Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cream 2: Disraeli Gears

Like any hungry band, Cream gigged a lot, and managed to build up enough material for another album. Disraeli Gears is arguably their most popular album, as it features many of their most famous songs—any of which are likely playing on the radio as you read this.
Eric Clapton was getting the courage to sing more, as heard on “Strange Brew”, but even more prominently in duet with Jack Bruce on “Sunshine Of Your Love”, one of the most iconic riffs ever. But a more important influence on the band would be engineer Felix Pappalardi, who managed to contribute songs (and eventually instruments) to the mix, starting with “World Of Pain”, the motif of which would be borrowed 27 years later by Elvis Costello, of all people. “Dance The Night Away” is dominated by two 12-string guitars, played in a style Jimmy Page must have heard while with the Yardbirds. The nearly plodding “Blue Condition” marks the vocal debut of Ginger Baker, whose pitchless delivery reminds one of Syd Barrett, though his pronunciation “through” as “froo” is endearing.
Jack’s voice dominates side two, which starts with the one-two punch of “Tales Of Brave Ulysses” and “SWLABR”. They’re two of the funniest songs in rock, and we’re not so sure that was intentional. Part of it comes from Bruce’s near-histrionic delivery (“comin' to me with that soulful look on your FA-A-A-A-CE”; “her NAME is AF-ro-DIE-TEE”,), the rest from the lyrics. They’re also very catchy, musically, “Ulysses” sporting a chord sequence that will re-appear, and soon. The “up” feel is soon enveloped in the mist that is “We’re Going Wrong”. It’s a very moody song, played with such tension and mystery that when the blues comes back for “Outside Woman Blues”, it’s like coming up for air. (It’s credited as an arrangement of somebody else’s song, which we’d love to hear to confirm whether Eric added “whilst” himself—making it the consummate British blues recording.) Despite some excellent guitar, “Take It Back” suffers from distracting harmonica and party sounds, but its off-kilter effect makes a logical transition to “Mother’s Lament”, a silly traditional song sung in thick Cockney three-part harmony.
Some would say Disraeli Gears is their best album; as ever, one’s enjoyment will be tempered by how sick they are of those radio staples. The interplay between the three is incredible, and entirely in synch, with nobody dominating. (The drums are still mixed to one channel, which was the style at the time.) Even if you never need to hear the hits again, there’s enough buried in between to grab your attention. (The eventual deluxe expansion offered the album in mono and stereo, but shortchanged fans with demos and BBC sessions that had already been released, the only rarity being “Blue Condition” sung by Clapton, in both mono and stereo.)

Cream Disraeli Gears (1967)—4
2004 Deluxe Edition: same as 1967, plus 29 extra tracks

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