Thursday, September 30, 2010

Clapton's New Album: "Clapton"

Eric Clapton and I go way back, at least for me- he was already twenty years into his career when I discovered him. I remember being in a friend’s car back in the mid 80’s and one of her older brothers had left Clapton’s “Slowhand” tape in the cassette player. For some reason I was captivated and immediately purchased my very own “Slowhand” tape, which I proceeded to listen to through the end of high school and into college to the point that I actually wore it out and had to buy another. I can only imagine how pleased my parents must have been that their Catholic high school daughter was obsessed with an album whose biggest hit was the song “Cocaine” (no worries, I just liked the song).

At some point in the late 80’s or early 90’s, Eric and I had a falling out. I think he started to be less concerned with what type of music I wanted to hear from him and focused more on the type of music he wanted to play. I just wasn’t as enamored with his songs anymore, nor was I too happy with his increased attention to The Blues. I like blues to be preceded by “rhythm &”. In the event it’s a stand-alone blues song, I prefer it “lite” with cream and sugar, so I don’t really know it’s the blues. Eric, however, serves the blues black, so to speak, and hardcore. It just wasn’t working out for us anymore, so we parted ways with no hard feelings. However, when I noticed recently that he was putting out a new album, cleverly entitled “Clapton” (his 41st album and a mere 45 years after beginning his musical career), I was happy to give him a try again.

Much to my surprise, I discovered after I bought the album that the songs on it were new for him, but they were not actually new songs at all, and I started to regret that I didn’t go with Lil Wayne this week. The last three albums I have reviewed have all been remakes or covers, and in only one of those three instances did I know that going in. On this album, Clapton pays tribute to the songs he enjoyed listening to as a boy at his grandparents’ house in jolly old Surrey, England. Some background on this is in order.

Clapton’s mother had him when she was just 16 and before you could get a t.v. gig being a Teen Mom. He was therefore raised by his grandparents, believing they were his parents and his mother was his sister (do I hear a Lifetime movie in the works?). Imagine young Eric in his grandparents’/parents’ house listening to their music. Now imagine that his grandparents had absolutely no preference as to what musical genre they listened to and you will have a glimpse of the music on this album. On his website, Eric expresses how excited he is about how this album turned out, but I’m worried that not everyone will share his enthusiasm. My assessment is that the album is having a severe identity crisis, although that also means there might be something for everyone.

There are 15 songs on “Clapton”, including the bonus track on the digital version. Five of those songs can pretty easily be classified as heavy blues, so right off the bat I wasn’t crazy about those: “Travellin’ Alone”, “Judgment Day”, “Can’t Hold Out Much Longer”, “Run Back to Your Side” (only new song) and “I Was Fooled” (bonus track). Who knew the blues were so popular in England in the 50’s?

After that, I had more trouble with the genres. There are a couple that sound sort of “big band”, although I honestly think they sound like circus music and are kind of silly (“My Very Good Friend the Milkman” and “When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful”). There are a couple more songs that sound like “swing” music but still have a somewhat contemporary sound to them, and those are okay (“That’s No Way to Get Along” and “Everything Will Be Alright”).

My favorite songs on the album are the ones that I can only describe as “sweet” and have a timeless feel to them- a couple of them I never would have guessed are old if I wasn’t paying close attention to the lyrics, and even then it’s not easy to tell. They remind me of a really simple old fashioned time. The ones I liked best are “River Runs Deep”, “How Deep is the Ocean” and “Autumn Leaves” (not sure why two are about water depth). That leaves a couple songs that I had a hard time putting in any type of bucket. “Rockin’ Chair” is charming but has an “older” feel to it, and “Diamonds From the Rain” is slow and kind of sad.

Normally I wouldn’t talk about each song, but this is such a weird mix that I couldn’t at all generalize. If you are an Eric Clapton fan, just be warned that this isn’t an ordinary album from him. If you like his more bluesy side, you’ll probably like those five songs. If you like his more mainstream songs, you’ll probably like the ones that I think would be most appealing to the “adult contemporary” set, which are the ones I liked.

Phew- I think it would have been easier to write about Lil Wayne after all. Of course, he also has a story to tell since his album is coming out as he’s still incarcerated, but that’s a story for another day.

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