Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Swamp Thing

*****

JOHN FOGERTY
The Long Road Home
Fantasy

'60s rocker shows just a sampling of his great work

Aging artists always want to prove they haven't lost a step. Mortality is a bitch, and while some old-timers consciously manufacture product and/or repeat themselves, many squeeze that juice, trying just as hard in their maturity as they ever did when inspiration was on their side. In this struggle, John Fogerty enjoys major advantages. His minimalist, roots-rock aesthetic hasn't changed a whit since Creedence Clearwater Revival released five Top 10 albums in 1969 and 1970. His solo bands have all been better at Creedence than Creedence was. And his gravelly mid-range and spiritual high end retain considerable puissance.

So this return to Fantasy Records, which was sold off by nemesis Saul Zaentz just when Warner Bros. was noticing the red on Fogerty's balance sheet, is one of the rare career overviews with a shot at justifying itself, and it does. Spanning 36 years with its live 2005 versions of four chestnuts, it plays as one succession of timeless sure-shots. The decisive moment comes early, when the title track of Fogerty's last well-regarded album, 1985's Centerfield, leads easily from "Bad Moon Rising" to "Who'll Stop the Rain," two of his best-loved titles this side of "Proud Mary" (reserved as a closer, with a live "Fortunate Son" the encore). "Centerfield" is boyishly hopeful for a 39-year-old--the earlier songs surrounding it are much wearier. But its up mood adds an essential note to Fogerty's rock & roll purism.

With Creedence's ballroom-ready jams on "Susie-Q" and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" omitted to make room for more originals, nothing essential (which doesn't mean nothing terrific) is missing. Fogerty is tough, compassionate, plain-spoken and to the point--11 tracks run under 2:45. Only nigglers will notice how non-rambunctious 1997's "Rambunctious Boy" is, or cringe at the toothlessness of 2004's antiwar "Déjà Vu (All Over Again)." Maybe he has lost a few steps. But he conceals it with the cunning of a man who has long made honesty his profession.

Blender, Dec. 2005