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"Better to be quiet than to speak without a thought, or you may lose the meaning of your venture"

Class D

Main Category: Roots Rock
Also applicable: Art Rock
Starting Period: The Psychedelic Years
Also active in: The Artsy/Rootsy Years, The Interim Years




Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Traffic fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Traffic 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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I'll be sincere (aka "I'll be a flamebait") and say Traffic holds my personal record as arguably The Most Boring "Classic" Rock Band of All Time. But in all honesty, I really don't know how they managed to earn this title in my mind. The band was always packed with professional, invigorated, energetic musicians who certainly knew how to play their instruments and knew how to write songs. They weren't overproductive like Jethro Tull. They weren't overbearing like Yes. They didn't indulge in lengthy, jaw-dropping jams (at least, not on studio records and certainly not in their prime - later records do tend to feature overlong compositions) like so many acts I won't even bother mentioning. And yet - whenever I put on a Traffic record, be it their best or their worst, I really can't help it: my expression always changes to gloomy and my mood to sleepy. Horrible, just horrible - not the music itself, rather the effect produced by any Traffic record as a whole. It's been a wee bit better now that I got used to their style, but it's still a real pain in the neck to concentrate on the actual music these guys were making. Special note to fans: don't crucify me. Tastes are tastes, and flaming me for my views will just produce the opposite effect - I'll go on hating Traffic even more.

My attitude towards the band probably derives from several points. First of all, none of the band members were great songwriters: Steve Winwood, as blasphemous as it might seem, was just 'okay', and Dave Mason's contributions were mostly secondary rip-offs of psychedelic classics. Second, the band never ever really had a creative or a playing style, going there and turning here until you really don't know to which category their music belongs. Were they one of the first prog acts? Or just a pretentious pop band? Talentless folk-rock imitators? Jazz band pretending to rock out? Whatever. And you know that I don't mind diversity. I like diversity. But Traffic's music isn't really diverse. Unlike the Beatles, who were strictly delimiting music genres and one by one demonstrated their mastership in each and every one, Traffic preferred to throw everything into a horrendous melting pot right from the beginning - if you've heard their debut record, you've heard them all. Therefore, their songs are sloppy, rambling and directionless. And finally, last but not least, I just don't like Stevie Winwood's voice. He belongs in the same conglomerate with Brooker and Jon Anderson: high-pitched expressionless vocals which add nothing to the music and sometimes even spoil it (with a few exceptions: his voice is very appropriate for singing gospel-style material. Maybe that's why I like 'Presence Of The Lord' so much).

While we're really busy with this stuff, I'll go a little out of my way and say that whoever loves Traffic must necessarily check out Family - one of Britain's most underrated underground bands of the late Sixties/early Seventies. The two bands are very much tied together (Rick Grech, for instance, was consequently a member of both of them, and Dave Mason used to play on Family's records, too) and share a similar style: the 'folk-prog' direction with strong jazz influences. However, Family had by far the strongest song material of the two, not to mention that at times the band was really able to rock out, something Traffic only achieved on a particularly good live evening.

On top of that, I do admit that Traffic is an essential late Sixties band. They have their hand in the beginnings of prog rock and jazz rock; more important, they're responsible for bringing British folk elements into rock music, thus facilitating the task of creating the already mentioned 'folk-prog' genre later accomplished and perfected by Jethro Tull and Genesis. And even while most of their compositions converge together into a slithery, unmemorable muck inside my head each time I finish listening to an album of theirs, they still had at least a dozen interesting songs, and maybe even a couple great ones, like 'Pearly Queen', for instance. I even think that time might soften my position, because I am in no way trying to say the band completely lacked musical talent or anything. They just didn't bother all that much to hook in the listener.

Lineup: Steve Winwood - keyboards, vocals, bass; Dave Mason - guitar, vocals, bass; Jim Capaldi - drums, vocals; Chris Wood - brass (one of the first fullt-time rock band members on flute and sax, as far as I understand). Mason quit in 1969, and after Winwood recorded the third Traffic album virtually on his own, the band reformed, adding several new key members. This late Seventies' lineup has recorded several prog albums, some of which I've already heard and even reviewed (don't hold your breath, though): besides Winwood, Capaldi, and Wood, it originally features Jim Gordon (drums, yup, it's the author of 'Layla'), Rick Grech (bass, yup, he came from Blind Faith), and Rebop on percussion (yup, you can meet both of the latter on Clapton's Rainbow Concert). This lineup wasn't that consistent, either: both Gordon and Grech quit around 1972, replaced by Roger Hawkins and David Hood respectively. One more year and Hawkins and Hood quit as well, this time carrying away Rebop with them; Rosko Gee was added on base for their 1974 album, after which the band finally disbanded after a long agony. They had something like a happy reunion some years ago, but I know little about it.



Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8

A lot of jazz and psychedelic wanking backed with too few memorable melodies.


Track listing: 1) Heaven Is In Your Mind; 2) Berkshire Poppies; 3) House For Everyone; 4) No Face No Name And No Number; 5) Dear Mr Fantasy; 6) Dealer; 7) Utterly Simple; 8) Coloured Rain; 9) Hope I Never Find Me There; 10) Giving To You.

For those of you who believe these guys were good in the beginning and only got worse later on: don't. They were as bad as ever right from the start. I forced myself to listen to this stuff for at least a dozen times and I still can't remember a single tune. Whatever. We and Winwood, we're pals. Anyway, at least I found out one good thing about them: the more you listen to them, the less nasty the overall effect gets (which means that Traffic actually made good music, if you get my drift). In fact, there's just about two or three songs on the album which stand close to 'unlistenable', and they mostly come courtesy of Mr David Mason who was a good guitarist but apparently couldn't recognize a good tune from a drunken Indian's blabber, not at this stage of his career, at any rate. His 'psychedelic', sitar-driven 'Utterly Simple' is utterly horrible, one of the worst uses of the instrument by any rock band I've ever heard, and the effect-laden, Syd Barrett-ish 'House For Everyone' holds number two. 'Hope I Never Find Me There', a plaintive little ballad, is slightly better in that it does not suck per se, but it's still a complete throwaway. All three songs are just classic examples of people cashing in on the psychedelic movement and copying the form but utterly missing the essence. Remember: using a sitar does NOT guarantee that it will work just because it's some kind of, well, um, er, EXOTIC thingamajig, dude.

Jim Capaldi's sole solo contribution to the album ('Dealer') is a weak effort, certainly a waste of vinyl. Just a wee bit mystical tripe with Spanish influences (can think of this as Traffic's analog of the Doors' 'Spanish Caravan', if that makes any difference) with next to no melody. Forget it. So, strange as it seems, it's up to Winwood to really save the album from being a total disaster, and he does, coming up with several interesting numbers that spotlight his keyboard playing and, well, vocals. My favourite is 'Heaven Is In Your Mind', a pleasant gospelish anthem which sounds very close to his later Blind Faith work, and, like I said, Stevie's voice is very well suited to singing gospel. Don't think, however, that the tune sets the general mood for the album. It's immediately followed by a drunken jazz rock rave ('Berkshire Poppies') which is certainly fun but certainly not essential. 'Dear Mr Fantasy' and 'Coloured Rain' are just as forgettable: derivative, feeble half-improvisations which start nowhere and go nowhere. There's just no reason for their existence apart from some nice keyboard and guitar solos and the general not-nasty atmosphere. On the other hand, Mason somehow manages to wake up from his slumber on the title track and delivers some solos that really scorch and burn; listening to the song in headphones is not an unpleasant experience. This also gives one a clue as to how 'Mr Fantasy' would become such a great highlight in the band's live show later on (see the review of Welcome To The Canteen below).

In fact, I might say I only like three compositions on the whole album (strange, I thought there would be more), which are 'Heaven Is In Your Mind', 'Berkshire Poppies' and another gentle Winwood ballad called 'No Face, No Name And No Number' in which he complains about his incognito amour. All the other tracks are dull, dull, dull.. and yet, people seem to like this record. Gosh, Wilson & Alroy even gave it four and a half stars! FOUR AND A HALF stars, you get that? That's at least twice my rating! How can you people like this kind of boring stuff? Don't you have anything else to do? Go get yourself some Jethro Tull instead! They say this record is close to the Beatles' sound. My God, if the Beatles ever sounded half as bad as this record, I'd never even bother about getting into rock music. The Beatles, at least, cared for the listeners' ears. These guys don't do nothing. They don't write catchy songs, they don't amaze us with their playing techniques, and their studio experimentation and gimmickry is rudimentary compared to heights already achieved by Hendrix, Pink Floyd and, well, the Beatles. I think I haven't yet mentioned the closing instrumental 'Giving To You'. It might not be as boring, because it doesn't at least pretend to be anything but a simple, well-played jazz improvisation. However, the way it starts and ends (with a lot of overdubbed chatter where you can't distinguish a single thing) offends me deep down in my heart. The only thing I know is this chatter ends with the statement 'I'm in jazz'. Well, you'd better be, Stevie.

P.S. [A year or so after writing the original review]. Well, whaddaya think? Re-listened again... and I still don't get it. I've come to memorize certain moments from 'Dear Mr Fantasy' and 'Coloured Rain', though, so I'm graciously upgrading my old rating of 7 to a rating of 8 (I know it's not much, but sorry, that's about all I can do). No, truly, the record defines 'bland' with its very existence. Whereas Glenn below writes a lot about the 'uniqueness' and exploration of different styles on this record, I just don't see it; all I see is yet another in the innumerable series of Pepper rip-offs with thrice as less ideas and no hooks. That's not to say the band wouldn't get somewhat better in the future, but this particular blend of jazz, folk and rock really doesn't strike me as anything special.



Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

Good! More jazz, more folk and, what's more important, much less tripping and pseudo-experimentation. Solid.


Track listing: 1) You Can All Join In; 2) Pearly Queen; 3) Don't Be Sad; 4) Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring; 5) Feelin' Alright; 6) Vagabond Virgin; 7) (Roamin' Thro' The Gloamin') With 40,000 Headmen; 8) Cryin' To Be Heard; 9) No Time To Live; 10) Means To An End.

Surprise, surprise! This band can be real good! This is so much better that I'm almost left wondering whether this is the same band that did 'Utterly Simple' last time around. But no, they're all the same, they haven't changed a single member, and yet, they've managed to come up with a fairly impressive set of numbers. The record is much less psychedelic than its 1967 predecessor: the sitar is almost gone, and there are absolutely no crazy, pseudo-gimmicky experiments that offended me on Mr Fantasy. Moreover, these songs have hooks - solid, memorable hooks. Not all of them, of course. A couple o' these numbers still make me trample my feet and shiver in annoyance. But as such, the album is full to the brink with pleasant folkish ditties, some with a slight jazz touch (mostly courtesy of Mr Chris Wood, I'd guess), some more rockin', but most being extremely listenable. The best damn Traffic album, that's for sure.

What's your bet on here? Mine is 'Pearly Queen', a terrific Winwood rocker which became Traffic's stagemark to such an extent that Steve even did a live version with Clapton on their 1973 Rainbow concert (which had little to do with Traffic except that more than half the band members were surreptitiously backing Eric). It starts treacherously, like a slow, moody, jaw-dropping guitarry piece, then the drums kick in and it suddenly begins to rock! 'I bought a sequine suit from a pearly queen...' No, I don't think it's possible that the song had been composed by Stevie. Probably ripped off some old folk ballad and added new lyrics. Although the chaotic ending, with all the instruments boiling in one melting pot, is very much Traffic-like indeed.

Apart from that obvious highlight, there's plenty of other good stuff. The ballads are convincing, especially Stevie's plaintive, very Blind Faith-like 'Don't Be Sad' where he makes brilliant use of his voice, but then there's also Mason's 'Cryin' To Be Heard' - with its booming choruses definitely contrasting with the quiet, slow verses. Both of these have a subtle folk aura around them, but this ain't no complaint - it's a compliment. Don't go dissing folk music: it's actually one of the greatest pains in life, to write a good folk ballad. But a good folk ballad is always rewarding and captivating.

Need to rock? Well, you can take another Mason tune then, the dangerous-sounding 'Feelin' Alright' with its menacing line 'you feelin' alright? I'm not feeling too good myself' repeated over and over until you begin to feel a little paranoid. And, of course, you can all join in on 'You Can All Join In', a nice, saxophone-led shuffle which is sure stolen from some old folk ditty, but I don't mind, it's classy. The acoustic rhythm is a lot of fun and the silly sax snorts are catchy. You'll even get some straightforward R'n'B dipped in a little soul on 'Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring', a throwaway Winwood number where he just has a lot of fun with his voice. Maybe it's not that bad after all. And notice the close resemblance of the way he sings the refrain to some of his Blind Faith numbers, particularly 'Sea Of Joy'. No surprise: he went on to Blind Faith fresh from making this record, and his songwriting and singing were clearly at a 'peak' (yeah, I put those quotes around the word just 'cause I consider his songwriting talents to be even less than those of Mr Jimi Hendrix).

A couple of numbers seem dull, but that just means 'not very memorable', which is okay; I guess we just have to take Traffic unmemorability for granted. If we manage to forget that small inconveniency, then both the silly countrified ditty 'Vagabond Virgin' and the eerie, flute-full psychedelic remain 'Roamin' Thro' The Gloamin' With 40,000 Headmen' will satisfy your heart's most unsatisfied desires; not to mention the latter-day superior live version on Welcome To The Canteen. Actually, on a certain level 'Headmen' can be called an atmospheric masterpiece, with one of Traffic's best ever flute parts. The live version accents the atmospherics even more impressively, though.

And, indeed, the record only lets you down seriously at the very end, with the utterly bland, overlong soulful ballad 'No Time To Live' and the derivative and insecure rocker 'Means To An End' which manages to steal the gall from 'Pearly Queen' but the melody from '40,000 Headmen'. Unfortunately, these two things seem to be hardly compatible: what was good in a creepy half-acoustic psychedelic number becomes routine and annoying in a rocker. thank God, at least this one is short.

So that's about it. If you happen to be a Traffic fan and prepare yourself for a flame in my address, think about my high assessment of this one album and hold your fire. And I'll reward you by going out and forking fifteen bucks for Last Exit.

Nope, once again I'm pulling your leg. I wouldn't pay fifteen bucks for Last Exit even if you caught me by the throat and threatened me over my life and the life and welfare of my family. I wouldn't do that even in these conditions. Not that I dislike Last Exit - read on about it below - but I like it when the paid money is adequate to the musical content. Is any Traffic album worth 15 bucks? Now here's a highly subjective question to you.



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

The studio outtakes and singles all qualify. The live stuff is as boring as Traffic ever gets.


Track listing: 1) Just For You; 2) Shanghai Noodle Factory; 3) Something's Got A Hold Of My Toe; 4) Withering Tree; 5) Medicated Goo; 6) Feelin' Good; 7) Blind Man.

Since Traffic had temporarily lost it by the end of 1968, with Mason quitting for good and Winwood disbanding the group and joining Blind Faith (not for very long, though), the record company put this out as a little memento mori for the band. Among fans, this often qualifies as one of Traffic's worst releases, but looking at it with a fresh eye makes me wanna protest. The main problem is that Last Exit actually features two different bands in a different 'emploi'. Thus, side one mostly consists of singles and outtakes from 1968 - arguably the band's most creative and exciting period, and in this respect it just can't fail if you ever enjoyed the self-titled album at all.

Side two, however, is indeed atrocious. Instead of following the wise policy of stuffing 'post mortem' records with more early singles and outtakes, the company decided to put on two live performances by the 'three-piece' Traffic, recorded already after Dave Mason dropped out. Both are covers of some obscure blues/soul numbers whose originals I've never heard, but I wouldn't really want to. It's not that they drag on for too long, although they do - 'Feelin' Good' bleeds for a friggin' eleven minutes, and 'Blind Man' isn't way too far behind, clocking in at 7:15. It's just that during the performances, not a single musically interesting thing ever happens. Both are taken at the same druggy mid-tempo dirgey pace as is so much of Mr Fantasy, but the rhythms are shakey, the melodies are unmemorable, if existent at all, and the dull, feeble atmosphere of the performances lulls you to sleep in no time. I suppose that the lack of guitar is the main problem, but then again I doubt if any amount of guitar playing could have saved this tuneless mess. There's a lot of absent-minded sax/flute soloing going on, but Steve, intent on contributing all the rhythm work by copying Ray Manzarek and being responsible for both the organ and the organ-basswork, never really lets go, and it's obvious that the songs drag on for so long just because they're really afraid of finishing them and moving on to something else - like the old standards, for instance. The remark at the end of 'Feelin' Good' - 'well, surprisingly enough, we did it', is very demonstrative, I think, as if the band was going onstage so unsure and afraid of itself that it didn't even know what to expect of their own playing. And when the final chords of the atonal mess which is 'Blind Man' finally die down and Steve says 'thank you, see you later', it's almost as if he were only too happy to finally abandon the stage. Compared to the later seven-piece performances, this is indeed highly ridiculous, and mars Traffic's live reputation very badly.

But then again, we have the whole first side which makes the depressed rating go up again. Out of the five songs there, at least four are quite Traffic-worthy. The only number that I can hardly stand is Steve's 'introspective waltz' 'Withering Tree'. It's kinda atmospheric and moody, but I don't feel enough original melody or anything particularly distinguishable about it. Steve's 'into the arms of ete-e-e-e-e-rnity' refrain is indeed quite repetitive and obnoxious (Holy me, I've started using the Ben Greenstein stylistics. Where's this world heading to?), and if there are any hooks, I'd have to dig deep for them. I don't have the time.

In any case, the other four tracks are all winners - excellent compositions that all qualify. Mason's brilliant pop-rocker 'Just For You' opens the record on an upbeat and amazingly catchy note. The funny thing is that it reminds me of that superhit by the Pet Shop Boys, remember it, I don't seem to recall the title, anyway, I'm pretty sure they ripped off some of the vocal hooks off 'Just For You'. No, joking again: this is probably a coincidence, but considering that some of the Pet Shop Boys material is pretty catchy (I'm not a fan by no means but let's give everybody their due), this might be considered a compliment. The biggest success, then, is Winwood's epic delivery on 'Shanghai Noodle Factory' with one of the most gorgeous vocal performances of his entire career - yeah, you heard right, I'm actually praising Stevie's singing. This moving ode to desperation and allegorical condemnation of the stupid soulless world we're living in ('Shanghai Noodle Factory/The place where I once used to be/Nowhere/Doing nothing/The people there were made of steel/Tiny cage in one big wheel/Turning/Never learning', etc.) has incredible emotional vocal hooks and a beautiful atmosphere, similar to the dark eeriness of '40,000 Headmen' or 'Mr Fantasy' but even more convincing.

Plus, there's a strangely rocking instrumental - 'Something's Got A Hold Of My Toe' - that actually manages to rock out far better than anything on their first two records, with masterful guitar/organ interplay and a gruff, distorted rhythm track that proudly stands out even when compared to that epoch's hard rock pioneers. And the 'Medicated Goo' single is good clean fun, although I still can't understand if the lyrics actually refer to drugs or it's just a general allegory of 'psychedelia'. Drugs probably. Could be banned on the radio, too. It's also quite danceable - a drug tune which you can actually wiggle your ass to, isn't that funny?

Well, anyway, few records are so contrasting in quality, with one side that almost absolutely rules and another that absolutely sucks. Like a good lad, I prefer to close my eyes on the bad tracks and still give this a relatively high rating because of all those prime quality singles, but in any case I still wish somebody would actually delete this record and add all the singles as bonus tracks to Traffic. Such an approach would result in a real minor masterpiece.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Boooooring, but tasteful - lengthy jazz/folk improvisations that just fiddle their diddle and you just gape at 'em but you know there's something in here...


Track listing: 1) Glad; 2) Freedom Rider; 3) Empty Pages; 4) Stranger To Himself; 5) John Barleycorn; 6) Every Mother's Son.

This is a Steve Winwood show all the way - Dave Mason quit almost two years earlier, and the band was almost non-existent, so this could just as well be called a Winwood solo album. Wood and Capaldi make some contributions, but the song authorship and basic playing is all courtesy of Stevie; Wood and Capaldi did play something on the record, but for the most part it's just a one-man recording, with Winwood handling all the keyboards, guitars and - much too often - all the brass and percussion as well.

In the general critical mind, John Barleycorn is supposed to be an absolute classic - which probably explains my disgust at hearing it for the first few times. "Ooh, - I thought, - what horrible songs! How can anyone in his right mind ever proclaim this a classic? Even Hotel California at least has the title track, this one has virtually nothing about it!" I mean, none of Winwood's tunes on here are particularly offensive - unlike the band's earliest period, there aren't any nasty things like failed experimentation or lousy playing or off-key singing (although I said I'm not a fan of Stevie's wheezy vocal noises), but there was just nothing outstanding about them. First of all, they were all terribly overlong: a couple of short 'numbers' went well over four minutes, and the others were all six or seven minutes long with length absolutely not compensated by content. Second, most of these tunes were at the best derivative, ranging from straightforward folk (title track) to monotonous jazz improvisations ('Glad'), and at the worst stolen; come now, people, and admit that the main guitar riff of 'Every Mother's Son' perfectly recreates the organ melody of 'Like A Rolling Stone'. The band (aka Stevie) sounded uninspired most of the time, spitting out the sounds as if it were a casual routine job and nothing more: the piano, organ and sax solos weren't interesting either technically or emotionally, the hooks were non-existent, and the lyrics were pathetic and much too preachy for my tastes, when there were any lyrics, that is. In fact, the band sounded much more spirit-lifting on instrumentals: 'Glad' at least surprised me with its wonderful 'ringing' piano line in the first part before slowing down and becoming vomit-inducing in the second one.

All of these things prompted a super-duper negative review and moderate amounts of hatemail some of which you can see below; but time heals all wounds, and at a certain crucial turning point I decided to give this another chance. Lucky for me that I did; I sincerely hope that some of my new impressions will be able to limit the hatemail. The problem is that the album's been gruesomely overrated. You see, there are certain 'classic etalons' of records that are 'great' and 'good', and the thing is not to confuse between the two. A 'great' record is a true timeless classic that brings in some new genre or sub-genre or discloses a brand new set of musical ideas full of inspiration and hope. At the very worst, it's a cleverly produced record packed to the brims with hooks, energy and carefully created melodies, like CCR's Cosmo's Factory or Fleetwood Mac's Rumours - a record that simply doesn't give you enough time to stop and realize that there's nothing particularly innovative or truly fresh going on because you're too busy defending yourself from the nearly-obnoxious catchiness and perfectionism of the melodies.

And then there are 'classic good' records: albums that aren't way too heavy on hooks or new musical ideas, but are destined to give you a good time: professional, tasteful 'background' music in the good sense of the word. It's the kind of record that hardly goes down smoothly in history, but it's an album that might become very personal to you on certain occasions and under certain circumstances. These records mostly rely on well-known formulas, but they use the formulas with intelligence and caution, trying not to rip-off their predecessors but instead to try and diversify this genre with some minor elements and gimmicks, and they often rely on carefully crafted arrangements in order to 'soften up' the poor impression.

My mistake was in initially expecting a 'great' album instead of a 'classic good' one - actually, the blame falls on the honey-mouthed critics who can never stop raving about it. Winwood's aim was not to make something groundbreaking or deeply inspired, just to bring out the best in 'normal' folk-rock and jazz-rock, and he did. I don't think that it's a 'groove' album, like some of the readers below suggest, as most of the songs are pretty serious and complex to be 'grooves', but it's certainly not one of those 'important artistic statements' that either end up in a musical revolution or a complete pretentious failure. It's just... fine.

The melodies in these particular songs do come out, eventually: I still don't see any in 'Stranger To Himself', as there's too much 'musical disaccordance' going on in there for me, but 'Freedom Rider' is a very good song indeed, with a moody, melancholic saxophone line and a nice minor 'tragic climax' at the end of each verse, nicely punctuated by the flute breaks. Meanwhile, 'Empty Pages' is a fine upbeat rocker in the vein of 'Medicated Goo', and very close in style to Stevie's way of songwriting for Blind Faith; well, it could have well been an outtake, considering that the man was fresh out of the band at the time. All the song really needs badly is a classic Clapton guitar break.

I even learned to appreciate the main 'body' of 'Glad' - the organ, guitar and brass are all immaculately arranged, and while it is by no means a hard rock tune, it manages to rock pretty hard, while Stevie's piano riff that opens and closes the main body of the song might just be the best piano riff ever written, period. And the closing 'Every Mother's Son' has pretty sharp vocal hooks for a Traffic song, with nice mood changes - notice how smoothly the song flows from the slow part that's ripped off from Dylan into the faster, more aggressive part and back again.

My favourite song on the record, however, is still the fabulous title track - supposedly because it has not been written by Stevie, but is instead an old Scottish folk ballad that Stevie had arranged in a very creative and moving way, with a medieval-sounding acoustic guitar and ominous flute backing. How can you go wrong with a classic Scottish folk ballad? Unless you arrange it as a rap composition, of course, and even then it would be interesting to hear the final result.

And no, I still won't give the record any more than an overall 11, but there's simply no reason why I should - it's good as it is. Particular fans of Traffic and particular fans of this particular style are free to raise it higher and higher; but, while there has indeed been a significant shift in attitude in my mind, there are still multiple reasons for not shifting it further. Thus, for one, I really dislike most of the instrumental breaks - apart from 'Glad' which is at least energetic, the music just drags at these points without a Dave Mason to liven things up. And hey, this may sound stupid, but there are simply not enough songs. Six? For comparison, Paul McCartney also had his 'one-man' debut album released that year, and he had thirteen tracks on that one and thrice or four times as many musical ideas. Any more questions?



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

A surprisingly solid live album, although I wouldn't recommend it to anybody but the diehard Traffic fan.

Best song: 40,000 HEADMEN

Track listing: 1) Medicated Goo; 2) Sad And Deep As You; 3) 40,000 Headmen; 4) Shouldn't Have Took More Than You Gave; 5) Dear Mr Fantasy; 6) Gimme Some Lovin'.

In the early Seventies, Traffic may have been a one-man band in the studio. But I can hardly imagine Steve Winwood as a 'man-orchestra', playing guitar, bass, organ and drums all at the same time; the funny thing is, he hardly imagined himself as such either. Even worse, the three-piece Traffic as displayed on Last Exit was an even more awful idea, making the band degenerate into an absolute boredom. So at one point, for their live shows (and for the subsequent records, too) Traffic miraculously metamorphosed into a - no bull - seven-person band. Chris Wood returns as a full-fledged member, together with Mr Capaldi, and they also manage to bring in Dave Mason for this live show, together with Rick Grech on bass and two more drummers - Jim Gordon and Reebop Kwaku Baah on 'percussion'. Who needs three drummers, you might ask? Well, you're wrong. Read on.

Funny enough, I find myself strangely drawn to the record. Funny, isn't it? I can't stand so many of Traffic's studio recordings (or their three-piece live recordings), but I have the nerve to praise this live album. But it just seems to me that the seven-piece Traffic were actually a better live than a studio band. The energy flows and flows on, and at times the show (which must have been an excellent one; I wish I were there personally, but I wasn't even born at the time) reaches certain climactic points which you'll never be able to witness on any of their regular studio releases. All of the band members are at their peak; Wood contributes gloomy, spooky flute solos, Winwood masterfully alternates between keyboards and second guitar, and Dave Mason plays like hell - he'd sure improved a lot since his last gig with the band.

Not to mention the song selection, of course. The first side is pretty much flawless, according to Traffic standards, that is. Which means that when I'm not in the mood I always find it boring; but whenever I'm relaxed and don't feel the need for harder, flashier sensations, I enjoy the heaven out of it. 'Medicated Goo', that early drug-referring single included on Last Exit, opens the show, and like I think I already mentioned, it's a funny, bouncy pop tune with not a lot of originality or sensibility about it, but quite a bit of simplistic charm to set a 'healthy' atmosphere for the performance. Then there are two contributions from a solo Dave Mason project: one, 'Sad And Deep As You', is a gentle, tearful acoustic ballad which Dave sings in a sincere, genuinely emotional tone, and the other one, 'Shouldn't Have Took More Than You Gave', is a somewhat more sophisticated number, with cleverly constructed guitar/organ interplay and a bouncy, folkish feel about it. While both songs sound like they'd possibly be bound for inclusion on Mr Fantasy (and I'd probably hate them for that), the live performance brings a vivacious, 'breathing' element in both, and Dave's guitar playing is simply delicious. Plus, the three drummers... aha, now I'm getting to the point: the three drummers give 'Shouldn't Have...' such a solid drive as could have never been achieved by just a single Mr Capaldi. Hell, it almost rocks, and that's a compliment for Traffic.

Of course, the definite highlight of the first side, and the album in general, is a blistering performance of '40,000 Headmen' from Traffic; the mystical, thrilling atmosphere of the original has been carefully preserved, and Reebop's economic tom-tom beats give the song an African scent that makes it all the more convincing. I've always respected the song, and I'm particularly glad they did it justice on the album; the only complaint is that Winwood's voice is very poorly recorded, as it keeps swaying to and fro as if the engineers were fiddling with the volume controls at the very moment of the performance!

Now the second side of the record is what usually makes the critics cringe - and for good reason, as it consists of just two songs, a ten-minute rendition of 'Dear Mr Fantasy' and a nine-minute version of Steve Winwood's best-known Spencer Davies Group hit, 'Gimme Some Lovin', apparently performed as an encore. Hell, I dunno, I kinda liked the version of 'Mr Fantasy' on here. I think I hated the original, but this ten minute live version is tolerable. Now before you leave this page in disgust, please let me explain my position: I still think the main melody is incredibly generic, but I adore these mighty Dave Mason solos. He gets in a lengthy sprawling jam before the last verse and another one after it, and his guitar flows so smoothly and without any serious flaws that I can't really qualify the solo as an exercise in pointless wanking. And when he finally gets joined in by Steve himself and they play their hearts out during the last two or three minutes, this results in such a terrific thunderstorm of sound as you'll never witness on any other Traffic record. Dang, here's a song that finally displays some goddamn energy from this lethargic band and you think I'll go ahead and dismiss it as 'overlong'? No way! 'Dear Mr Fantasy', this song rules!

Not so, however, with 'Gimme Some Lovin'. Yeah, it's fast and it rocks, too, and it's built on a great, engaging bassline, but who needs a great engaging bassline that keeps repeating over and over again for nine minutes? I've never heard the original; I suppose it could have been a passable boogie tune, but this, this is more of an offense than anything else. Could have made a great three or four minute performance, if only they'd bothered to let Dave solo on it for some more. They didn't, and they simply filled the space up with toned down, white-noisy organ solos and little sax embellishments. Eeh, that's tedious. By the fifth or sixth minute I feel such an unstoppable incline to skip the song that I only stop myself when I realize it's the last one.

Still, what the hell? A lot of shortcomings on here, for sure. But overall, it's a good live Traffic album. Hear that? A Good Live Traffic Album. And it really reinstated - even if for a very short moment - my faith in the band: here, for a while, they prove that essentially they are a rock'n'roll band. They may not have tons of songwriting talents, but they do have the nerve and the capacity to play loud, wild and unpredictable rock, instead of just boring the pants off of you with generic folk and jazz 'compositions'.

Kudos to the band. Unfortunately, they'd followed this live album with three more studio ones, and that was a pretty rotten idea, if you axe me.



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

A little bunch of relatively catchy melodies heavily diluted with bad prog/uninspired jazz-pop ambitions.

Best song: ROCK & ROLL STEW

Track listing: 1) Hidden Treasure; 2) The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys; 3) Rock & Roll Stew; 4) Many A Mile To Freedom; 5) Light Up Or Leave Me Alone; 6) Rainmaker.

Okay - I take it back, not as rotten as I once thought it to be. The first studio album of the 'new look Traffic' is significantly better than the two other ones following it. For one reason and one reason only: the songs are based on actual melodies. Not particularly brilliant or immediately memorable melodies, but acceptable pop melodies with hooks and everything that goes along with an acceptable pop melody. The downside is that there's only six of them - and nearly every instrumental break on the album is absolutely worthless. Back in the studio, Stevie managed to keep the 'mega-band' together, but Dave Mason finally fell out of the picture for good, and therefore the album lacks an effective guitar player: Stevie's alright when he has to deal with rhythm playing, but he's a somewhat lacklustre soloist, and so tries to compensate it with supposedly 'stellar' organ and synthesizer work, which doesn't work either. Listening to this record, one really begins to recognize the awesome talents of Dave - after all, it was he and he alone that managed to turn Welcome To The Canteen into such an exciting, never-ending groove. Low Spark, on the contrary, sounds like a bunch of guys who sure know how to write songs but who certainly have not the slightest idea of how to perform them with a flare, and do it according to the principle 'God will show us the way'.

A typical example of such an approach is the radio classic which is the title track. At least, it's supposedly called a radio classic - I have trouble imagining all of its eleven minutes ever being played on the radio. (Single edits, perhaps?) An anthemic jazz-pop composition, it presumably carries a message against the excesses of glam-rock ('high heel boys'), although it's kinda blurred lyrically. But that's not the main thing about the song: the main thing is that its perfectly suitable melody, a simple, yet somewhat catchy and even atmospheric chord progression, is completely reduced to a horror by the song's length: Winwood goes into an interminable synth-based jam that I couldn't even call a 'demonstration of chops' - it's just a sign of a band not knowing what it is it exactly wants to do. If you ask me, that's a perfect way to fill up empty space on a record. It doesn't rock and it doesn't touch any specific nerves responsible for any of your specific emotions. Completely self-indulgent. And the same goes for the otherwise perfectly fine ballad 'Many A Mile To Freedom', whose overall sound is perhaps the closest Winwood ever got to replicating his Blind Faith signature, or the slightly funny pop rocker 'Rainmaker' that closes the album. Both could have been pleasant little three-minute pop numbers; their actual seven minutes are a mockery of good sense.

So my sympathies, instead, go with the three shorter numbers - which, ironically, turn out to be by far the best stuff on the record. The gentle ballad 'Hidden Treasure', driven forward by a gentle flute/acoustic guitar duet and Rick Grech's powerful bassline, is impressive and features Stevie singing in a tender, emotive falsetto that for once sounds really human-like (yeah, I know that Winwood is supposed to be a genuinely great 'soulful' singer, but normally his voice is just way too monotonous and same-sounding for me to even notice any subtle change in intonation). There's a great vocal melody there, somewhat buried in all the instrumentation, and the atmosphere is kinda mystical and medieval - returning us to the sound landscapes of '40,000 Headmen', a move that I utterly welcome as it seems to be the best thing Traffic are capable of.

The other two tracks I'm quite fond of are more rocking and at least present a good alternative if you ever get completely sick of Winwood's toothless jazz-pop approach. Capaldi's 'Light Up Or Leave Me Alone' has the best (though that's not saying much) guitar on the album, and it's distinguished by the magnificent drumming of Jim Gordon - and by the way, don't forget to check out Derek & The Dominos' At The Fillmore East where Gordon really burns the house down. Okay, I know that's unrelated; just wanted to remark that Jim's a great drummer, and he certainly contributes a lot of efforts to Traffic. So sad he had to kill his own mother... then again, who ever knows the ways of fate?

In any case, my favourite number on the album is 'Rock & Roll Stew', a menacing 'hard-rock' number (yeah, I do mean these quotes - just in case you make the mistake of associating this word combination with Led Zeppelin in this particular case) with elements of funk thrown in. The authorship is credited to Grech and Gordon, and it's probably Grech who sings on the track; and, while the song's message (life on the road again) may seem kinda trite, the number's 'boogie-on' atmosphere is certainly infectious.

Not infectious enough, though, to really make me raise the album's rating even one point more than I've given it. Now if only they'd squeezed all of these six songs on one side and took all the decent material off their next two albums and put it on the other side, they might have come out with a minor (var.: major) masterpiece. Unfortunately, they haven't. But hey, I've just given you a hint! Eh?



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 7

If you're interested in a bunch of dull people pretending to be playing progressive rock, this one's for you.


Track listing: 1) Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory; 2) Roll Right Stones; 3) Evening Blue; 4) Tragic Magic; 5) (Sometimes I Feel So) Uninspired.

The second 'late Traffic' release finds the band still walking along their trodden path, rarely eschewing it and never leaving it. Here's the formula for this record: take one of their duller early records (Mr Fantasy, for example), throw out half of the songs (preferably the better ones), enlarge the rest by undistinctive solos and even more undistinctive jams, add some high school level lyrics and give the record a long and uncomprehensible name, and that's Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory for you. Now, now, of course I'm exaggerating. You might easily see it from the rating I gave the record which, while certainly not plausible, at least suggests that it's not their worst effort in this life. They had worse albums (When The Eagle Flies, for instance).

I don't even know whether I'd go far enough to say that the song length is one of the main problems on the record. It is a problem, of course: there are but five tracks in all, with the shortest being five minutes long and the longest almost twelve. On the other hand, Winwood is at a total lack of melodies: even the good ones are derivative, while the bad ones are simply non-existent. So I guess he was intentionally lengthening the tracks because he was simply unable to come up with more songs than he did come up with. What you have to do is get over it and try to squeeze everything that's possible out of the 'jams'. Unfortunately, there's not much you can really squeeze out: Traffic were one band that jammed out of not knowing what else to do rather than out of showcasing.

The title track, in fact, is by far the only thing that's able to attract attention, with a solid heavy rhythm pattern and an overall compact and angered sound - apparently it's a protest song, but don't even try to figure against whom and what: Capaldi comes up with vague, oddly "prophetic" lyrics, painting surrealistic pictures of apocalypse ('Good man gets the good wife, while bad boy's cleaning up his knife/And all I got is trouble and strife to help me on my way' and suchlike). But in any case, the number somewhat cheers me up because it's one of the few Traffic songs that really rocks - with gruff guitar tones, sneering wah-wahs and a solid, er, 'headbanging mid-tempo' I'd call it.

The lengthy jam 'Roll Right Stones', on the other hand, is abominable, it seems to drag on and on for what seems like centuries which is only right because there's nothing to hang on: the band obviously doesn't know quite well where the hell it's going so it's jamming on and on in vain hope of a moment of inspiration. They don't even jam - they just extend all the intros, outros, verses and choruses to such a length that if they really started to jam, they'd end up crashing the forty minute barrier. But in any case, the much coveted moment of inspiration arrives only on the twelfth minute when they finally fade out.

As for the other tracks - well, they're what I usually put on my lowest plank of 'okay' (= 'passable background music that isn't offensive to listen to in case you don't have a Brian Eno or Stevie Wonder record at the ready instead'). 'Evening Blue' is a half-decent background ballad that fans of Stevie's voice will certainly appreciate but I will just say "ehh... passable"; the instrumental 'Tragic Magic' is unnoticeable despite its almost seven minute long running time (sometimes it seems like an outtake of Stevie jamming with himself while recording John Barleycorn - same style, but thrice as less energy or inspiration), and the track that says it all in the title, 'Sometimes I Feel So Uninspired', is, paradoxally, the most inspired track on the album. That's not saying much, of course, but the way Steve sings of his problems is heartfelt, and the song also distinguishes itself by featuring the only memorable guitar solo on the album. But perhaps I'm just holding a soft spot for this stuff because it so accurately matches the band's and Stevie's personal state of things at the time? After all, if you are uninspired, the next best thing to doing nothing is to try and transfer your uninspired state of mind onto record - which can be a brave move, almost innovative, dare I say? That said, the song is still overlong as everything else on the album.

Ugh. One more thing. I mentioned they were 'pretending to be playing progressive' in the introduction. I bet you'd like to know what it means, now wouldn't you? Fact is, Traffic were never meant to be a prog rock band, but apparently Stevie Winwood wanted to get as artsy as possible. The problem was that neither he nor any other member of the band were really qualified for it. The lyrics are only trying to imitate prog; and the melodies... well, if you make a song as long as possible that still doesn't mean it has to be a prog one. The sound is much too thin for a prog rock album: these are still the same bluesrock boys as before, only a thousand times more ambitious. The jams are still essentially blues jams, only undistinctive and trying to be represented as something 'higher'. Nope, it doesn't work for me. If I want to listen to a blues rock record, I'll take Cream (hell, even Blind Faith might do - Stevie, haven't you learned your lesson with Clapton and Baker?); if I want to listen to prog, I'll have my Genesis or ELP right away. Tell me please - what do I need this record for? It's tedious!



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8

A 'solid', but certainly not grabbing jazzpop record that won't offer you anything you haven't heard before in a better variant.


Track listing: 1) Something New; 2) Dream Gerrard; 3) Graveyard People; 4) Walking In The Wind; 5) Memories Of A Rock'n'Rolla; 6) Love; 7) When The Eagle Flies.

The one and only record of 'late mini-Traffic' (after the departure of Rebop, Hood and Hawkins) I currently possess happens to be the last one for the band (if you don't count the obscure reunion record) and is often considered the worst of the era. With this I probably could agree - at times (and after a few more listens I tend to agree with those that say it's actually better than Shootout, which makes me seriously raise its rating); however, I honestly don't think it's any more offensive than most of their previous releases, self-titled album excluded. It's just typical Traffic: pleasant to the ear, nicely played and produced, but ultimately void of any serious contents. The major misfire is the loss of Rebop: his fine percussion work actually added something to the sound (although you wouldn't guess it until you heard both Fantasy Factory and this one).

Here we also have the Winwood/Capaldi show all the way: Steve plays all guitars and keyboards (including some over-abused synths) and sings, while Capaldi contributes the usual bland and eventually meaningless lyrics, autobiographic as they might be ('Memories Of A Rock'n'Rolla'). The tracks are terribly overlong, also in the 'late Traffic' tradition, so there's just seven of them (that's still better than on Shoot Out, anyway), and not even a single one can be qualified as an interesting, memorable song. They're mostly decent, though, building on that ear-pleasing mixture of keyboard pop and sax/flute jazz that the band was based on from the very beginning but which it also put to better use six years earlier. The melodies are, well, embryonic at best, and at the worst there's none at all, like in the worst (and, thanks goodness, the shortest) offender of all - the three-minute 'Love' which just happens to be an unlistenable mess of flute and other 'supporting' instruments in the worst traditions of an atonal King Crimson jam. Wait, it has a steady tempo and it ain't actually dissonant. That doesn't save it, either - I like my melodies stabilized and up to the point, not just lazily-jazzily noodling about.

The central piece on here is the lengthy jam 'Dream Gerrard' that has no serious melody as well, but at least there's a rhythm and it's built on a pretty little synth line that helps get you through the song without getting lost in the thicket. Of course, it also begins to get on your nerves around the sixth minute or so, but at least there are all kind of solos on different instruments, even including a wah-wah, and it's good background music, anyway. And while that seven/eight-note synth riff might seem so irritatingly repetitive to some, for me it really not only saves the whole experience, but actually makes it, providing a solid basis around which the vocals, pretty orchestration and everything else is based, which is exactly the thing that, say, 'Love' missed. Do I make myself clear? Although certainly this is not the kind of song that I'd like to put on if I want to convince somebody of Traffic's greatness. Then again, what would that kind of song look like? Hey, I know! I'll put on 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' and pretend that it's Winwood singing!

Okay, now that we got these monstrous thoughts out of the way, lemme tell you about what I consider to be the two or three other really decent numbers on here. There's the opening track, 'Something New', that's a good jazzy shuffle there, and it's short and somewhat catchy which is an advantage if it's Traffic we're speaking of. There's the stupid 'Memories Of A Rock'n'Rolla' which borrows the melody from the Stones' 'I Got The Blues' in such an obvious manner that the only two reasons the Stones didn't sue the band for that I can think of are a) either they were in close relationships with Stevie somewhere around 1974, which I doubt, or b) the Stones stole that melody themselves (a much more probable variant - obviously this is some kind of old soul song that I don't know). Of course, Winwood is no Jagger, and I never liked 'I Got The Blues' in the first place, but meeting just about any Stones rip-off on a Traffic record is like meeting a long lost friend with a barrel of fresh water after walking in the desert for several weeks, if you get my metaphor. Finally, the only short song that I'd call highly listenable is 'Walking In The Wind', an unmemorable, but nevertheless pleasant lightweight piano pop number that's quite unlike anything they did before. I needn't mention that it's overlong - there can't be such a thing as a good pop song that goes on for seven minutes, right? Right am I.

On the whole, this is just one more record that really makes me shrug my shoulders and question: 'Why the hell did they need to release this stuff?' In fact, I can see no other reason than contractual obligations. This is boring, slow, uninspired music totally devoid of any energy or importance, not to mention innovation or, er, experimentation. Dozens of bands were doing all this with much more verve at the time, and Stevie just seems stuck on the level he achieved more than half a decade ago. His wary and undistinctive, but still prominent use of synths on the record only emphasizes this feeling: c'mon, Stevie, either play these gimmicks well, a la Wakeman or Emerson, or don't fuck with 'em at all, I say!

That said, I did rate this album too low (an overall rating of five? Holy crap, after all, it ain't an early Eighties' Rod Stewart album we're speaking of! What was I thinking?). The current rating, I think, reflects the album's essence much better - a mediocre, conservative, stagnated effort, but an effort that contains nothing particularly offensive in the mix and has at least a few decent musical ideas. If you want genius (and I know I want genius), stick to... to... Ah, hell, just come look at the site in more details.



Year Of Release: 1994
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 6

Gruesome. Gruesome. They seem to pick it off right from the very moment when they stopped twenty years ago.


Track listing: 1) Riding High; 2) Here Comes A Man; 3) Far From Home; 4) Nowhere Is Their Freedom; 5) Holy Ground; 6) Some Kinda Woman; 7) Every Night Every Day; 8) This Train Won't Stop; 9) State Of Grace; 10) Mozambique.

I suppose now is the time to jeer and sneer and pull various ugly faces. I mean, if I had so many nasty things to say even about those Traffic records that are considered their best, what possible words of kindness or consolation could I ever find for Far From Home?

The story in brief - band-wise, this is not much more of a Traffic record than John Barleycorn. It's a pure, unabashed exercise in nostalgia: darn it, there wasn't even any reason to have a Traffic reunion. Since 1974, many things, joyful and sad, have happened on this dirty little planet of ours. Jim Capaldi dissolved in an unknown direction - he's been often seen guesting on solo Winwood projects, and rumours say he's even had a load of solo records of his own which nobody ever heard. Winwood and Mason have subsequently sold out - veering off in a Phil Collins-ey adult pop direction; the fact that one year after Far From Home Mason joined a boneless and ragged version of Fleetwood Mac only hints at how miserable his position really was. And Chris Wood was plain dead. In brief - the fates of the band members were fairly unattractive.

It's evident, then, that Far From Home, the result of a 1994 'reunion', couldn't even hope to amount to at least something vaguely important. First of all, it's a 'reunion' of only two members - Stevie and Mr Capaldi share all the songwriting and most of the playing, barring a couple guest spots. Second - most of these songs beat EVERY record of boredom I've ever accounted on a Traffic record. Namely, this is not too distant in style from When The Eagle Flies: same barrelloads of toothless, uninspired R'n'B drivel, with only occasional hints at actual melodies. For the most part, Winwood just supposes he can get away on the power of his voice alone - and sure enough, his voice, though it's become shakier and feebler with age, is still in good form nevertheless. But that never stops him from extending the instrumental passages as well, and that's where the main problem lies. There are ten songs on here that are stretched over more than an hour, and that means that none of the tracks but one finish under five minutes, and quite a few of them go over seven and eight. And it's not that they are multipart or something - no, in the finest tradition of 'Dream Gerrard', they just keep pushing the monotonous 'jamming' on and on and on, never knowing when to stop. Cut in half, the record would have at least made a passable listen; as such, it is only acceptable as more or less decent background muzak.

Or maybe not - sometimes they get really close to disgusting. Many have stated that the music itself is closer to Winwood's solo albums than to the classic Traffic formula; this may indeed be so, but the natural difference from the classic Traffic formula is in that all of this stuff is slick, overproduced and very Nineties-sounding. Not that they rely on electronic drums or techno beats, of course; but there are still way too many synths, and I can feel a very heavy Phil Collins influence in most of the ballads. And when coupled with the lack of melodies, this makes up for something really painful. The title track, for instance, is so bland and unimpressive that only a complete jerk could let it run on for eight and a half minutes. It has a two-and-a-half minutes intro, for Chrissake! And it has no melody! Not a single ounce of it! MTV rubbish epitomized. Likewise, the somewhat shorter 'Here Comes A Man' and 'Every Night Every Day' are faceless mid-tempo pop rockers, and the only satisfying thing about them is the beat which is steady and at least allows you to tap your foot - as distractedly as possible; and the bombastic, gospelish 'Nowhere Is Their Freedom' and 'State Of Grace'... err... I guess Mark Prindle would have said these songs 'irritate his penis', but being the polite and cute little person that I am, I'll just content myself saying they're crappy.

But I don't really need to carry on with all that blabber - I have described most of this style's flaws in the reviews above. Here I'll just attempt to stress the few things about this album that I like, or at least tolerate. On 'Some Kinda Woman' the band shows a couple o' teeth - it's not exactly 'Gimme Some Lovin', but at least it's a tough, hard-hitting R'n'B tune with some great basswork and a good sing-along refrain. And the 'epic' number 'Holy Ground', while certainly long for its eight minutes, is distinguished by the wonderful sound of Irish uileann pipes, played by guest musician Dave Spillane - the lyrics are mostly banal 'eco-preachiness', as Wilson & Alroy would have it, though.

Only two songs on here that I could really be fond of, though. A nice organ pattern distinguishes the nostalgic, moving 'This Train Won't Stop'; not that the song doesn't sound like a Phil Collins number, of course, but hey, it sounds like a great Phil Collins number. There's something in that refrain - 'this train won't stop... till we reach the end of the line' that really moves me: even such mediocre rockers like Traffic do have their right at playing something nostalgic and self-assuring in the Nineties, and the song certainly gives some hope for the future... Musically, though, the most impressive track on here is the one which is (a) the shortest - clocking in at a miserable 4:22; (b) the one featuring absolutely no vocals; (c) coming right at the very end of the album, so there's little chance anyone but the most diehard Traffic fans has ever heard it. It's called 'Mozambique' (not to be confused with Dylan's number of the same name), and it does feature some congas and stuff, to be sure, but it also showcases Winwood's instrumental skills for all their worth. It's relatively fast, and along the way Steve plays some magnificent and quite inspiring guitar and organ solos, showing that, whatever the circumstances, his playing skills haven't diminished a single bit over the years, maybe even improved.

Not that two songs can really correct the situation - perhaps it would have been better to release them as a single and screw the rest. As such, the album reeks of uselessness and clumsiness for miles around; truly, I hope this will be the last record we'll ever see under the Traffic moniker. The guys are obviously alergic to reunions. Whatever. If you ever cared for the band in the first place, you'd better be advised to stick to the 'classic' releases. But find this record, if you're able, and tape 'Mozambique' off it. This is, mayhaps, the best solution.


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