Friday, May 14, 2010

409. 461 Ocean Boulevard- Clapton flies solo.

Album: 461 Ocean Boulevard.
Artist: Eric Clapton.
Year: 1974
Genre: Rock.

  1. Motherless Children
  2. Give Me Strength
  3. Willie and the Hand Jive
  4. Get Ready
  5. I Shot the Sheriff
  6. I Can't Hold Out
  7. Please Be With Me
  8. Let It Grow
  9. Steady Rollin' Man
  10. Mainline Florida

Can I just take a moment to wax lyrical about how cool the world is at the moment? The answer is yes I can because it's my blog and the coolness of the world is officially measured at "way"- it's way cool. The reason I say this is because of CD deluxe editions. If you were going to pay for this album on Vinyl all those years ago you would have got 10 tracks spread across two sides of something larger than a dinner plate. Today you can purchase a deluxe CD which (arguably) sounds better thanks to it's remastering. In addition to those ten original tracks (which you can now hear all the way through without having to get up to turn it over) you can also enjoy 5 bonus songs that didn't make the original cut. And as if that wasn't enough you can experience an entirely new CD full of live music taken from concerts performed not long after the album was released. I'm sorry but if that isn't way cool then I don't know what is.

While I love it when people go to a lot of effort to remaster and repackage old albums it has worked against 461 Ocean Boulevard. It's not that the remastering is bad or the packaging dreadful it's just that the 10 original tracks actually suffer when compared to the bonus disc.

I've talked before on these pages about how I prefer live music to studio stuff. Eric Clapton is an excellent case in point and I Shot the Sheriff is as good an example as you'll find anywhere. Clapton's cover of the Bob Marley classic was a huge hit when it was released and went to number one. It was a lot of people's first encounter with Reggae and it's a fair bet that thanks to regular radio play over the years more people have heard Clapton's version than the original. Personally I can't stand it. I'm no fan of reggae to begin with but white-reggae even less so. If I'm going to have to listen to Marley (and frankly I'd rather not) I'd prefer to hear him sing than someone else rip him off. The version of I Shot the Sheriff that appears on the original 461 Ocean Boulevard is not something I'd ever choose to listen to. But I quite enjoy the live version on the bonus disc. The reason is basically because when played live Clapton treated it less like a reggae song and more like a blues exploration which means it lets him do what he does best: stretch out with his guitar.

Clapton is a master guitarist who is admired and adored by generations of young players (whose opinions mean nothing) and by BB King (who knows a thing or two about blues playing). As a vocalist he's average at best, as a song writer he's just okay, as a substance abuser he was world class but as a guitarist he has few equals, especially when he sets out to play the blues. Sadly on 461 Ocean Boulevard he seems to be trying to reinvent himself as a pop singer or a reggae singer or a songwriter or something. He lets his guitar take a back seat all too often and instead tries to move the focus onto the songs (which are fairly forgettable) or his vocals which aren't much to write home about either. The result is an album that's essentially frustrating, you know the songs could be much better if Clapton was allowed to cut lose on his fender strat but instead he's focusing on his vocal stylings. It's like Scarlet Johnson wearing a low cut top but pointing at her feet- the artist can try and emphasize whatever they like but you know what you came for.

I'd love to know what Clapton's old bandmates in the Yardbirds think of a song like Let it Grow which is several steps beyond awful. Eric famously walked out on the Yardbirds after they tried to move their blues based-repertoire in a more pop-oriented direction. Clapton was a blues purist who didn't' want to play anything that hadn't been written by a dead black guy. A few years later and he was releasing solo albums with Let it Grow which is the sort of Middle-of-the-road dross which would have any self-respecting blues man doing pirouettes in his grave. It sounds a lot like one of the more tedious tracks from a seventies stage musical only it's sung in Clapton's creepy-whisper voice which sounds like the ghost of a dead pervert. There is even an attempt at a Layla-like coda which is just repetitive and annoying. Let it Grow appears on the bonus live disc in a version which is infinitely superior to the studio cut. Eric's voice has more of the familiar growl that it would develop in later years (his vocals definitely improved with age) and in between the time it took to release the album and put on the tour he seemed to have discovered some oomph in the song's structure. It's still not a patch on anything put out by Cream, Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominoes, The Bluesbreakers or the much neglected Yardbirds but it's streets ahead of the CD.

My advice would be to purchase the deluxe version of this album and then use the original CD as a coaster while you enjoy the bonus live disc. The versions of 461 Ocean Boulevard songs are far superior to the studio release and the presence of some of Clapton's older songs (Badge, Can't find my way home and Layla) for example only serve to emphasise how disappointing the original album actually is.

Influenced by: Heroin.
Influenced: Rock stars off Heroin.

Highlight: The bonus disc.
Lowlight: The studio disc.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "call this one "Classic Bodge" because it defines the sound of Bodge.

Now you know..."

-No, no really I don't. I haven't a clue what you're talking about.

So do you drop in to 461 Ocean boulevard on a regularly basis or is it an address best avoided? Let me know below.

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