Albums of archival material by Soft Machine abound, especially when it comes to the era surrounding the group's Third and Fourth albums (1970-1971). While some of these documents hold interest for casual fans (Virtually and Noisette, both good-sounding live sets), Backwards will appeal only to the die-hard Soft head. Culled here are recordings from three different sources that vary in sound quality from good to poor -- but the fan won't mind considering the historical and sentimental importance of some of these tracks. The CD begins in late May 1970 with 40 minutes of material from a typical set of the quartet lineup (Mike Ratledge, Hugh Hopper, Elton Dean, Robert Wyatt). "Facelift," "Moon in June" (the instrumental section), and "Esther's Nose Job" are all well documented, but these interpretations match in quality any others previously available. Then listeners move backward in time (hence the CD's title) to November 1969 for two excerpts of a rare performance by the short-lived "big-band" lineup that added the brass section of Marc Charig, Nick Evans, and Lyn Dobson -- the first two were part of Keith Tippett's sextet and also appeared on King Crimson's album from the same period. They give "Facelift" a...face-lift. The sound is muddy (especially when it comes to organ and drums) but the horns come through crisp and quite exciting. The CD ends with the demo version of Wyatt's "Moon in June" (the first part Wyatt solo from late 1968 and the second part with the group from mid-1969). The official version on Third is much superior in all aspects, but this ultra-rare item will satisfy the curiosity of the fans.
AllMusic Review by François Couture