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Backless
Eric Clapton

RSO 3039
Released: November 1978
Chart Peak: #8
Weeks Charted: 37
Certified Platinum: 11/14/78

Eric ClaptonIn its way, Backless is a seductive record, if you're attracted to the interplay of Clapton's dolorous voice and Marcy Levy's raspy backup vocals, George Terry's slide guitar and Glyn Johns' pristine production. It's disheartening only if you're still looking for a Clapton album with a hint of power and fire he brought to his best work -- from Bluesbreakers to Layla. Me, I made my peace with great expectations a while back. I like the new LP, but it wouldn't make any difference if I didn't.

There's nothing calamitous on it. Oh, the the two Bob Dylan songs must have been dredged up from the Sub-Basement Tapes, but "Walk Out in the Rain" contains a line that may be Dylan's definitive statement for this epoch: "If you don't want my love, it's a pity." And J.J. Cale's "I'll Make Love to You Anytime" must be the most dispassionate statement of those sentiments ever written. But even the "Lay Down Sally" remakes ("Watch Out for Lucy," "Promises," "Golden Ring") are redeemed, most often by Terry's stinging slide work. Clapton records are still a guitar fan's delight, only as often as not, it isn't Clapton's guitar that incites the listener.

There are times when Eric Clapton and his Tulsa compatriots sound like a Midwest/British version of the Band. This is noticeable immediately on "If I Don't Be There by Morning," the album's second Dylan item and its Big Mumble. It comes through in the rolling accordion notes of "Golden Ring" and on "Tulsa Time," the only attempt Backless makes to rock out.

Eric Clapton - Backless
Original album advertising art.
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But Clapton almost never sounds like the Clapton of legend. He comes closest, naturally, on "Early in the Morning," a traditional blues all too obviously intended as a piece of filler on side two. For all of you still holding out for something bigger (or better), I can only recommend the immortal words of Howlin' Wolf:

I asked her for water
She brought me gasoline
That's the terriblest water
That I ever seen.

Slowhand knows what I mean.

- Dave Marsh, Rolling Stone, 12-28-78.

Bonus Reviews!

The redoubtable guitarist rocks out a bit more on this album than on his previous Slowhand, a number two album which produced a big single in "Lay Down Sally." CIapton's searing guitar is upfront as he is backed again by his top-notch band consisting of Dick Sims on keyboards, George Terry on guitar, Carl Radle on bass and Jamie Oldaker on drums. Marcy Levy, who complemented Clapton so well on "Lay Down Sally," has another active role on this album, supplying the tasty vocal contrast. The material here is more riveting and bluesy than Slowhand with its share of Clapton gems. Clapton interprets Dylan's "Walk Out In The Rain," and J.J. Cale's "I'll Make Love To You." Best cuts: "Promises," "Watch Out For Lucy," "Tulsa Time," "Roll It," "If I Don't Be There By Morning."

- Billboard, 1978.

Whatever Eric isn't anymore -- guitar genius, secret auteur, humanitarian, God -- he's certainly king of the Tulsa sound, and here he contributes three new sleepy-time classics. All are listed on the cover sticker and none were written by Bob Dylan. One more and this would be credible. B-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Having made his best album since 461 Ocean Boulevard with Slowhand, Eric Clapton followed with Backless, which took the same authorative, no-nonsense approach. If it wasn't quite the masterpiece, or the sales monster, that Slowhand had been, this probably was because of hat usual Clapton problem -- material. Once again, he returned to those Oklahoma hills for another song from J.J. Cale, but "I'll Make Love to You Anytime" wasn't quite up to "Cocaine" or "After Midnight." Bob Dylan contributed two songs, but you could see why he hadn't saved them for his own album, and Clapton's own writing contributions were mediocre. Clapton did earn a Top Ten hit with Richard Feldman and Roger Linn's understated pop shuffle "Promises," but it was not one of his more memorable songs. Of course, Clapton's blues playing on the lone obligatory blues cut, "Early in the Morning" (presented in its full eight-minute version on the CD reissue), was stellar. (Backless was his last album to feature the backup group that had been with him since 1974.) * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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