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The Soft Machine - Backwards CD (album) cover

BACKWARDS

The Soft Machine

 

Canterbury Scene

3.39 | 22 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
3 stars 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.

Sean Trane | 3/5 |

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