Wednesday, January 24, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1096: Eric Clapton

When I told my coworker I was going to be reviewing an Eric Clapton album tonight she said “I love him!” but then she added in a conspiratorial whisper and added “but I just can’t stand that acoustic remake of “Layla”.

I feel the same way about that atrocity – let that song rock out the way the Gods of Rock intended! Fortunately, while there are plenty of retakes on classics on this next record, there are no such abominations among them.

Disc 1096 is… 461 Ocean Boulevard
Artist: Eric Clapton

Year of Release: 1974

What’s up with the Cover? A very hippy looking Eric Clapton hangs out in front of what looks like an LA flophouse. However, looks can be deceiving and after a bit of research I found out that 461 Ocean Boulevard is in Golden Beach, near Miami. So it is a Miami flophouse.

How I Came To Know It: For a long time I had an Eric Clapton greatest hits package on cassette. When I moved to CD I didn’t just want greatest hits so I bought a couple of his more famous studio albums instead that had some songs I recognized and this was one of those.

How It Stacks Up:  I have two of Eric Clapton’s studio albums. I used to own 1989’s
 “Journeyman” on tape as well, but I sold it for beer money back when I used to do that sort of thing. Come to think of it, that’s probably what happened to the Greatest Hits package as well. Anyway, of the two albums I do have, “461 Ocean Boulevard” is the lesser record.

Ratings: 3 stars

On “461 Ocean Boulevard” Eric Clapton mellows out, man, and it isn’t just that slow sensuous way he plays the guitar either. This record just feels relaxed all over.

Part of me wanted a bit more of Clapton’s rock side to come out, but he seems content to groove in the blues, throwing in just a hint of boogie rock when he’s feeling dangerous. I have a feeling that middle aged dudes thought this record was ultra-cool in 1974 and as a middle-aged dude 40+ years later it still sounds cool, while also feeling very much of its time.

The record opens with “Motherless Children” which is a pretty rocked out version of the Blind Willie Johnson blues track. Clapton drops some serious boogie into the song and adds guitar accents artfully throughout. This song has been recorded by a lot of people over the years but I think the Clapton version is my favourite, and the rich tone of the riff just feels right. Clapton’s vocals are underwhelming but they are really little more than a rhythm section substitute here. The guitar is the star of the song.

Willie and the Hand Jive” is a Johnny Otis song from the late fifties that Clapton turns into a picking master class, as he meanders his way on and off the beat but never loses the groove. I love this version, but I will always prefer the balls-out rock and roll version that George Thorogood recorded eleven years later. It had grit whereas Clapton’s has groove. Both are good, though.

Most of these songs are covers of classic blues or rock numbers that Clapton does a solid job making his own. That said, his version of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” is a slightly pale imitation of the original. Clapton’s guitar playing excellence saves him once again but I sometimes found myself wishing it didn’t have to.

The best original track on the record is “Let It Grow” where Clapton embraces his inner hippy. This song soars with a.m. radio glory and it feels like yacht rock before yacht rock was silly (which was pretty much immediately). This is a song for growin’ a beard, swimmin’ in the nude and – of course – makin’ love.

“Let it grow, let it grow,
Let it blossom, let it flow
In the sun, the rain, the snow,
Love is lovely, let it grow”

Sure it is flakey, but if encouraging people to let love grow is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Despite my admiration for this album, and in particular for Clapton’s skills on the guitar, I have to admit I almost never put it on. When I do want to hear Clapton I tend to default to “Slowhand”. “461 Ocean Boulevard” is recorded a bit low and is a bit too mellow, and there is only so much sagacious appreciation I can have for Clapton’s playing before I’m ready for a bit more meat in my meal.

So I’m going to send this record to a home that will appreciate it more than mine. I still like this record but being the dilettante musical playboy that I am, these days I’m just not that into it.

Best tracks: Motherless Children, Willie and the Hand Jive, Let It Grow

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