had helped out before on live venues. It made Soft Machine’s palette broader and more colourful. Fourth was not easy to make, Robert was frustrated because the band had deleted his vocal parts before and also the band became more and more restricted to a thematic approach. Therefore it isn’t strange that Hugh Hopper wrote most tracks on Fourth (In the USA the album is named Four or 4), except Teeth (Ratledge) and Fletcher’s Blemish (Dean). As written before it wasn’t a happy record. Immediate after making it Wyatt left (actually he was thrown out) Soft Machine to form his own band Matching Mole (coming from the French “translation” (a pun) Machine Môle, meaning Soft Machine…). To confirm the chosen jazz-path a few jazzy guests are present on the record: Roy Babbington (double bass), Mark Charig (cornet), Nick Evans (trombone), Jimmy Hastings (flute, clarinet) and Alan Skidmore (tenorsax). Both Evans and Charig had worked with an extended Machine (together with Lyn Dobson) before.
Teeth, a longer track with lots of turns and themes, opens with double bass and a free sax intro after which the theme is played. Roy’s double bass leads the number further, to be picked up by Dean, who throws in a furious sax solo which is taken over by Mike’s Lowrey organ and halfway leads into a complete new, more modest theme with organ solo. Kings and Queens has a beautiful intro, played by saxello and supported by a trombone, mixed in the back. Wyatt plays free patterns all around this one. Fletcher’s Blemish is a real Dean composition, more into the freer aspects of jazz. That makes the old album side one a rather Dean sounded dominated side. Side two (or track 4-7) is completely devoted to Virtually, a Hopper composition. It has a kind of laid back feel throughout, but with enough space for everyone to stand out. Remarkable is Babbington’s double bass part, which is very present in the beginning. The clarinet introduces the theme which is until now mostly a group approach. In part two Mike and Elton play around the second theme, supported by Hopper’s bass patterns. Halfway the musical style has become more fluid and gives Dean another opportunity to give a solo. Part three is loaded with sound experiments, fuzz bass, wah wah piano and tapes played backwards. Slowly it turns into a repetitive theme, gradually slowing down to end the composition. Great!
For long, Fourth has been one of my more favourite Soft Machine record, mostly because of the special mood this album has. Not always easy, but an album you could really delve into.

Paul Lemmens © 2012/2014