1. Aubade
  2. The Tale of Taliesin
  3. Ban-Ban Caliban
  4. Song of Aeolus
  5. Out of Season
  6. Second Bundle
  7. Kayoo
  8. The Camden Tandem 
  9. Nexus
10. One over the Eight
11. Etika

Recorded: January through March, 1976 at EMI Abbey Road Studios, London
Released: June 1976

Roy Babbington: bass
John Etheridge: guitars
John Marshall: drums, percussion
Alan Wakeman: soprano & tenor saxes
Karl Jenkins: keyboards
Mike Ratledge: synthesizer on Ban-Ban Caliban and Song of Aeolus

the Italian lp-version (1978)

Mike Ratledge: not soft anymore

Alan-the other John

karl jenkins

john marshall

roy babbington with six string bass
Softs is the first record without any member of the original Soft Machine in the line –up. After ten years of Soft Machine, Mike Ratledge had enough of playing in the band and he didn’t see a future with him in it. Since the Soft Machine had grown into a band with numerous changes in personal, his idea was that its name was more important than its musicians. So he left, giving away the name to who was in the band at that time. Ratledge left during recordings for a new album, that’s why he isn’t credited on the cover as band-member, but still plays on two tracks. Always being one of the essential members and composers, his leaving stirred things up. Karl was the main composer already, but now he became the band-leader as well. He didn’t want to play winds anymore, so it was obvious they had to look out for a new woodwind player. They found one in Rick Wakeman’s (yes, from Yes) cousin: Alan; he played soprano- en tenor saxophones. But soon after the record he left, because he didn’t fit in this band. The other new member was John Etheridge. Allan Holdsworth had left the band to join Tony Williams Lifetime. He just couldn’t resist that offer. Because he knew he couldn’t leave Soft Machine just like that, he suggested John Etheridge, another fine guitar player would take over his stool. As usual, all replacements, except the shock of Allan Holdsworth leaving the group, went smoothly. That cannot be said about the situation of the group in general: there was no money and they had to deal with an increasing popularity. Although the band’s sound got new fuel with Allan's furious guitar playing on their previous record Bundles, most critics didn't like Soft Machine's new route; if they ever liked the band after Volume Two. Karl, more a mainstream than an extreme composer, had conducted the band in a more and more structured direction, more ‘classic’ than jazz-rock or jazz territory that didn't satisfy everyone. That goes for the album Softs as well, since most parts are easy to follow and give us little surprises. The only striking track might be ‘Ban-Ban Caliban’ with its Caribbean flavour. It is striking because Mike is playing his synthesizer on it. The same goes for ‘Song of Aeolos’. Maybe for that reason alone these two tracks are more Soft Machine then all others on Softs. The record starts with ‘Aubade’; a soprano sax/ acoustic guitar-duet leading to the movie-like intro (Jenkins does it again) of ‘Tale of Taliesin’. Halfway the track the band shifts into another gear with furious guitar playing by Etheridge, who, with his fast approach, plays in the footsteps of Holdsworth. Lucky for us, the track is calmed down in the end. ‘Ban-Ban’ makes you dance and feel happy. Great track. ‘Aeolus’ starts with wind and repetitive layers and awaits the emotional guitar part with in the background drums with echo all over it. It’s like “Walking down the street in the rain, into the night where love rules”. How is that for a Soft Machine record? ‘Out of Season’ is an easy part in typical Jenkins style without much soloing. ‘Second Bundle’ of course refers to the former record, Bundles. It's fluid, minimalistic and leads into John's percussion/drum solo, which is not that surprising anymore after two other ones. This time he builds it up towards a frenzy and powerful duet with the other John in the ‘Camden Tandem’. Good but not outstanding. Time for intermission folks with ‘Nexus’ and here is that funky sound again. ‘One over the Eight’(how original) is a dance fusion track with tenor sax styling’s, but halfway they seem to remember ‘hey we are Soft Machine’ and thus guitar-John takes over and the music gets a little bit wilder. Softs ends for Softs music; the album ends with a tranquil and acoustic guitar track ‘Etika’. Looking back on it: Softs is a nice record, lesser Soft Machine than we are used too, but on the other hand, it has some fine music, even more than I thought it had when I first listened to it in 1976.

paul lemmens © 2010/2014