Friday, July 5, 2024

Archive Review: Eric Clapton's The Cream of Clapton (1995)

Eric Clapton's The Cream of Clapton
These days, Eric Clapton is considered one of rock’s elder statesmen, a blues-oriented artist working in a narrow musical vein. Many of his current fans have only fleeting memories of his early career, and those that do are saddened by what he has become: a commercial shill getting by on reputation and mediocrity ... even if he is selling more records than ever.

At one time, however, Clapton made great music. By the time that he formed Cream with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker and released their 1966 debut, Fresh Cream, he was already considered rock’s premiere guitarist. Stints with the Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers had earned him a reputation as a superstar axeman; by the time that Cream’s second album, Disraeli Gears, spawned the hit “Sunshine of Your Love,” the trio sat alone atop the rock world.

Post-Cream projects such as the Blind Faith collaboration and his 1970 solo debut carried Clapton’s reputation until the release, later in 1970, of the landmark Derek and the Dominos’ album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Spurred on by a superstar band that included Duane Allman, Clapton reached his artistic and musical peak with the creation of classic songs like “Layla” and “Bell Bottom Blues” from that album. Solo albums would follow throughout the 1970s, artistically sporadic affairs that yielded a handful of hit singles in songs like “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Cocaine,” and “Wonderful Tonight.” By the time that the ‘80s dawned, Clapton had lost his artistic edge to heroin addiction, becoming a painful musical anachronism until his rediscovery in the current decade.

If all you know of Eric Clapton is beer commercials and his recent CD releases, allow me to suggest The Cream of Clapton. Kicking off with his seminal work with Cream in the mid-‘60s and carrying through late 1970s/early ‘80s solo discs like Backless and Another Ticket, this nineteen song collection showcases “Slowhand” Clapton at his very best. All of the aforementioned cuts are included here, as is Blind Faith’s “Presence of the Lord” and solo cuts like “Blues Power,” “Let It Rain,” and his haunting rendition of Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” It’s not a perfect collection of Clapton – I could have easily filled up a second disc with favorites – but it’s a wonderful sampler of a great talent at his artistic peak. If you want more, you’ll have to wait for the upcoming A&M/Polydor release of a “best of Cream” collection. Along with The Cream of Clapton, the two discs will stand as a monument to one of the icons of rock ‘n roll. (A&M Chronicles/Polydor Records, released 1995)      

Review originally published by R.A.D! (Review and Discussion of Rock ‘n’ Roll) zine

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