MATCHING MOLE - Matching Mole (1972) & Little Red Record (1972) [Deluxe Editions, 2012]
Between his departure from the Soft Machine and the proper beginning of his solo career, Robert Wyatt steered Matching Mole, an outfit which bore much similarity to his later work with Soft Machine. Indeed, the name Matching Mole was chosen as a subtle pun on Soft Machine (the sound of the English words "matching mole" are very similar to the French translation of "soft machine," machine molle). However, Matching Mole didn't measure up to either his best Soft Machine work or his best solo outings. Although Wyatt occasionally let his vocal charm and humor shine, in the main Matching Mole was an outlet for the improvisational talents of the band, which often veered from inspiration into dated fusionoid noodling. The first lineup of Matching Mole also included former Caravan member Dave Sinclair on keyboards, Phil Miller on guitar, and Bill MacCormick. Wyatt wrote most of the material on the 1972 self-titled debut. By the follow-up, Little Red Record (also 1972), Sinclair had been replaced by David MacRae, and the group had become a more democratic enterprise, with all the members contributing material more or less equally. Robert Fripp produced the second LP, and Eno guested on synthesizer on one track, though neither celebrity dramatically affected or improved the band's sound. Never destined to be a commercial enterprise, Matching Mole had folded by the end of 1972; Wyatt began his lengthy solo career, and Phil Miller went on to two other Canterbury art rock bands, Hatfield & the North and National Health.
The opening track, "O Caroline," is indicative of Wyatt at his best: art rock with a human face, a playful vocal, and soul. Much of the record is instrumental improvisation, though, with the humor largely confined to the song titles ("Instant Pussy," "Dedicated to Hugh, But You Weren't Listening"). For every nifty passage (the extended melancholy Mellotron solo on "Immediate Curtain," the goofy scat vocals on "Signed Curtain"), there's equal or greater instrumental patter. Some art rock devotees really get behind this album, but it doesn't count among the more enduring statements by the Canterbury crowd.
Released later in the same year as their debut, this 1972 album was the band's last. The punningly titled band (an English pronunciation of the French translation of Robert Wyatt's previous band, Soft Machine) broke up just after it was issued. This outing is a bit more experimental than its predecessor, favoring a range of sonic experiments, such as "Gloria Gloom." This also marked the debut of one of Wyatt's most gorgeous enduring songs, "God Song." Its quiet bearing actually points the way for his classic solo albums that followed a few years later (Rock Bottom and Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard). Produced by Robert Fripp, this album presents the more intellectual and introspective side of the era's British progressive bands. It has aged very well over the decades and is an important chapter in Wyatt's varied career and output.
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