Friday, October 17, 2008

Cream – Disraeli Gears

This second album propelled Cream into the mainstream and cemented Eric Clapton’s reputation as a guitar god, while also placing bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker in the pantheon of extraordinary rhythm masters. Yes, everyone is familiar with this monster record, but what the heck, I just got it on CD, so here it is…

“Strange Brew” starts the record with a cool, bluesy groove and a funny story. Apparently the band had considered recording “Lawdy Mama” and ran through a couple of takes. They did one considerably slower and the producer, Felix Papallardi and engineer Tom Dowd dug the sound, convinced Eric to put different lyrics (written by Felix and his wife Gail Collins) and melody and a new lead guitar part and came up with this, their first single from the record! Apparently, not everyone in the band was thrilled with this, but I think it is a great tune!

Of course, the gargantuan hit from this is “Sunshine of Your Love” with its classic guitar lick that a billion bands have tried to master throughout the years. Great power chords in the chorus, good melody and plenty of intense strength. Tom Dowd claims that he came up with the idea for Baker’s somewhat off-time drum pattern because a more standard beat wasn’t working. This was one of the many Jack Bruce and Pete Brown (with some help from Eric) master works.

A much mellower outing is Papallardi’s “World of Pain”, which is fine though not exceptional, but does feature Eric’s first recorded use of the wah-wah pedal. His playing continues to be stellar here and the dual-tracked solo is quite nice.

Another Bruce/Brown psych pop tune is “Dance the Night Away”. Unusual in Eric’s use of a picked 12 string guitar for the main backing and Eric & Jack’s harmonies throughout. Clapton’s solo work is quite interesting on this moody piece – it almost sounds like backwards tracking, though it is not. This truly sets the pace of the tune – great arrangement all the way through.

A complete throw away is Baker’s “Blue Condition”. This is pretty much unlistenable except as a joke – Ginger’s vocals are horrendous and the dirge-like pace is just sad. This was the end of side one and I’m sure that many, many people skipped over this to get to the other side.

After that bit of nonsense, the band redeems itself with one of its best, “Tales of Brave Ulysses”. Again, Eric makes good use of his new wah-wah in creating waves of sound to mimic the sea that he sings about. He is not as imaginative as Hendrix in this use, but highlighting the pedal in this song surely sent wah-wah sales soaring! Nice use of dynamics throughout and a good, head-banging beat sucks you in as Eric and the band all play great fills.

Showcasing Clapton’s self-described “woman tone” is the fabulous “SWLABR” (“she was like a bearded rainbow”). High-energy pseudo-blues with a damn catchy melody – one of my faves! (One of my bands even covered this, which led to another band doing it later!)

One of their most atmospheric numbers is “We’re Going Wrong”. Simple chords highlight Baker’s excellent drum pattern and Jack’s lovely voice, telling a tale of love gone sour. Eric gives a tortured sounding, but restrained solo which complements the feel of the song beautifully. This is probably their most heartfelt tune that they ever did.

Eric wanted a traditional blues, so there is the inclusion of “Outside Woman Blues”. Not super exciting, but still a good arrangement and, of course, great playing by all. Good overdub work by Clapton, playing off of his own guitar lines.

“Take it Back” is blues-based, but with plenty of energy and the overdubbed “audience” sounds give it a party feel. Bruce shows that he can truly play the harp and the band sounds like they’re having fun with this simple composition. Good stuff!

The record closes with another insanely silly take of a traditional ditty, “Mother’s Lament”. This sounds like they were drunk down at the local pub and had this “great” idea. I guess it was funny if you were stoned, but pretty absurd in the context of a blues/psych album.

But despite the occasional flaw, Disraeli Gears (the title is a play on words on a piece of a racing bicycle – showing just how weird they could be in the quest for an in joke) truly is a classic and something that every fan of r’n’r guitar work should own!