After the success of 1977’s Slowhand, Clapton’s fans could be excused for having high expectations with regards to his next album. Whether Backless was underrated or misunderstood is perhaps a moot point. It possessed many of the same sort of elements as its predecessor; namely a J.J. Cale cover; a couple of Bob Dylan numbers; some country-rock a la The Band, along with an obligatory blues workout. So what could go wrong? Well, nothing really. Except that nearly every number is executed in such a drowsy fashion that the listener might find him or herself beginning to nod off on occasion. However don’t get me wrong; this is still a good album, and not so bad as some critics may have you believe.
“Walk Out In the Rain” is the mellow opener, and sets the scene for all else that is about to unfold. The playing is impeccable, as one would expect, but one cannot help but feel that there’s something missing, whether that be energy or inspiration. “Watch Out for Lucy” is a Clapton penned tune, and which sees the band in a more upbeat mode, yet hardly the sort of thing to work up a sweat over, much less perspire over their instruments. Cale’s “I’ll Make Love To You Anytime” is a fine choice, even if it sounds like it could have been the b-side to Clapton’s authoritative interpretation of that other Cale classic “Cocaine”, from Slowhand. Eric plays some nice albeit sleepy wah wah over the main beat, providing impetus to the journey. The ghost of Ocean Boulevard is revisited with “Roll It”, which is essentially nothing more than a lazy bluesy jam although with a high level of structure. Co-written by Clapton and Marcy Levy, the latter gets to belt it out in a white kind of way, though inoffensively I might add, whose voice is perhaps best suited to Eric’s own, at this point, ostensibly conservative approach to the blues. “Tell Me That You Love Me” is another Clapton song, and one which finds him sleepwalking his way through his deepest emotions.
“If I don’t Be There By Morning” sees Eric awake from his slumber, though just barely. For a Dylan composition it’s fairly lacking in inspiration, I must say. Not that anyone is doing a bad job musically. Its one main weakness is that the whole thing has about as much going for it as a car with a flat tire. “Early in the Morning” starts off promisingly, in that late night ‘I got the blues’ feel, where things could go anywhere, while taking the audience with them. Except instead we have a sort of Chicago/London white suburban hybrid, where everything is nicely played yet sanitised with so much musical disinfectant as to render it 99.9 percent safe from real human expression. “Promises” is where Clapton gets all the ingredients right (it was a top ten single in the US), and remains a decent slice of inoffensive country-rock to make the sun shine even though it may be raining outside. And who can argue with that? “Golden Ring” is a narrative which this listener finds hard to connect with, to the extent that I feel like I’m being subjected to a heavy dose of Christian Rock. In other words there’s nothing dangerous or urgent about it. Unlike many of those pre-war blues artists whom he originally sought to connect with. Last track “Tulsa Time” is a case of too little too late in terms of raising the temperature of your living room. The song is really a bit short and nondescript to amount to anything truly memorable, like the album itself.
And so there we have it. Another 41 minutes of innocuous country-rock and half-baked blues excursions where nearly all involved sound as though they’d only just got out of bed and couldn’t be fucked playing anything else, because no-one had the energy to do it any other way. Perhaps the album cover is the greatest giveaway, where Clapton looks as though he may be suffering from a severe case of sciatica, which metaphorically or no, perhaps goes some way to explain the LP’s extreme want of power and vigour. Unlike his previous album, where he still remembered how to turn up the heat, Backless sees Clapton in castration mode, happy to sit back and let be what will be, although in self-reflecting mode. A respectable effort yes, but hardly one of his best.