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Eric Clapton - Topic

Journeyman Play

For most of the '80s, Eric Clapton seemed rather lost, uncertain of whether he should return to his blues roots or pander to AOR radio. By the mid-'80s, he appeared to have made the decision to revamp himself as a glossy mainstream rocker, working with synthesizers and drum machines. Instead of expanding his audience, it only reduced it. Then came the career retrospective Crossroads, which helped revitalize his career, not only commercially, but also creatively, as Journeyman -- the first album he recorded after the success of Crossroads -- proved. Although Journeyman still suffers from an overly slick production, Clapton sounds more convincing than he has since the early '70s. Not only is his guitar playing muscular and forceful, his singing is soulful and gritty. Furthermore, the songwriting is consistently strong, alternating between fine mainstream rock originals ("Pretending") and covers ("Before You Accuse Me," "Hound Dog"). Like any of Clapton's best albums, there is no grandstanding to be found on Journeyman -- it's simply a laid-back and thoroughly engaging display of Clapton's virtuosity. On the whole, it's the best studio album he's released since Slowhand. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

August Play

Eric Clapton adopted a new, tougher, hard R&B approach on August, employing a stripped-down band featuring keyboard player Greg Phillinganes, bassist Nathan East, and drummer/producer Phil Collins, plus, on several tracks, a horn section and, on a couple of tracks, backup vocals by Tina Turner, and performing songs written by old Motown hand Lamont Dozier, among others. The excellent, but incongruous, leadoff track, however, was "It's in the Way That You Use It," which Clapton and Robbie Robertson had written for Robertson's score to the film The Color of Money. Elsewhere, Clapton sang and played fiercely on songs like "Tearing Us Apart," "Run," and "Miss You," all of which earned AOR radio play. That radio support may have helped the album to achieve gold status in less than six months, Clapton's best commercial showing since 1981's Another Ticket, despite the album's failure to generate a hit single. The title commemorates the birth in August 1986 of Clapton's son Conor. [The CD version of the album contains the bonus track "Grand Illusion."] ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Behind the Sun Play

Although he is universally considered among the most important figures in rock & roll, Eric Clapton has not had consistent success in translating his stature into record sales, partially because he is, in essence, a great blues guitarist rather than a great pop/rock singer/songwriter. Clapton's career was in decline in the early '80s when he switched record labels from Polydor to Warner Bros., and his debut Warner album, Money and Cigarettes, became his first to fall below gold record status in more than six years. As a result, Warner looked critically at his follow-up, the Phil Collins-produced Behind the Sun, in the fall of 1984 and rejected the first version submitted, insisting that he record several new songs written by Jerry Williams, backed by Los Angeles session players under the auspices of company producers Lenny Waronker and Ted Templeman. Warner then emphasized the new tracks, releasing two of them, "Forever Man" (which reached the Top 40) and "See What Love Can Do," as singles. The resulting album, not surprisingly, was somewhat schizophrenic. It was hard to believe that Warner could have heard the leadoff track, "She's Waiting," and not realized its potential to be a hit single, though the company may have been correct in thinking that the album as a whole was competent without being very exciting. The added tracks were not bad (and, in fact, Clapton later would add session players Nathan East and Greg Phillinganes to his band), but they were not the sure-fire hits they were supposed to be. As usual, there was some effective guitar soloing (notably on "Same Old Blues"), but despite the tinkering, Behind the Sun was not among Clapton's best -- although it went gold after nearly two years in release. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Money and Cigarettes Play

Money and Cigarettes marked several important turning points in Eric Clapton's recording career. It was his debut release on his own Duck imprint within Warner Bros.' Reprise Records subsidiary. It was also the first album he made after coming to terms with his drinking problem by giving up alcohol. Newly focused and having written a batch of new songs, he became dissatisfied with his longtime band and fired them, with the exception of second guitarist Albert Lee. In their place, he hired session pros like Stax Records veteran bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn and Muscle Shoals drummer Roger Hawkins, also bringing in guest guitarist Ry Cooder. His new songs reflected on his changed condition, with "Ain't Going Down," a thinly veiled musical rewrite of the Jimi Hendrix arrangement of "All Along the Watchtower," serving as a statement of purpose that declared, "I've still got something left to say." "The Shape You're In" was a criticism of his wife for her alcoholism that concluded, "I'm just telling you baby 'cause I've been there myself," while the lengthy acoustic ballad "Pretty Girl" and "Man in Love" reaffirmed his feelings for her. The album's single was the relatively slight pop tune "I've Got a Rock n' Roll Heart," but Clapton's many blues fans must have been most pleased with the covers of Sleepy John Estes' "Everybody Oughta Make a Change" (significantly placed as the album's leadoff track), Albert King's "Crosscut Saw," and Johnny Otis' "Crazy Country Hop." For all the changes and the high-powered sidemen, though, Money and Cigarettes ended up being just an average effort from Clapton, which his audience seems to have sensed since, despite the Top 20 placement for the single, it became his first album in more than six years to miss the Top Ten and fail to go gold. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Another Ticket Play

Now, here's a star-crossed album. Polydor rejected the first version of it, produced by Glyn Johns, and Eric Clapton was forced to cut it all over again with Tom Dowd. Then, a few dates into a U.S. promotional tour coinciding with its release, Clapton collapsed and was found to be near death from ulcers due to his alcoholism. Finally, it turned out to be the final record of his 15-year association with Polydor, which therefore had no reason to promote it. Nevertheless, the album made the Top Ten, went gold, and spawned a Top Ten single in "I Can't Stand It." And the rest of it wasn't too shabby, either. The first and last Clapton studio album to feature his all-British band of the early '80s, it gave considerable prominence to second guitarist Albert Lee and especially to keyboard player/singer Gary Brooker (formerly leader of Procol Harum), and they gave it more of a blues-rock feel than the country-funk brewed up by the Tulsa shuffle crew Clapton had used throughout the 1970s. Best of all, Clapton had taken the time to write some songs -- he's credited on six of the nine selections -- and tunes such as the title track and "I Can't Stand It" held up well. This wasn't great Clapton, but it was good, and it deserved more recognition than conditions allowed it at the time. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Backless Play

Having made his best album since 461 Ocean Boulevard with Slowhand, Eric Clapton followed with Backless, which took the same authoritative, no-nonsense approach. If it wasn't quite the masterpiece, or the sales monster, that Slowhand had been, this probably was because of that 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 recordings. 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, Rovi

Slowhand Play

After the guest-star-drenched No Reason to Cry failed to make much of an impact commercially, Eric Clapton returned to using his own band for Slowhand. The difference is substantial -- where No Reason to Cry struggled hard to find the right tone, Slowhand opens with the relaxed, bluesy shuffle of J.J. Cale's "Cocaine" and sustains it throughout the course of the album. Alternating between straight blues ("Mean Old Frisco"), country ("Lay Down Sally"), mainstream rock ("Cocaine," "The Core"), and pop ("Wonderful Tonight"), Slowhand doesn't sound schizophrenic because of the band's grasp of the material. This is laid-back virtuosity -- although Clapton and his band are never flashy, their playing is masterful and assured. That assurance and the album's eclectic material make Slowhand rank with 461 Ocean Boulevard as Eric Clapton's best albums. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

No Reason to Cry Play

When he gave a speech inducting the Band into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Eric Clapton said that after he heard their debut album, Music from Big Pink, he wanted to join the group, the fact that they already had a guitarist in Robbie Robertson notwithstanding. In the winter of 1975-1976, when he cut No Reason to Cry at the Band's Shangri-La Studio in Malibu, CA, he came as close as he ever would to realizing that desire. Clapton is a musical chameleon; though some of No Reason to Cry is identifiable as the kind of pop/rock Clapton had been making since the start of his solo career (the best of it being "Hello Old Friend," which became his first Top 40 single in two years), the most memorable music on the album occurs when Clapton is collaborating with members of the Band and other guests. He duets with Band bassist Rick Danko on Danko's "All Our Past Times," and with Bob Dylan on Dylan's "Sign Language," as Robertson's distinctive lead guitar is heard rather than Clapton's. As a result, the album is a good purchase for fans of Bob Dylan and the Band, but not necessarily for those of Eric Clapton. [The CD reissue adds a bonus track, "Last Night," which is a traditional 12-bar blues song credited to Clapton.] ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

There's One in Every Crowd Play

Having stayed out of the recording studio for four years prior to making his comeback album, 461 Ocean Boulevard, Eric Clapton returned to recording only a few months later to make its follow-up, There's One in Every Crowd. Perhaps be hadn't had time to write or gather sufficient material to make a similarly effective album, since the result is a scatter-shot mixture of styles, leading off with two gospel tunes, one a reggae version of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." Clapton and his second guitarist, George Terry, had written a sequel to "I Shot The Sheriff," "Don't Blame Me," which Clapton sang in his best impersonation of Bob Marley's voice. The other originals included "Opposites," whose lyrics were just that -- day, night, life, death, etc. The album's best track, naturally, was the blues cover, Clapton's take on Elmore James's "The Sky Is Crying." But There's One in Every Crowd was a disappointing follow-up to 461 Ocean Boulevard, and fans let Clapton know it: While the former album had topped the charts and gone gold, the latter didn't even make the Top 10. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

461 Ocean Boulevard Play

461 Ocean Boulevard is Eric Clapton's second studio solo album, arriving after his side project of Derek and the Dominos and a long struggle with heroin addiction. Although there are some new reggae influences, the album doesn't sound all that different from the rock, pop, blues, country, and R&B amalgam of Eric Clapton. However, 461 Ocean Boulevard is a tighter, more focused outing that enables Clapton to stretch out instrumentally. Furthermore, the pop concessions on the album -- the sleek production, the concise running times -- don't detract from the rootsy origins of the material, whether it's Johnny Otis' "Willie and the Hand Jive," the traditional blues "Motherless Children," Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff," or Clapton's emotional original "Let It Grow." With its relaxed, friendly atmosphere and strong bluesy roots, 461 Ocean Boulevard set the template for Clapton's '70s albums. Though he tried hard to make an album exactly like it, he never quite managed to replicate its charms. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Eric Clapton Play

Eric Clapton's eponymous solo debut was recorded after he completed a tour with Delaney & Bonnie. Clapton used the core of the duo's backing band and co-wrote the majority of the songs with Delaney Bramlett -- accordingly, Eric Clapton sounds more laid-back and straightforward than any of the guitarist's previous recordings. There are still elements of blues and rock & roll, but they're hidden beneath layers of gospel, R&B, country, and pop flourishes. And the pop element of the record is the strongest of the album's many elements -- "Blues Power" isn't a blues song and only "Let It Rain," the album's closer, features extended solos. Throughout the album, Clapton turns out concise solos that de-emphasize his status as guitar god, even when they display astonishing musicality and technique. That is both a good and a bad thing -- it's encouraging to hear him grow and become a more fully rounded musician, but too often the album needs the spark that some long guitar solos would have given it. In short, it needs a little more of Clapton's personality. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
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