Friday, October 3, 2014

Traffic 8: When The Eagle Flies

Of all the Traffic albums, When The Eagle Flies has always been the most obscure. Coming as it did at the end of their tenure, and with no real standout track, it’s often been overlooked. It’s a depressing, even spooky album, partially due to the line drawings, reminiscent of children’s illustrator Garth Williams. And as with every one of their other releases of the decade, there was another lineup, stripped to a quartet. Jim Capaldi went back to the drumkit, turning in an excellent performance, while band newcomer Rosko Gee took over on bass. Reebop plays a few of his congas, but wouldn’t make the cover art.
It gets off to a snappy start with “Something New”, which sounds a lot bigger than it is thanks to all the overdubbed guitars and horns. Lest we get too comfortable, “Dream Gerrard” is eleven minutes of noodling under a repeated sax riff, Mellotron off a King Crimson record, and some very primitive synth bloops and bleeps. The extended jazzy end is quite Crim-like as well. The bloops continue on “Graveyard People”, which probably made for a nice effect in 1974, but now only distract from the funk.
If anyone knows any song from this album, it’s probably “Walking In The Wind”, which fades in on obvious effects to a catchy bass and piano duo; therefore sounding more like the band we’d come to know. “Memories Of A Rock N’ Rolla” is another lament of the traveling lifestyle, tackled better by other songs. This one lopes along glumly until shifting abruptly into an upbeat groove reminiscent of Chicago. It’s been said that the basic tracks of the album were recorded live on a short tour before being embellished in the studio; this is most apparent on “Love”, which meanders amid questions about the key before finding its way to an actual tune and disappearing. Finally, the agitated title track doubles the piano with the organ for an ecological lament, mixing in what sounds like radio transmission and fading away.
When The Eagle Flies didn’t make much of a splash, and the band—or what was left of it this time—split soon after. Capaldi and Winwood would collaborate on each other’s albums, Stevie eventually having more success than anyone else. Chris Wood died in 1983, not long after Reebop. There would be another Traffic album in 1994, but we shan’t speak of that other to say that it was Traffic in name only. Various compilations over the years attempted to distill the band to a single set, Smiling Phases and Gold arguably the most successful, being double CDs, but aren’t identical, and skew either side of early and late. Their legacy shouldn’t end here, but their constantly evolving nature always made them seem fleeting anyway.

Traffic When The Eagle Flies (1974)—

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