I've just finished reading the book by Graham Bennett and I have to say that I don't entirely agree with the rather dithyrambic opinions expressed in WR.
Don't get me wrong, I think it's a very worthy effort, obviously written by a real fan who really cares, and it gives a very good overview of Britain at the time in question, with lots of social background. But I can't help feeling that the reason why there is SO MUCH background is that, despite his love of the band, he doesn't actually have very much to say about THE MUSIC, except that it was "weird" and "ground-breaking".
For any musicians among us, this is a great pity, as I suspect that the lasting legacy of Soft Machine can only be there, even though it wasn't necessarily the only cause of their initial impact. Unfortunately, despite his enthusiasm, Mr. Bennett remains an outsider from this point of view, as evidenced, for me, by his poor opinion of Soft Machine 4: obviously, tastes may (and will) differ, but his comments that it is "poorly produced" and uninteresting musically, because Robert doesn't sing, seem very debatable to me: I consider it by far the best-recorded and best-produced of the early albums (thank you, George) and, after all these years, one of the most intriguing. The fascinating deconstruction at work in "Virtually", originally a much shorter and "tamer" tune, the unexpected inflections of "Teeth" and the breaking waves of "Kings and Queens" lead me to place it on a par with "Third", musically speaking, and well ahead of Third in terms of production, although that's hardly difficult, as it's one of the muddiest sounds on any studio record that I own.
My point is not to slag off Mr. Bennett. Like I said, it's a worthy book that fills a significant gap, and very much worth buying, but I think our reactions are sometimes affected by our delight at finding out that, at last, Soft Machine is getting some of the recognition we know it deserves (I mean, who isn't sick of saying "well actually my favourite band is one you've probably never heard of"?).
So I'm looking forward to Aymeric's book because I know that he WILL be dealing with the musical side and, once the anecdotes have settled, that's where the magic really lies.