Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Eric Clapton

  • Eric Clapton [Polydor, 1970] B
  • History of Eric Clapton [Atco, 1972] B
  • Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert [RSO, 1973] C-
  • 461 Ocean Boulevard [RSO, 1974] A
  • There's One in Every Crowd [RSO, 1975] C+
  • E.C. Was Here [RSO, 1975] B-
  • No Reason to Cry [RSO, 1976] B-
  • Slowhand [RSO, 1977] C+
  • Backless [RSO, 1979] B-
  • Just One Night [RSO, 1980] B+
  • Money and Cigarettes [Duck/Warner Bros., 1983] B+
  • Behind the Sun [Duck, 1985] C-
  • Journeyman [Duck/Reprise, 1989] B-
  • 24 Nights [Reprise, 1991] Neither
  • Unplugged [Reprise, 1992] B-
  • From the Cradle [Reprise, 1994] **
  • Pilgrim [Reprise, 1998] C+
  • Me and Mr. Johnson [Reprise, 2004] Dud

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Eric Clapton [Polydor, 1970]
One great r&b instrumental ("Slunky"), two tracks that deserve classic status ("After Midnight" and "Let It Rain"), two that don't ("Bottle of Red Wine" and "Blues Power"), and well-played filler. I blame a conceptual error, rather than Clapton's uncertain singing, for the overall thinness. As a sideman, Clapton slipped into producer Delaney Bramlett's downhome bliss as easily as he did into Cream's blues dreamscape, but as a solo artist he can't simulate Delaney's optimism. I mean, a party song called "Blues Power" from a man with a hellhound on his trail? B

History of Eric Clapton [Atco, 1972]
A number of worthwhile oddities on this stopgap pseudo-document: the uptempo, high-echo, Spector-produced single of "Tell the Truth," a studio jam on the same tune, and King Curtis's "Teasin'," featuring God on novelty guitar. Also some less worthwhile oddities, a lot of Cream and Delaney & Bonnie, and not enough showpieces from the Yardbirds and Bluesbreakers days (those are on other labels, which means they cost money). Yet it's gone top ten. Must be a lot of collectors out there. Or maybe just people who believe in God. B

Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert [RSO, 1973]
Featuring organizer Pete Townshend, affable Ronnie Wood, former bandmate Steve Winwood of Traffic, Jim Capaldi of Traffic, Rebop of Traffic, and how could I forget Jimmy Karstein? Also featuring six soggy songs that have been crisp in the past. C-

461 Ocean Boulevard [RSO, 1974]
By opening the first side with "Motherless Children" and closing it with "I Shot the Sheriff," Clapton puts the rural repose of his laid-back-with-Leon music into a context of deprivation and conflict, adding bite to soft-spoken professions of need and faith that might otherwise smell faintly of the most rural of laid-back commodities, bullshit. And his honesty has its reward: better sex. The casual assurance you can hear now in his singing goes with the hip-twitching syncopation he brings to Robert Johnson's "Steady Rolling Man" and Elmore James's "I Can't Hold Out," and though the covers are what make this record memorable it's on "Get Ready," written and sung with Yvonne Elliman, that his voice takes on a mellow, seductive intimacy he's never come close to before. A

There's One in Every Crowd [RSO, 1975]
This is the J.J. Cale record we were afraid Eric was going to make (ho-hum) when he signed up those Leon Russell sidemen (yawn) for 461 Ocean Boulevard. Only for J.J. (think I'll turn in) the nice tunes come naturally. C+

E.C. Was Here [RSO, 1975]
From Clapton a live album is welcome these days. At the very least it guarantees that his head was higher than his feet at time of recording, and live albums being what they are it also assures plenty of what he does best, which is play guitar. But though Clapton's choked lyricism can be exciting, he does have trouble breaking loose, and because George Terry's sound is so like his own their colloquies don't spark much. Besides, this is basically a blues album--four of the six cuts fit the category with varying degrees of authenticity--and I expect a blues album to be sung as well as played. B-

No Reason to Cry [RSO, 1976]
A well-made, rather likable rock and roll LP that shows more pride and joy than the standard El Lay studio product, probably because the characters here assembled don't do this kind of thing all that much. The words are trite but the singing is eloquent and the instrumental signature an almost irresistible pleasure. But what does it all mean? B-

Slowhand [RSO, 1977]
As MOR singles go, "Lay Down Sally" is a relief--at least it has some soul. But the album leaves the juiciest solos to George Terry, and where four years ago Eric was turning into a singer--in the manner of Pete Townshend--now he sounds like he's blown his voice. Doing what, I wonder. C+

Backless [RSO, 1979]
Whatever Eric isn't anymore--guitar genius, secret auteur, humanitarian, God--he's certainly king of the Tulsa sound, and here he contributes three new sleepy-time classics. All are listed on the cover sticker and none were written by Bob Dylan. One more and this would be creditable. B-

Just One Night [RSO, 1980]
Who needs another live double? A master guitarist whose studio albums have been cited for unfair trade practices by Sominex, that's who. All your AM and FM faves plus, served hot, raw, or both. B+

Money and Cigarettes [Duck/Warner Bros., 1983]
The groove is as inspired as this crack band of blues 'n' boogie pros can make it--when Cooder, Lee, Dunn & Hawkins play their hearts out, mere professionalism (also mere boogie) gets left behind, and Clapton's guitar hasn't rung so crisp and clear since Layla. The drawback is that the music is the message, everything Clapton boasts he ("still") has "left to say" on "Ain't Going Down," his only notable new song. If blues power were my idea of God, I might feel a transcendent presence even so. But blues power in itself isn't even my idea of a foxhole. B+

Behind the Sun [Duck, 1985]
Eric was never the nonsinger he was wont to declare himself in retiring moments, but his vocal gift only made sense when laidback was commercial. On this album he isn't retiring--he's looking for work. So he resorts to none other than Phil Collins, once his Brit-rock opposite but now just a fellow "survivor" (and how). For several reasons, including market fashion, Collins mixes the drums very high. This induces Eric to, um, project in accordance with market fashion. Sad. And also bad. C-

Journeyman [Duck/Reprise, 1989]
What did you expect him to call it--Hack? Layla and 461 Ocean Boulevard were clearly flukes: he has no record-making knack. So he farms out the songs, sings them competently enough, and marks them with his guitar. Which sounds kind of like Mark Knopfler's. B-

24 Nights [Reprise, 1991] Neither

Unplugged [Reprise, 1992]
Laid-back doesn't equal dead--461 Ocean Boulevard is laid-back. What's wrong with this stopgap is it means to be inoffensive. Relegating Clapton-the-electric-guitarist to the mists of memory and capturing Clapton-the-pop-vocalist in a staid mood only an adrenaline junkie could confuse with the sly somnolence of "I Shot the Sherriff" and "Willie and the Hand Jive," it turns "Layla" into a whispery greeting card. No wonder the pop star he most closely resembles on television is James Galway. B-

From the Cradle [Reprise, 1994]
cf. Son Seals, Otis Rush: plays better, sings worse ("Motherless Child," "Blues Before Sunrise") **

Pilgrim [Reprise, 1998]
Actually, Lord, there's been a misunderstanding. Remember when we said it was OK for You to sing? What we meant was . . . well, first we just wanted You to get rid of Jack Bruce. Then it was more like, Don't be shy, Sonny Boy Williamson didn't have that much range either. But never, never, never did we say, You have the right if George Benson does. Or, You could be the next Phil Collins. Or, Guitars are for sound effects anyway. Really, God. That wasn't the idea at all. C+

Me and Mr. Johnson [Reprise, 2004] Dud

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