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The Soft Machine - Land Of Cockayne CD (album) cover

LAND OF COCKAYNE

The Soft Machine

 

Canterbury Scene

3.00 | 121 ratings

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Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
3 stars It's always wonderful accidently rediscovering an album in your collection that you simply forgot you had, perhaps coming across it again after finding it was put back in the wrong place what feels like a lifetime ago! Case in point for me, Soft Machine's final work (with the exception of endless compilations and archive releases), `Land of Cockayne', a record that often causes much derision from die-hard fans of the band. Looking back now, this was the first Soft Machine related album I owned, at a time right at the start of my prog collecting when I had no patience or the frame of mind for anything jazz/fusion related. Coming back to it now, with an appreciation and better knowledge of the various Soft Machine incarnations, I find while it's a perfectly worthy and distinctive release from the group, full of restrained but tasteful playing by a bunch of consumate professional musicians (now including members from bands such as If, Nucleus, Cream) that you can only admire. It may be a world away from the ragged psych early days, the sonically violating noisy exploratory middle years or the driving fusion after that, and yes, it's smooth, pleasant and often a little too squeeky-clean, but there are still moments scattered throughout where the band really simmers, and at the very least, there's almost nothing that's actually terrible on the entire LP.

The opener `Over 'N Above' is actually one of the poorest moments, a repetitive and slightly bland AOR fusion-lite plodder that's at least twice as long as it should be. There's some silly orchestral strings over part of it that sound like it's wandered in from an Alan Parsons Project album, but I suppose the sighing wordless harmonies give it a slightly recognizable Canterbury sound. Tinkering programmed loops and raindrop-like synths patter `Lotus Groves', sounding more like something off a later Ashra disc with an almost New-Age influence, but there's some nice (if slight) fretless bass from Jack Bruce murmurring away drowsily in the background, and drifting flute gives it a mysterious old-world sound. `Isle of the Blessed' is a dramatic cinematic orchestration that grows more impressive as it progresses, eventually taking on a sweeping romantic quality. `Panoramania' is the first real workout on the disc, a sax fuelled mid-tempo jog with a tasty extended Rhodes electric piano solo spot from John Taylor in the middle (that just becomes a little politely unhinged in a few momens as nicely as possible!), droning harmonies, gentle synths/orchestration, and John Marshall's peppy drum-work - pretty tasty stuff. The first side closes with a brief electronic and sax lament interlude.

The perky uptempo jazz/fusion of `Hot-Biscuit Slim' has enough punchy busy drumming, driving spirited sax-work and a sprinkling of glistening electric piano to bring some catchy and foot-tapping grooves. `(Black) Velvet Mountain doesn't really go anywhere, just a soaring powerful orchestral melody over a Pink Floyd-like solid drumbeat and a nicely played but somewhat unthrilling lead electric guitar run from Alan Holdsworth. He makes a better impression on the twisting guitar of `Sly Monkey', a little more playful and energetic number with infectious sax melodies and gulping bass. All the players get little moments to shine in this compact little arrangement. Sadly the album closes on a wretched piano and sax interlude `A Lot of What You Fancy' that is so cosy it practically comes with an oversized knitted Christmas sweater from your Mum to keep to warm in winter. Thanks a lot, Mum.

Depending on your preferred version of the band, this album may be as far removed from what your interpretation of Soft Machine should be as possible. I actually find it a perfect background listen to enjoy, especially if I'm not in the mood for their earlier blistering feedback dirges and honking hell! `Land of Cockayne' may not be greatest album to properly end on for the Soft Machine, but it's varied and eclectic, and all the musicians involved here delivered a respectable and perfectly enjoyable listen with their dignity intact.

Three and a half stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 3/5 |

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