Way back in March, I dared to utter pure sacrilege in these pages. Yup - I dared to say that a Cream album was not worth listening to - specifically, their debut effort Fresh Cream. Much to my surprise, the hate mail was not overwhelming.
The trio of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker has always been called a band of three virtuosos slugging it out for the spotlight. On their first album, it just seemed like very few of the pieces were in place, and the end result was a musical free-for-all.
Fortunately, their follow-up album Disraeli Gears is a major step in the right direction, though it's still not perfect. But it does lead the group into the realm of superstardom, particularly with the song "Sunshine Of Your Love". Incredibly overplayed over the years, when taken in the context of this album, the song does gain a new set of legs. (In fact, this is something I've noticed about many songs that classic rock stations have bludgeoned to death.)
Even from the opening track "Strange Brew," Disraeli Gears will have you scratching your head and wondering, "Is this the same band that did 'I Feel Free'?" The answer is "yes," only they're now that much better, having learned each other's ideosyncracies - part of the learning process of all bands. Now that Bruce's bass and vocals know how to merge with Clapton's guitar and vocals, and how Baker's drum work fits into the whole process, Cream comes into their own on Disraeli Gears.
Of the three well-known tracks from this album, "Swlabr" is the hidden gem. (Does anyone have a clue what in the hell that title is supposed to mean? E.C., you reading? You wanna explain it to me?) More intricate rhythms and interplay between the instruments, as well as a solid vocal delivery from Bruce (which is sometimes as nonsensical as the title) make this one a real charmer. I don't want to knock "Strange Brew," however; again, in the environment of this album, the song comes into its own.
However, the heart of Disraeli Gears isn't in the songs we all know, it's in the songs that never made it to radio. Tracks like "Dance The Night Away," "Blue Condition" and "Outside Woman Blues" show how much this band has grown and improved since their first album, and it is truly more fun to listen to and experience. (I would challenge program directors from classic rock stations to take one or two of these tracks and throw them on for your listeners; they are strong enough to possibly rekindle an interest in Cream.)
Still, there are some stumbling points on Disraeli Gears, though they're nowhere near as major as the ones on Fresh Cream. "Tales Of Brave Ulysses" has never been a favorite of mine, and is the one song whose inclusion on the greatest-hits disc Strange Brew: The Very Best Of Cream I question. And while I recognize that "Mother's Lament" is meant to be a throw-away track cut for fun, it could have easily been left off this disc. Still, points like these are minor.
Disraeli Gears is the type of album that quickly restored my faith in Cream's supergroup status. But the band had merely dipped their toes in the pool of fame; the big hits like "Badge" and "White Room" still were ahead of them. But for now, Disraeli Gears is the best place for you to start your education on Cream. Who knows, even the "old-timers" might just learn something from this one.
|Chris, SWLABR stands for She Was Like A Bearded Rainbow.|