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"Dance myself to nothing, vanish from this place"

Class B

Main Category: Psychedelia
Also applicable: Pop Rock, Rhythm & Blues, Hard Rock, Roots Rock
Starting Period: The Psychedelic Years
Also active in: --------




Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Cream fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Cream fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Oh. Hello there. Just thought I'd do some Cream reviews. I'd done some for the good ol' Prindle site but who am I to rip-off my own reviews? Nah, let me prove my brilliancy and demonstrate to you that I am able to express my opinion in at least two different ways. Actually, there might be some differences, too, as musical growth and development of the individual is a never-ending and completely unpredictable process, but I wouldn't be able to notice them myself. You tell me if my mind has suddenly undergone any serious modifications since that time...

Cream were a good little band that originated a hell of a lot of projects and created a great deal of brilliant musical ideas. What did they do, exactly, for me to rate them above Led Zeppelin? Well, first of all, they plain and simple invented hard rock. Okay, wait, they didn't exactly invent it - The Kinks and the Who have been doing that stuff earlier, and Hendrix did it at the same time, but still - all of these early efforts by these bands were not really treated as significant music. Pete Townshend had been praised as the master of noise, and the usual reaction towards Hendrix was 'wow, that guy sure can do clever things with that guitar of his', but when it came to songwriting, Pete was quickly turning towards pop and Hendrix was stumped. Cream, on the other hand, masterfully used hard riffs and loud, crunchy bass/guitar interplay to incorporate them right at the heart of their music and make them look like essential parts of the song instead of looking like kitsch. In that sense they can be seen as the real fathers of hard rock a la Led Zep or Deep Purple. Or, at least, they are an important link between the music of Kinks/Who and the music of the later long-haired smelly monsters.

Next, Cream were an essential psychedelic band. Disraeli Gears made them certainly the most hip band in Britain - a good deal more far out than the Fab Four, not to mention the weaker efforts of the Stones, the Who and (God forsake!) the 'New Animals'. More cool than Pink Floyd, too - the Pinkers embodied the darker, 'astral/cosmic' side of psychedelia, while Cream were bringing San Francisco onto the shores of the Thames, but a San Francisco with a touch of Britpop and a touch of true guitar heroics, not weak imitations a la Jorma Kaukonen. And Cream, and Cream alone, should be praised for successfully marrying the genre of psycho pop with the blues: as a 'psycho-blues rock' record, Disraeli Gears still stands as a completely unique product in musical history.

They were a superprofessional group, too - nobody but the Who could rival them in 'professionality', but not even the Who could master these twenty-minute jams. Not that I'm a great lover of the famous Cream jams, but I at least respect them: they were innovative as hell at their time, and extremely interesting from a technical point of view. Eric Clapton was at his peak as a guitarist; Jack Bruce is an absolute bass virtuoso, even though his singing voice is only for amateurs; and Ginger Baker brought rock drumming to a new level of professionalism and geniality. If Keith Moon was the soul of rock drumming, Ginger certainly was its mind. Oops - I've just given you the line-up of the band.

As you all probably know, Cream were the first 'supergroup', if we assume the word 'supergroup' to be a single composite word and not the combination 'super group' and have the meaning 'band consisting of several already well-known professional players gathered together from various musical sources'. In the actual case, Clapton came from the Yardbirds and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (see my review of his single album with the latter on the Clapton solo page), and Baker and Bruce came from the notorious Graham Bond Organization, a presumably classy mid-Sixties jazz combo. They were also the first 'power trio' - contending themselves with just one guitarist, like the Who, but not sharing a separate vocalist: rock'n'roll at its most raw and minimalistic. Not that their studio recordings were all stripped down; on the other hand, in order to keep up with the competition, they brought all kinds of little experimental devices and schemes into the studio. Unlike bands like Pink Floyd, though, they always concentrated on making music, not noise (and I stand by my careful separation of the two genres of art), and that's why I really love 'em so. In concert, however, you just had to concentrate on the sheer instrumental virtuosity of every one of the three players - yes, their lengthy jams were terribly self-indulgent in the true sense of the word, but believe me, these guys could allow themselves to be self-indulgent, unlike, say, Lenny Kravitz. That's why I refuse to simply put down their jams as dated and completely pointless: all of them do have a point, and the main problem is whether you have or don't have to take it.

And finally. Do not expect me repeating cliched phrases like 'Cream influenced thousands of groups, and traces of their music can be found in the songs of so-and-so-and-so-and-so...' I hate that 'influences' rubbish. I don't care whether they did influence anybody or not - even if I just said they certainly influenced Led Zep. If Cream's main role in history would be playing music that was to influence many more generations, I wouldn't be listening to them at all. No, Cream's main attraction is the music itself - they wrote quite a solid handful of classic tunes, and even the lesser efforts are quite enjoyable. Could Led Zep or any other hard rock band come up with a song like 'Sunshine Of Your Love' or 'White Room' or 'Dance The Night Away'? No sir, they couldn't! Don't keep on giving out that bullshit about Cream being a group of 'serious historical importance'. What are they - Herman's Hermits, dammit? They get a rating of B from me because they didn't have the time to stick around too long - in fact, they said good-bye right after their third record, but that don't make the music worse, now does it? In fact, for some people it makes the music better.

The megapower of Cream, when torn apart, produced a million billion offshoots, the most important of which are Blind Faith, Eric Clapton's solo career, and (last but not really least) Jack Bruce's solo career - all of them reviewed on respective pages. Who knows, one of these days I might just get around to review all the innumerable projects associated with the name of Ginger Baker... not.



Year Of Release: 1966
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

A jolly good pop album with lots of enjoyable songs, even though the tone is somewhat monotonous.

Best song: SPOONFUL

Track listing: 1) I Feel Free; 2) N. S. U.; 3) Sleepy Time Time; 4) Dreaming; 5) Sweet Wine; 6) Spoonful; 7) Cat's Squirrel; 8) Four Until Late; 9) Rollin' And Tumblin'; 10) I'm So Glad; 11) Toad; 12) The Coffee Song; 13) Wrapping Paper.

The world expected Cream's first release to be something like a hardcore blues album, and in fact that's what they were planning to do, according to Eric - but somehow they changed their minds at the last moment. Probably just in order to tickle the nerves of the audience - but, as it turned out later, it was a fatal (or an ominous?) choice. If you have the latest edition of the CD, you'll probably be astonished by 'Wrapping Paper' which is tacked onto the end. It was their first single, and it's simply a lightweight jazz number driven by Jack's keyboards! Quite a nice jazz number, in fact, with lots of tinkling pianos and great vocals from Bruce that every Bruce sceptic should revert to in order to convince himself that the man could really sing if he wanted to; but nothing could be further from a hardcore blues anthem, and the fans for miles around were hugely disappointed at the time of the single's release.

And the other songs? The other songs are pop! 'N.S.U.' gets a steady beat from Ginger and a cool guitar line from Eric, as well as some resplendent vocal harmonies, but it's just a happy pop song, and a bit primitive at that. So is the equally memorable, but equally kinda childish 'Sweet Wine' written by Ginger Baker together with Bruce's wife (no kidding). I do enjoy it, together with the ridiculous 'bap-pa pa-du-bap-pah' chantings, but sometimes they do get on my nerves. Even some blues and R'n'B originals are transformed into jolly lightweight ditties - the somewhat lesser Clapton-sung 'Four Until Late' and the amusingly groovy 'I'm So Glad' (with some of the most wonderful lyrics ever written) are typical examples. Indeed, the only thing that reminds us these guys can get real gruff are the generic Clapton solos in every song. They're short, though, unlike the live versions, and therefore memorable and tasty. The one on 'Sweet Wine' is my favourite, especially the bizarre contrast of the happy intonations of the main melody and the angry, pulsating guitar licks in the solo. Actually, this could also be turned against them: most of these solos don't really sound as if they belonged to the songs. You get a happy pop section, then - whammo! - they change the key and Eric inserts a completely independent, gruff, scary guitar solo; then - whammo! - they change it back and end the song just like they started it. Such an approach might really seem self-indulgent: it's almost as if Bruce and Clapton worked separately, with Bruce recording the main melody in one corner of the world and Eric practising his guitar playing in another, after which they'd come together and patch their work with little regard for the actual song structures and compatibility. It seems that after listening to the final product, the lads realised it themselves, as Disraeli Gears sounds miles ahead this 'patchy' approach, with most of the solos smoothly fitting in with the main melody; here, though, much too often it sounds like rehearsal time. Not that I really mind: I like the melodies and I like the solos, so I'm simply as happy as can be. The bad thing is you can't program the album so that the solos come solo and the melodies come along untampered with...

Anyway, apart from the hard-hittin' solos, you really won't notice anything bluesy or even 'rocking' about this album. It starts with their first psychedelic single - the harmonic, trippy anthem 'I Feel Free' (a great singalong number, too), and ends in a five-minute Ginger solo number called 'Toad' for some unclear reason. The number which served as the blueprint for thousands of unimaginative aperies by fellow drummers ('Moby Dick', 'Rat Salad', etc.). In general, I'm not a fan of drum solos, but there are certain moments which can intoxicate you - quite seriously so, especially somewhere near the end. Ginger is indeed a fascinating drummer, and, unlike lame imitators like John Bonham or Bill Ward, he has a polished, perfectly smooth and absolutely precise jazz technique. While the lengthy live version on Wheels Of Fire is enough to try the patience of a tortoise, this relatively short version can actually be fun to listen to, at times.

But hey! Smash in the middle comes a cover of Willie Dixon's 'Spoonful', and this is where blues fanatics that have already started to leave the living-room in disappointment suddenly rush back and push out the happy pop lovers. 'Hey', they say, 'this is our stuff, man! Cool guitar tone!' And indeed, the longest number on the record (clocking in at about six thirty) is a great hard-rockin' blues improvisation, where everything works. Well, almost everything. Like I said in the intro paragraph, Bruce's vocals are something special. I'm just not a fan of his yelps and screams - why didn't he bother to sing instead? Did Plant borrow his annoying 'human intonation' from him or what? Aarggh, never mind. He does play some exciting harmonica, and Eric steps in with numerous solo overdubs that almost put to shame everything else he's done on this here album. A definite classic, and a live highlight too, even though it would stretch up to twenty minutes... Other classics include a rip-roarin' version of 'Rollin' And Tumblin' with a great harmonica break. Ever heard hard rock based on harmonica? Guess not. That's what this one is - the tune actually bleeds on my ears after a little while.

Nevertheless, there's still some filler over here - perfectly understandable, as this was the first try, after all - including the above-mentioned 'Four Until Late' (with a horrendously off-key vocal duet between Eric and Jack), the chaotic psycho throwaway 'Dreaming' and the completely unnecessary rendition of the traditional 'Cat's Squirrel'. I couldn't give the record a perfect rating because of these flaws, as well as because of all the 'patchiness', but I guess an eight ain't a completely bad thing too. Overall, this album is just plain fun. You can almost see them rushing everywhere in the studio, turning all the knobs ('let's see, now what does this trick do'), suggesting clever ideas and just having fun, fun, fun. Not quite like it would turn out in the future, but hell, we all have our happy days, and they all must be over someday or other...



Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 14

The best psychedelic album ever. Rich bluesy/psycho guitar and wonderful melodies abound. Buy it NOW.


Track listing: 1) Strange Brew; 2) Sunshine Of Your Love; 3) World Of Pain; 4) Dance The Night Away; 5) Blue Condition; 6) Tales Of Brave Ulysses; 7) Swlabr; 8) We're Going Wrong; 9) Outside Woman Blues; 10) Take It Back; 11) Mother's Lament.

Such a huge lot of classic albums came out in 1967 that I even feel a little scared. I mean, there are probably more records from 1970 or 1971 in my collection, but it's when I glare at my 1967 records that I kinda feel awe for them. Sgt Pepper? Satanic? The Who Sell Out? Surrealistic Pillow? The Doors' first two albums? Aw, man, now these are the cookies. And right towards the end of that year we also get Disraeli Gears to top it off...

Jack's pop inclinations, Eric's blues legacy and the Summer of Love's psychodelic atmosphere meet together on this album to produce eleven classic tracks.Well, ten classic tracks: the eleventh one is just a short vocal ditty called 'Mother's Lament'. It has groovy lyrics but nothing else (in the literal sense - the band members sing accapella and their voices aren't that angelic in the first place) and was probably tacked on to the end because the fellows had nothing else to do. But the other ten tracks can't be beat. This was the peak of Clapton's experimentation in the studio (he was apparently being spurred on by Hendrix), and this, combined with Jack's and Ginger's magnificent technique and Bruce/Brown's skillful songwriting, produces marvelous effects.

The record still sees a couple generic blues numbers, which people often like to complain about. But in this case 'generic' never means 'unlistenable': after all, 'Outside Woman Blues', the track which bores the most listeners, is a huge improvement over the insecure blues-pop of 'Four Until Late'. It's tough, upbeat and really mature even compared to Eric's Bluesbreakers days: notice, for instance, how steadily and untrivially they construct the main riff to the song. But the main innovation of the record, of course, is transforming pure blues into magical, shimmering psycho-blues: 'Strange Brew' is a typical example, with Eric delighting in his newly-found 'woman tone' and Jack switching his clumsy whiny voice for a delicious heavenly falsetto (acid, acid, acid again...) I tell you, this, to me, is a sound far preferrable to even the uncompromised leaden blues of Led Zep as used on, say, 'You Shook Me', simply because it took a lot more intelligence and creativity to produce such a sound: lovely and sweet, but sharp and menacing at the same time, and the surrealistic lyrics, dealing with a dangerous witch who's in love with you, suit the tune one hundred percent. Or why not take 'SWLABR' (which is short for 'She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow', not that it makes any more sense), a song built around a fast'n'furious heavy riff and also featuring the good sides in Jack's voice; note the great change in tone in lines like 'Coming to me in the morning/Leaving me... ALOOONE!', where he changes key so subtly and unexpectedly I'm always taken aback.

The pure psycho numbers, without a direct blues influence, are even more effective, especially 'Dance The Night Away' with Eric's masterful soaring guitars introducing every next chorus. Man, how DOES he do that? He sounds as if he's flying right up there in the air - over our shoulders! And what a sad thing it is that he never milked that rainbow-tinged, heavenly guitar sound again; this is the closest he ever came to shove off the burden of the Earth off his shoulders. And if it's too joyful and light-hearted to you, you're welcome to a darker, almost proto-gothic epic: 'Tales Of Brave Ulysses' the lyrics to which seem to have been the blueprint for ninety-nine percent of Pete Sinfield lyrics, with sirens, sparkling waves, leaden winters and, of course, the tiny purple fishes. HEY! DON'T YOU GO FORGETTING THE TINY PURPLE FISHES! Me, I love tiny purple fishes, though I guess I ain't ever seen one. Maybe that's why I'm so fond of the song, but, more probably, it is due to the ferocious interplay between Bruce's steady bass riff and Eric's multitracked wah-wahs: a true symphony of sound, all thanks to Eric's masterful overdubbing techniques.

On the melancholic side, 'World Of Pain' and (especially) the majestic, deeply depressing 'We're Going Wrong' add a touch of sadness and pessimism to the record - but it's not the realistic terror coldness of Jefferson Airplane, rather a 'cosmic' feeling of sorrow that's moving and majestic at once. Surprisingly, quite a few people out there hate 'We're Going Wrong'! What a shame! This has to be Jack Bruce's stellar hour - he's singing a rather complicated vocal melody, and he sings it quite fine. It's more or less structured like a draggy, repetitive mantra, but Baker's gargantuan drumrolls and Eric's angry guitar tone are anything but mantraic... huh.

The best known song, of course, is 'Sunshine Of Your Love', and it's really less of a psycho number than most of the others: it's one of the first real heavy Brit rock numbers (can you imagine Led Zep without hearing this one?), and it also features the arguably most famous riff in rock'n'roll history (only 'Smoke On The Water' can probably defy its popularity). At least it should certainly be included in the Golden Dozen. I used to hate this song when I was a child and hated all hard rock with a passion, but I grew up and so did my tastes. Which actually means that it isn't a bad song at all. In fact, it's downright great. Damn, this whole album is great. I even recently softened towards Baker's 'Blue Condition', the one track on here I always thought of as fillerish, cuz it's so slow and Baker mumbles under his nose as if he wasn't interested. But now I understand that it's just part of the song's overall charm; it's still not as impressive as the rest, but makes a decent side closer.

Now let me just tell you this - it's Disraeli Gears and no other record that should be considered the real symbol of flower power and all of these things. Have you seen the album cover? Damn aplenty! It's groovy, with all those flowers in every corner and the band with frizzed hair and painted guitars. One of the best cases of album cover/songs immaculately matching each other. Whoever made such an album? Jefferson Airplane? Nah, they were too heavy in acid, so they emphasized the real dark side of it. The Beatles? Nah, they were too light in acid, so they made a couple of Flower Power ditties like 'Lucy In The Sky' and quit. Pink Floyd? They weren't trippy at all, they were cosmic lunatics. Hendrix? Don't make me laugh! No, Disraeli Gears is the album to have if you really want to know what Flower Power was all about. And forget that San Francisco crap like After Bathing At Baxter's! Why don't you go listen to some good music?



Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

A little over the top, what with all those fifteen minute jams and all, but still - similar in tone and mood.

Best song: WHITE ROOM

Track listing: 1) White Room; 2) Sitting On Top Of The World; 3) Passing The Time; 4) As You Said; 5) Pressed Rat And Warthog; 6) Politician; 7) Those Were The Days; 8) Born Under A Bad Sign; 9) Deserted Cities Of The Heart; 10) Crossroads; 11) Spoonful; 12) Traintime; 13) Toad.

Really the last Cream album - all the others were just mementos and archive releases. The idea was to present the group in all the splendour of its artistic and instrumental power, and whether it works or not, I'm not too sure. I warily give the record an 8, but there's really no middle ground: you'll probably either love it to death or hate it until your deathbed. However, in my case this rating really represents the truth, since I'm still formulating an opinion...

The album itself is double, with one disc full of new studio recordings and the other one live. The album cover is similar to the Gears cover, but worse: the fantastic colour brilliancy of that one is reduced to a sloppy greyishness here (at least, that's what it looks like on the CD release: strange enough, the cover as shown in the Fresh Live Cream movie is just as radiant and lush. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that at the time of release the album was also being sold as two separate records - the live one and the studio one, with two different covers). Anyway, the grey colour probably represents the state of the band at the time: tired of endless touring, tired of each other and disappointed of being treated as 'product' providers instead of creative souls. Which is actually justified - manager Robert Stigwood and the record company guys were milking them mercilessly (ain't it a coincidence that the RSO record logo pictures a cow?)

But at least they managed to give out this record. Which is actually quite patchy, to my ears - brilliant psycho anthems and ferocious blues covers share it with some obvious filler. Some of it was probably meant to be experimentative, but it doesn't work. 'As You Said', for instance, is a dreadful listening experience for me; producer Felix Pappalardi messed it up with heavily distorted cellos and it sounds a lot like a couple drunk members of a symphonic orchestra having laid out their instruments for some 'fun'. (It's also an obvious influence on the later Led Zeppelin bastardization 'Friends' which is even worse). This atonal, dissonant stuff should have been left for Captain Beefheart, not for Cream with their traditional approach to melodicity. As for Ginger's 'Pressed Rat And Warthog', while nowhere near as offensive to the ear, it's still just a space filler (more goofy spoken lyrics in the style of 'Blue Condition' from the last record, but significantly less entertaining). These two songs really don't go anywhere: they're loose, definitely uncatchy and don't have any significant hooks (except for nasty ones).

I must say, though, that my attitude towards the mantraic 'Passing The Time', which used to complement my trio of Hate Objects on this record, had definitely changed for the better after several listens. Pappalardi does a good job with his violins on that one, and the steady shift of atmosphere, from the Eastern-influenced intro to the gentle glockenspiel of the childish verses to the all-out rocking fury of the chorus, works perfectly.

And the rest of the songs are mostly phenomenal, quite Disraeli Gears-worthy. The record kicks off with the classic 'White Room' - the typical psycho anthem with absolutely meaningless lyrics but an unforgettable 'feeling' around it. It takes the 'cosmic sorrow' of 'We're Going Wrong', adds the descending riff of 'Tales Of Brave Ulysses' and finishes things off with a fiery Clapton wah-wah solo (and did I ever tell you how much I like Clapton's wah-wah solos? Be sure to check the live version on Fresh Live Cream or Farewell Concert, with an even greater version of this solo). Classic! 'Deserted Cities Of The Heart' is the other highlight, just because it's so very fast and breath-taking and angry and bitter. Why couldn't it become a punk number? Probably only because Clapton is too tasty and skillful for any associations with punk. And Bruce's 'Politician' is built around yet another inventive riff, not to mention the hugely politicized lyrics. Funny how these Cream records are so chock-full of flabbergastingly great riffs, yet neither Clapton's nor Bruce's solo work aren't exactly recognizable for a respectable approach to riffs.

Some of the songs are written by Ginger in collaboration with a Mike Taylor (not to be confused with temporary Rolling Stone Mick Taylor), and it shows, 'cause they include the wretched 'Pressed Rat', as well as the slightly better 'Those Were The Days' which I've never actually liked, but at least it does display some talent. Still, Jack's wife made a much better partner for Ginger. Hear that, Jack? And, finally, the blues covers 'Sittin' On Top Of The World' and 'Born Under A Bad Sign' are nothing spectacular, but quite effective and, once again, far superior to Eric's Bluesbreakers period output. I particularly love Clapton's guitar tone on both of them; he has effected a successful shift from the 'woman tone' to a sharp, brisk and menacing sound which can hardly have anything to do with 'psychedelic' but is nevertheless quite unique and immediately recognizable as 'Claptonesque'.

Now the live disc is what puts such a lot of people off. Sure, it begins with a fire-spitting, wall-rattling version of Robert Johnson's 'Crossroads' which Eric is still performing quite often; his technique, speed and the achieved effect are indeed worth admiration. But do we really need the mind-numbing ten-minute solo on 'Spoonful' (which is quite a tight and solid performance apart from that), or Jack's seven minutes of harmonica improvisation on 'Traintime', or Baker's fifteen-minute drum solo? The critics and the diehard fans say 'yea'. The amateur says 'nope'. I say "pr'aps". What I mean is: I don't really mind these obvious excesses. Technically speaking, these performances are nothing short of spectacular, and watching the show live must have been a really phenomenal experience. They just don't raise any emotion or, hell, any actual feeling. Maybe if you were stoned?.. But that's really not for me to test. On the positive side, I really don't mind putting this live disc on if I want some good background music. It's no dentistry a la Dave Gilmour or Tony McAlpine, and it's no anti-insomnia machine a la Seventies Robert Fripp, at least. It's just a terribly professional but not terribly emotional three-piece (or one-piece in Ginger's solo case) rock monster. Take it as it is and don't blame it. Anyway, I gave this record an 8, so why should I be putting it down?



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10

A nice little 'memento mori', but it really shows the band at its decline.

Best song: BADGE

Track listing: 1) I'm So Glad; 2) Politician; 3) Sitting On Top Of The World; 4) Badge; 5) Doing That Scrapyard Thing; 6) What A Bringdown; 7) Anyone For Tennis.

By that time the group was already officially disbanded, but this album cannot be qualified as an 'archive document': its release was pre-planned and they even wanted to repeat the format of Wheels, but there just wasn't enough studio material, so they agreed on a mini-scheme: one side live, one side studio. Even with that, the studio side is one of the shortest in history - just three middle length songs. (I haven't seen the LP, but I might suggest that the third live cut could have been put on the second side; otherwise, the time balance is really unjustified).

Out of these, 'Badge' is unarguably the best, being co-written by Clapton with George Harrison (who appears on the credits as 'L'Angelo Misterioso' on rhythm guitar): however, it should be pointed out that it's by now much more associated with Clapton's solo career than with Cream: it's long since become a stage favourite, and one can hardly imagine a Clapton live show without him putting it on and having the entire audience chanting the stupid 'love is my badge, love is my badge' refrain which wasn't even present on the original recording: it was later 'ad libbed' by Eric in order to justify the song title. He forgot to edit the nonsensical psychedelic lyrics, though, so the contrast between the improved refrain and lines like 'I told you not to venture out in the park, I told you about the swans that they live in the park' is kinda strange. In any case, this studio version, with 'mystical' guitar overdubs and fabulous harmonies, is superior to any subsequent live ones - although I'd highly recommend the one off Rainbow Concert, where Pete Townshend fabulously 'deconstructs' the rhythm part in his own unique way.

The other two are downers. Jack contributes the childish electric piano disaster 'Doing That Scrapyard Thing' (what thing exactly, Jack?) that hardly measures up even to his solo records which I'm not a terrible fan of: it manages to be somewhat catchy, but at the expense of good taste. The goofball vocal intonations on the third line of each verse make me sick, and he even makes Eric's guitarwork to seem clumsy and obnoxious. As for Ginger's 'What A Bringdown', it really builds on the legacy of 'Pressed Rat And Warthog' which is not a compliment. Then again, on a general level it's still better; there are some fast parts, there's a strange disturbing atmosphere all over the place, there's some catchiness, and it does feature some nice thunderstormy guitarwork near the end, when Eric picks up the wah wah, twists it, distorts it and brews up a real tempest. But only for a few moments.

Plus, the re-issue of the album is somewhat improved since it has 'Anyone For Tennis' - a flop single from 1968 (it was earlier issued at the tail end of some Wheels Of Fire pressings). It's a very nice psycho ditty that came from Eric's hand. He himself hated it, but I find it silly and charming, even though it really doesn't belong to this record. But imagining it as some kind of a 'swan song' for one of the greatest psychedelic bands in existence is pretty easy, and I suppose we should just close our eyes on the chronological misplacing. 'Anyone for tennis, wouldn't that be nice?'

Anyway, amateurs are nevertheless recommended to stick away from this record and let the diehard fans come in and grab it for side A - three more live cuts which add little to the Wheels Of Fire legacy but are at least different. The nine-minute 'I'm So Glad' is rambling but features some great speedy Clapton solos - some of the fastest, in fact, he's ever layed down on record. The slightly shortier 'Politician' features some more great Clapton vibrato solos, some of the most vibrating he's ever layed down on record. And the five-minute 'Sitting On Top Of The World' features... guess what. Actually, the solos on the last one surpass even the studio version, making it probably the second most important live Cream song you have to own after 'Crossroads'. My real complaint here is that the recording engineers should be shot! The sound on Wheels Of Fire was loud, bright and comprehensible; here, everything sounds so muddy you hardly hear Clapton at all - especially on the most crucial moments of 'I'm So Glad'. Bruce, on the other hand, is mixed incredibly high - you'd think the audiences went over to the Fillmore East to hear his bass. Not that it's bad - it's amazing, but you sometimes wonder whether you are really listening to a nine-minute bass solo...

Overall, this is only recommendable for huge fans. I could give it a low seven, if it weren't so blatantly short: but any decent Cream hits collection includes 'Badge', and the amateur can safely sleep without any feelings of remorse that he hasn't heard the others. The studio stuff, good or bad, shows the band as nothing but three solo performers serving as backing groups to each other, just like the Beatles on the White Album; the days of brilliant idea-exchanging are long gone by. (By the way, it is rumoured that during the band's last tour, they hated each other so much they always arrived and departed in separate limousins). Unfortunately, quite unlike the Beatles, all three of the songwriters manage to really suck (do you really think Clapton's the real author for 'Badge'? Okay, so he is, for half of the song. That's no big compliment, either). The album cover is cool, though: as if these three were perfect friends!



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 9

Continuing to milk the dead man? Whatever. 

Best song: N.S.U., but really...

Track listing: 1) N. S. U.; 2) Sleepy Time Time; 3) Sweet Wine; 4) Rollin' And Tumblin'; 5) Lawdy Mama.

This is where the record company people come in in all their might. The band had nothing to do with this record, of course, and they couldn't even control the track selection - or probably just didn't give a damn. Luckily, the tracks turned out to be acceptable - by chance. There's only four of them (which isn't extraordinary, as you might have guessed), plus a fifth novelty piece - 'Lawdy Mama', a studio piece of traditional blues recording which is actually 'Strange Brew' without the 'woman tone' and with different (generic) lyrics. Clapton's and Cream's box sets have a different version with an independent backing track, recorded before they reworked this number into 'Strange Brew', but I'm not rich enough to afford box sets, so cut that. It's interesting, though, to witness the band's working process: a) recording a simple blues tune with a generic melody; b) reworking the melody to a stage where it hardly fits with the lyrics - both atmospherically and musically; c) writing a different vocal melody and different lyrics. That way, we start in Moscow and end up in Los Angeles...

As for the live stuff, there are two shortish tracks and two longish tracks, all to bring pleasure to the diehard fan. The longish tracks are 'N.S.U.' and 'Sweet Wine', but actually it might have been anything else - both of these 'hardened' versions of the original Fresh Cream products predictably incorporate a lengthy solo in the middle that will either keep you adrenalinized or put you to sleep. I actually prefer 'N.S.U.', because it's fast - more or less in the style of 'I'm So Glad' from Goodbye, with Eric producing some mighty speedy licks now and then (just pay attnetion to that spitfire around the beginning of minute eight!), and anyway, ten minutes is not that long for a Cream live jam. Besides, Clapton seems to come to life quite often, like at the end of the fifth minute when he goes throwing around some mighty crunchy riffs and turning the music into a hard rock lover's (aka: noise lover's) paradise. I really love the way he alternates his solo bursts with power chords a la Pete Townshend (although there's a serious difference between Pete's and Eric's approach to power chords - for instance, Eric never really lets the feedback take over, while Pete always preferred a minimalistic approach. It's also amazing how efficiently he plays on the 'main' section - it's hard for me to get rid of the feeling that he's not playing two guitars (rhythm and lead) at once, because his staccato solo runs are so well constructed and flow so seamlessly in and out of the general grungy rhythm pattern that the double-guitar effect is incredible. Pay particular attention to Ginger as well on that one - his drum fills, while not too different from the studio version, indicate his amazing dexterity better than anything else on here.

'Sweet Wine', however, is seriously overdone, much like 'Spoonful' on the Wheels Of Fire version. The 'main section' is performed very loosely, to the point of looking near-chaotic, and unexplainably slowed down; as for the interminable jam, I think that even lovers of Cream jams will have to agree with me that from time to time it looks like the band just runs out of steam and it's like 'well, what next?' and Eric is only too happy to find a moderate groove which he hadn't yet utilised that evening and stick to it for ages. Sometimes they almost go off into 'nursery' melodies, just to keep the time passing. Again, occasionally they pick up energy and go off into more thunderstorms, but for the most part I really don't feel any serious point here - surely they played something more energetic on that particular evening as well. I must admit, though, that when Eric's guitar dies down and Jack's bass comes to the forefront, it becomes obvious that he's a genius on that instrument - he plays so many different complex runs and goes off into so many directions that whenever I try to count them I lose it on the third minute. Still, virtuosity and enjoyability are two different things, and I can't really enjoy that one unless I just take it for background music.

The two other tracks are shorter, but also less impressive. Thus, 'Sleepy Time Time' runs for less than seven minutes, hardly overcoming its studio counterpart, but it also adds nothing to that particular counterpart - just a couple more instrumental verses and a sloppier way of singing. As for 'Rollin' And Tumblin'', that one is notably worse than the original, since Jack is not able to reproduce his famous 'heavy metal harmonica' style on stage, and the lack of overdubs make the track as tedious as possible. Ginger holds up the rhythm well, without any of his dissonant tricks, but Jack's puffing is really miserable compared to the standard studio version, and considering that it's seriously extended, it only makes things look worse than they actually are.

To be completely honest, one must add that all of the four tracks sound really good - unlike the mixing disasters on Goodbye - and that they date from their best touring period (March 1968's Fillmore East and Winterland venues; the live performances on Wheels Of Fire were taken from the same performances), but that don't make it any better for amateurs; this is vintage live Cream for the hardened fan who can't get enough of Clapton/Bruce improvisations. You gotta give credit to the band risking these psycho guitar journeys, though. And anyway, nobody ever sounded like them - that bass/guitar interplay is practically unique for Cream, of that you can be sure.



Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

Oh well, at least there are more songs on this one. Geez, what a relief... 


Track listing: 1) Deserted Cities Of The Heart; 2) White Room; 3) Politician; 4) Tales Of Brave Ulysses; 5) Sunshine Of Your Love; 6) Steppin' Out.

The barrel running dry? Well, not really, as the second cash-in is actually a big improvement over the first one. Namely, there are more songs, and this time around there is only one lengthy guitarfest: the old blues classic 'Steppin' Out' which you could hear in something like a two-minute version on Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton, here extended into thirteen minutes. But that's at the very end of the album, so if you're not in the mood, why not push the little square button? Oh, well.

All of the other tracks are later classics from the band's psychedelic period of 1967-68, and somehow they didn't feel the need to extend them into superjams; I suppose that was mostly due to the fact that all the older songs already had been extended, and since the primary reason for Cream's jamming was simply the band not having enough material to cover the entire two-hour live set they were supposed to do, there was no need to extend everything already after they had penned enough new songs. Thus, while most of the songs are a little bit longer than their studio counterparts, it's a reasonable lengthening that totally fits in with the overall feel of the given number and never makes it look like little more than a launchpad for jamming. As such, Volume II has a far 'smoother' feel than Live Cream - it flows better and makes for much more than simple background music.

The two Disraeli Gears cuts are the definite highlights, especially 'Tales Of Brave Ulysses' with Eric flashing out some superb wah-wah solos (ah! feel my cherished bias towards the wah-wah solos!) that sometimes elevate the cut from enjoyable to downright fascinating. To the band's honour, they manage to completely preserve the song's head-spinning mystical atmosphere without any of the studio overdubs, and they even enhance it with a special kind of 'bubbling solo' from Eric that gives a full impression of ships sailing and... and Ulysses drowning, mayhaps. But the live 'Sunshine Of Your Love' is not bad as well, with a slightly extended coda and Jack, for once, turning in a great vocal performance. A rare thing, too: if you don't like Jack's singing in the studio, you'll probably vomit at some of his stage screams. What a perfect guy for turning a great song into a cacophonic bunch of vocal noises! Then again, maybe I'm just not too deep to appreciate his singing. Maybe I have to grow. He's probably bringing in that 'lightweight' jazz element, but combining jazz singing with rock music isn't the thing I'd be a-loudly applauding to. Mind you, I'm not referring to all of his singing: generally, he sings pretty well, but at times he feels the need to diversify the melody with a few ugly 'vocal counterpoints' that sound extremely cacophonic, overemoting when there's no need to and intentionally going off-key.

Plus, you'll get some mighty fine Wheels Of Fire live cuts, too. Unfortunately, the bastards have included 'Politician', which, moreover, is weaker than the live version on Goodbye; it has Jack's weakest vocal performance on the record, and Eric's solo is nowhere near as well constructed as on the previous version - where are those frightening vibratos? 'White Room' cooks, however, although I'm also left disappointed by Eric's final climactic solo. He keeps hitting the same note over and over again and keeps repeating the same descending riff of the song over and over again instead of going into 'emotional overdrive' as the solo is supposed to (once again - check out the version on the Farewell Concert video after which you'll have to have somebody scrape you off the wall). Also, does anybody else think that three verses is a little bit too much for a live version of 'White Room'? I loved them in the studio, when Eric was going through this great 'triple guitar enhancement' - basic riff on the first verse, solo outbursts in between the lines on the second verse, uninterrupted soloing throughout on the third verse. But in concert it was impossible to reproduce because they'd need at least two guitars, and the riff grows a bit boring towards the end. Ah, well, this song still rules. And finally, 'Deserted Cities Of The Heart' is swift, flashy and breath-taking. A perfect choice to begin a record with, indeed. Maybe the record people weren't such huge dorks as I've come to think of them, after all...

So 'Steppin' Out' remains the only 'acquired taste element' on the album, in the long run - if I'm in the mood, I usually program it onto the beginning of the 'setlist' because it wears you out if it comes on last. It's not one of Cream's best jams, but it sure ain't one of the worst, either. It's mostly a Clapton show-off, though - Bruce keeps his bass relatively low most of the time, and Ginger is not as prominent as he is on, well, 'Toad' or something. He's extremely good in places, though - just watch him launch in complete overdrive near the tenth minute of the number, if you live long enough, of course. But if you prefer your Cream jams as real 'jams', with the guitar, bass and drums given equal prominence, you'd better stick to the first volume. I, however, prefer the second because to me, it's the right spot to prove that Cream weren't given the 'ass-kicking' live reputation simply because of their twenty-minute jams, but because they could actually reinvent their "meat 'n' potatoes" things on the stage quite effectively.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that half of these performances date from October 1968 performances at the Oakland Coliseum, while the other half is again culled from the inexhaustible barrels of March 1968 Winterland performances. It's kinda strange that they couldn't have put the Winterland versions of 'Tales Of Brave Ulysses' and 'Sunshine' on the previous record - that way, the jams would have been diluted by shorter numbers and we'd get a more accurate picture of Cream's live performances (not to mention that the best way would be to release an entire performance on one double or even triple album and save us the hassle of reconstructing the band's set from four different live sources). But I guess rip-offs are always rip-offs, and will always be rip-offs as long as there are record companies.



Year Of Release: 2005
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

Old and decrepit, but at least they manage to remind us they're still alive.

Best song: SPOONFUL

Track listing: CD I: 1) I'm So Glad; 2) Spoonful; 3) Outside Woman Blues; 4) Pressed Rat & Warthog; 5) Sleepy Time Time; 6) N.S.U.; 7) Badge; 8) Politician; 9) Sweet Wine; 10) Rollin' And Tumblin'; 11) Stormy Monday; 12) Deserted Cities Of The Heart;

CD II: 1) Born Under A Bad Sign; 2) We're Going Wrong; 3) Crossroads; 4) White Room; 5) Toad; 6) Sunshine Of Your Love; [BONUS TRACK:] 7) Sleepy Time Time (alternate).

I think they did it for the money. Or maybe, to make it sound less cynical, Eric did it to make some money for two old pals suffering from poor financial status, poorer health, and a current collective popularity around one million billionth of Clapton's. Eric is, after all, a kind-hearted guy, and from what I hear, the tickets did cost a lot (and were swept off the counters in no time, meaning that the baby boomers are still going strong). Another version is the more health-oriented one: that the three decided to get together simply because after Jack's liver transplant and with Baker's arthritis problems, it struck all of them that there might not even be a last time. And these days, not allowing yourself at least one reunion is considered sort of uncool.

But now that I have yielded my required dose of sceptical bile (after all, it is just as uncool these days not to sneer at these reunions), I can't help but stating the obvious: this album is every bit as good as it could physically be, and maybe just a tad better than that. And if anything, it serves one major, grandiose, magna-cum-laude purpose: for the first time in thirty-five years, Eric Clapton is playing with a decent backup. Okay, that's not to say he hadn't had one good band member in his team for all that time, but let's face it, the competition hasn't exactly been up to par, and as for his latest team, which he - for some weird extraterrestrial reason - has been keeping around for about a decade now, words just fail me unless they're very bad words that can cause their utterer a significant amount of jail time and it's them deserving the anal treatment and not me... Oops.

Anyway, I said 'decent backup', and this is sadly true: whereas the Cream of old were a three-headed, three-hearted, and, most importantly, six-handed hydra of a musical outfit, this here reunion amply demonstrates the evident: Eric is still in top form (it's a different question what kind of things does he normally waste his top form on), the other two are not. But they are trying to be, and they aren't trying to do things they are no longer capable of, which is good. Baker is no longer thunderstormy and so completely unpredictable; he sticks to a regular four-four beat much more often than he used to, and from time to time even misses a couple of beats quite unintentionally. But he still got his style, and he's still alternatively tight and loose, and he still does 'Toad' for ten minutes! It's not as fast and delirious a 'Toad' as the WoF version, but it's also a 'Toad' I admire listening to. I mean, in 1968 it was, whether you want it or not, just a drum solo. Today, it's a drum solo from a 65-year old drummer suffering from arthritis, and it still sounds quite similar, if not the same. Get it?

In Jack's case, it is the vocals that have suffered the most. The funny thing is that I was never a great fan of Bruce's singing, particularly live - and this makes it much easier to adjust to his new voice, older and more croaking and with far less range. But he still hits the right notes, and he still sings with the same passion, and he still makes show, and his playing is still fluent and creative, even if yes, the bass is the least audible instrument of the three. But at least I have a good subwoofer.

The important question, of course, is: can they still do it - can they gel? I have little idea of what Ginger had been doing during the past two decades or so; both Jack and Eric, of course, have never stopped playing, but most of this stuff they probably hadn't done in ages. So I do know that 'Sunshine Of Your Love' still gets regular play from Eric (saw him doing it in person, even), but when exactly was the last time he did 'Deserted Cities Of The Heart'? My guess is twenty seven years ago, right in the same Royal Albert Hall where they have now returned to pick it up from scratch.

And yet they do gel. They're different, but they come out on stage as a team and leave it as a team. Perhaps there's more "gelling" between Jack and Ginger than between any of them and Eric, but they are the rhythm section, after all, and besides, that's the way it used to be in the old days, too. It doesn't even matter much that for these performances, Eric hasn't exactly rushed out and frizzed his hair in 1967 fashion, if you know what I mean. He plays his usual Fender, not the Gibson of old, and only occasionally breaks out a very timid wah-wah; he is not keen on repeating many of the old Cream tricks'n'licks - playing instead the way he has played for the past decade; and he seriously crops the time allocated for improvisations - not even one twenty-minute song on the entire album! - although, granted, this may have been due to their wishing to play as many of the old songs as possible. Then again, Clapton is known for derogating his improvisational legacy.

But it's still pretty good. Clapton always works best when he's got something to prove, and there's no better spot to prove something than the middle of 'Sweet Wine' or 'N.S.U.' - numbers that, in their stage incarnation, did not grab you by the ear and whine 'Hey! We're nice pop songs!', but instead kicked you in the guts and went, 'Hey! We're vehicles for Clapton adventuring!'. Well, ever since those days, all of "Clapton's adventuring" was mostly dedicated to lengthy blues solos. Now Cream is back, and now this record features some of the most atypical Clapton soloing in ages. Yes, the improvisations are short, but that's hardly a curse. They're interesting, and they're Cream-like. They aren't "Cream", but they're Cream-like. Well, okay, sometimes they aren't even Cream-like. The instrumental section on 'N.S.U.', to tell the truth, sounds more like a ZZ Top trying to do a Cream tribute. But it's interesting to hear something like that, too.

The setlist is generally reassuring, especially if you were afraid that there might be too much 'non-Cream' material jammed into the program. As it turns out, the only song that, to the best of my knowledge, did not ever constitute a regular part of the Cream repertoire is 'Stormy Monday Blues', but quite possibly Eric begged the guys to include at least one slow melancholy blues number because, well, I mean, he hasn't played one single show without a slow melancholy blues number for three decades, so it's sort of like a shot in the arm to him. To his - and the rhythm section's - honour, they pull it off brilliantly, and the blues solo he rips out of his Fender is perfect, right up to the standards of From The Cradle at least, if not his early Derek & The Dominos days.

Elsewhere, they are sadly discriminating Disraeli Gears, but again this does not differ much from the original attitude - it was, after all, their least blues-based and most poppy and psychedelic offer, and never translated all that well into a live setting ('Sunshine' and maybe 'Tales Of Brave Ulysses' excluded). They do offer a brave take on 'We're Going Wrong', though, and all the way I was just sitting there orgasming over how Eric, if only for a short time, is returning to the psychedelic adventuring days of old... Fresh Cream and Wheels Of Fire, on the other hand, are almost overrepresented (reliable sources also state that the Albert Hall performances included 'Sittin' On Top Of The World' as well, but for some reason it is excluded in favour of an alternate version of 'Sleepy Time Time' - was something wrong with the playing or what?) - right down to including 'Pressed Rat And Warthog', which is used as the vocal spotlight for Ginger. True to the original, he recites rather than sings it, but it's still a delight to hear his friendly senile Cockney, both on the song and after it when he says that 'pressed rat and warthog have really opened their shop, and they're selling T-shirts and Cream memorabilia'.

'Pressed Rat And Warthog', by the way, is played here for the first time ever by the band - and so is 'Badge', which they did not really have time to perform back in the day and which is also given here in its regular, short and concise version rather than in the bland extended 'love-is-my-badge' format of the late solo Clapton period. Other notable tidbits: 'Crossroads' is not very engaging, but, amusingly, played a wee bit slower than the WoF version and a tad faster than during Clapton's solo performances; Jack and Eric switch their regular vocal lines for 'White Room', at least in the first two verses; 'Rollin' And Tumblin' is played in the classic way, with Bruce dropping the bass and switching to harmonica - and he still has a pretty mean blow; and on 'Born Under A Bad Sign' and 'Spoonful' Jack's old age actually adds to the overall creepiness rather than takes away from it. Maybe it's because he now has this well-earned old bluesman rasp, or maybe it's because he now sounds way more believable singing about how 'if it wasn't for bad luck, I would not have no luck at all'.

I had a very strange feeling listening to this stuff - very strange feeling. I wasn't "transported back in time" or whatever they say, and the band members themselves kept talking about how the whole thing is not at all supposed to be emphatically nostalgic. I wasn't experiencing pity for these poor old geezers, nor was I really feeling joy at how they're still cutting it fine. It was something different, maybe describable as a "pleasantly bizarre" experience. And I am almost sure it's the thirty-year break that is to blame. There are reunions and reunions; there are, for instance, people who spent two decades playing together, went apart for another decade and then reunited, and then reunited again, and again and again. Cream, however, played together for two years and then split for thirty five years. I can't even call this a "reunion". I'd call this "bringing up the dead", and that explains the bizarre in my gut reaction. Nothing else to say, but if the word 'Cream' means something other to you than your average dairy product, try to locate this double CD if possible. You will get your kicks, even if they may be directed at the most unpredictable spots in your body.



Year Of Release: 1987

Featuring, sure enough, their famous 'Farewell Concert' at the Royal Albert Hall on November 26, 1968. The quality of the sound is good, but that's about the only advantage. As it is, the concert is mercilessly cut (some songs omitted totally, most of the rest just cut); lots of important moments are overshadowed by the narrator's stupid comments; and the cameras just hang around as if they were minding their own business, concentrating on Jack's shirt or Ginger's drumstick or the audience or something like that. So that there are only six songs at all, most of them cut. The more sad is the fact that the performance was downright great - 'White Room' goes off like a bomb, Ginger shines on 'Toad', and Jack is in top form as well. There are also some funny interviews (not from around the concert), the most interesting of these being Clapton showing off some of his guitar techniques. Avoid this, still, unless you're a huge fan. I've watched it once and I feel no more need for it - especially since the best moments are also captured on Fresh Live. (Note that the video Cream Of Eric Clapton has a full-length version of 'Crossroads' which seems to have been recorded at the same show. Why hasn't it been included here, I wonder? It's great!)



Year Of Release: 1993

A great lil' documentary. The only drawback is that there's a great deal of banter from former band members which sometimes seems interesting but most often does not, and the actual live performances aren't that many - and a lot of them are cut. Apart from that, however, what you get is some magnificent footage from a small London club in 1967: a lengthy 'Spoonful' which actually surpasses the live version on Wheels Of Fire, maybe because the middle jam is shorter and maybe because Jack's singing is somewhat tighter and more assured; a very strong 'Sunshine Of Your Love'; and 'Tales Of Brave Ulysses', with Ginger probably impersonating Scilla with his drumsticks. Besides that, there is a hilarious clip of 'Anyone For Tennis' with the band in uniforms, wielding tennis rackets (this is also the best place for appreciating their differences in height and weight, too - you'll see); a fascinating TV show extract with 'We're Going Wrong' (unfortunately, the quality is rather muddy); and short extracts from the Royal Albert Hall farewell concert which you can see on Farewell Concert anyway. So, even if the actual time of live performances isn't very long, this is a must-have for band fans - especially since it's the only documentary of such a kind.


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