This recent archival release from Cuneiform contains six tracks recorded at different sessions between 1968 and 1970 by one of the most important progressive rock bands of the early 1970's, the Soft Machine. Those new to the band will find truly inspired performances here, and long-time listeners will truly revel in the sonic proportions of these recordings.
The classic line-up of the band is represented here, which was Mike Ratledge on keyboards, Robert Wyatt on drums, Hugh Hopper on bass, and Elton Dean on sax. A few of the tracks have additional reed and horn players, but the bulk of the material is covered by the gentleman mentioned above. Two of the best songs from the bands early repertoire are included here in rousing fashion, "Facelift" and "Moon in June." "Facelift" is an uncomprimising interpretation of progressive rock complexity meeting the experimentalism of jazz fusion. Manic drum fills from Wyatt are challenged by distorted organ leads from Ratledge, who plays like a man possessed and at times sounds like a guitarist. Hugh Hopper, ever the constant jazz professional, lays down a rock solid foundation on his bass, and sax player Dean offers up many squonking solos and intricate melodies. At close to twenty minutes long, "Facelift" is truly epic in every sense. Two versions of "Moon in June" are included; a stripped down version from the same session as "Facelift" previously mentioned, and a never before heard demo version from 1968-1969, which clocks in at over twenty minutes. There is an extended organ break from Ratledge mid-way through this track that is just breathtaking in its recklessness and sense of improvisation. Truly an underrated player!
Two other strong tracks, both with a heavy jazz vibe, "Esther's Nose Job" and the rocking "Hibou Anemone and Bear" are included here, and round out the package nicely. For a band that never seems to get their due for helping shape progressive rock in its infancy, Backwards goes a long way in providing a positive testimony to the importance of the Soft Machine.