SOFT MACHINE — Backwards

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SOFT MACHINE - Backwards cover
2.50 | 5 ratings | 3 reviews
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Live album · 2002


01. Facelift (May,1970) (Hugh Hopper) - 18:39
02. Moon In June (May,1970) (Robert Wyatt) - 7:38
03. Esther's Nose Job (May,1970) (Mike Ratledge) - 12:55
04. Facelift (November,1969) (Hugh Hopper) - 8:32
05. Hibou Anemone And Bear (November,1969) (Mike Ratledge, Robert Wyatt) - 4:00
06. Moon In June (demo, October,1968, mid 1969) (Robert Wyatt) - 20:35

Total Time: 72:47


- Robert Wyatt - drums, vocals, all instruments on the first half of track 06, keyboards on the second half of track 06
- Mike Ratledge - electric piano, organ
- Hugh Hopper - bass
- Elton Dean - alto saxophone, saxello (01-05)
- Nick Evans - trombone (04,05)
- Marc Charig - cornet (04,05)
- Lyn Dobson - soprano & tenor saxophoneses (04,05)

About this release

Cuneiform Records ‎– rune 170 (US)

Live recordings from 1968-1970

Thanks to snobb for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

Live album 'Backwards' is yet one more archival release from Soft Machine's "golden age". As usual, this Cuneiform archival album contains some interesting material, but this time around the sound quality is not always good or even acceptable.

The first three songs (in total 40 minutes of music) are well known compositions coming from a group concert recorded in May 1970 (soon after the release of their classic album "Third"). Of these three songs, "Facelift" and "Moon In June" are both included on 'Third', but "Esther's Nose Job" is not. In fact, all three compositions were recorded many times in different versions. The main difference is that on "Backwards" they are played by Soft Machine as a quartet (different from the studio versions on "Third", where a reeds section and a violinist participated in the recordings as well). As a result, the music on here is not as complex and is more rock-oriented. It is interesting to compare the different versions, but in all cases, the studio versions are much better.

Secondly, two of the songs on 'Backwards' come from November 1969 (one of them is the same "Facelift" again). Musically these tunes present Soft Machine in their best ever line-up - the classic quartet plus Keith Tippett's reeds section on support ( Marc Charig, Nick Evans, and Lyn Dobson). These compositions sound great musically, but the sound quality is below average.

The album's final composition is a demo version of "Moon In June", the main interest here is in the first half of the song which was recorded in late 1968 by Robert Wyatt who played all the instruments himself (initially it was his solo demo) which was then combined with the second half of the same song, recorded by the Soft Machine (quartet) in 1969.

All in all this is an interesting release for collectors and heavy Soft Machine fans, but hardly a "must have" album for all others.

Members reviews

Sean Trane
Another archives release from the excellent Cuneiform label, but this one should be reserved to completists only, because of the nature of the three different provenance (and relevance) of the music presented on it. Indeed, the main half (in length) of this compilation comes from a gig played soon after their Third album’s release, when the band was freshly reconceived as a quartet, featuring their classic line-up. Relying mostly on their main two live centerpiece (Facelift and Nose Job), you’ll find roughly the same kind of material on the Prom’s (dating from one month later) posthumous archives album, or in other recordings, but it’s fairly interesting to compare how their tracks and set list of May 70 changed over a few months, as evidenced by the track list on the Grides release in Oct 70 and March 71. Soooo while the set is excellent in itself, it won’t be essential listening, if you already own a few live recording from that often-recorded quartet line-up.

The second third of the compilation is probably the most interesting, but also the shortest, and is a rare witness of the short-lived period of the band when it was expanded to a septet, including a four-man brass section. Indeed, with Mark Charig, Nick Evans, Lynn Dobson and Elton Dean freshly integrated into the band, but the first two would leave very quickly, while the third would stay on for a while more - and there is a superb Live In Paris filmed concert available as a quintet. But here, we have one of only three short testimony of the septet and indeed it might be interesting to regroup all three remaining testimonies in one disc of that brief and intriguing period of the band’s career. These two tracks are highly interesting, with a major brass enhancement, but you’d better brace yourself, because the (abridged) version of Facelift and the Anemone track can produce a WTF reaction. It’s clear that the Keith Tippett Group horn section (and also partly present on two Crimson albums) adds a little “je ne sais quoi” to the band’s soundscape, but in some ways, it feels maybe a tad too “brass rock” (ala Chicago) at times. Anyway, these two tracks (just over 12-mins) are the main attraction of this archives album.

The last third is probably the stranger artifact ion exhibition, as it comes from a test-pressing acetate of the Machine classic Moon In June, but it’s actually amazing that it ever made on CD. While the sound quality is sometimes iffy, it generally doesn’t degenerate into Voiceprint-type of releases of this band. The interesting side of this lone track is the form of the band when it was recorded. The liner notes explain the trio format for this rendition of the Third album classic track and how Wyatt found himself on almost 75% of the instruments of the 20-mins session. While the demo track holds much interest by its very nature, the surprise might come from the very psychey ambiance, one that reminds more of Volume 2 than the famed Third release. Definitely completist compilation album, Backwards would certainly not be a good introduction to the Machine neophyte, but unconditional fans will probably love it.

A bit of a mixed bag from Cuneiform this time around; whilst the excellent Noisette live album captures a full live set, this is more odds and sods ranging from the Third period back to earlier times for the group, incorporating Robert Wyatt's early demo of Moon In June. Individually, many of the archive scraps collected here are of unquestionable interest to Soft Machine fans, but collectively the album doesn't flow nearly so well as the Softs' studio releases or live sets - or even others of Cuneiform's archival series. It's all good fun, but ultimately not an album you're going to chase up unless you're already a committed fan - in which case you probably have all this material in better renditions already. Strictly for collectors only.

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