Friday, December 04, 2009
Parting gifts come in varied forms, garnering different reactions from their recipients. When the bearers of said farewell offering do it right, everyone should leave with a drop of telltale moisture etched around the eyes. No doubt that this was the case when Cream capped a career that was notorious for its brilliance as well as its brevity.
Privately, the intense dislike that Bruce and Baker had for each other kept the aggregation on the cusp of implosion during their entire run. Curiously, the end really came when Clapton received a copy of The Band's Music From Big Pink LP and thus spent the rest of his career trying to emulate it, feeling that he and his mates had veered wildly away from their original vision.
Virtuosos all, merely saying that these guys could really play is simply a mild restatement of the obvious.
They were absolute fucking monsters on their respective instruments, standing about ten feet taller than their contemporaries as a live act.
Showing more than a touch of musical split personality disorder, Goodbye was a truncated version of Wheels of Fire with the studio cuts sounding decidedly un-Cream like. The live tunes were taken from a particularly inspired night at the LA Forum in the fall of '68.
Jack Bruce is a force, as he conducts a masterclass in symphonic four string art through every second of "I'm So Glad". It is a performance worthy of Orpheus, producing a cascade of notes through an electronic lyre, leaving the Macedonian hills ringing and the guard dog of Hades sitting pretty, offering his right paw, tail wagging happily.
The evil Furies weep and the Sirens' voices are tamed as all three solo like madmen in tandem.
No less impressive are their renditions of "Politician" and "Sitting On Top of the World". Anyone that was fortunate enough to have seen them in their excessive prime was treated to the spectacle of two massive towers of Marshall amps sitting on either side of Ginger's impressive drum kit. Playing with sheer abandon, there was little that came close to the electric thrill that emanated from every stage that they walked upon. Clapton's magic combo of white Gibson SG through the stack was a unique voice (sonically almost a cross between violin and guitar) and Baker tuned his drums to the point where they transcended percussion.
Having divested themselves of the US touring commitment, the next step was to produce a monumental spectacular that would rival "Wheels of Fire" in scope. Lacking the heart to carry on with such an undertaking, they managed to tape foundation work on a mere three selections at Wally Heider's facility in LA before calling a halt to the sessions.
Trooping back to the UK with tape boxes marked “Eric’s Tune”, “Jack’s Tune” and “Ginger’s Tune”, Cream prepared to give their Farewell Concert in November of 1968. The last original music that they would ever wax could scarcely be more different than the wild, improvisational flights captured in their live sets. These songs sound as if they had been laid down by a completely different band.
In truth, they hinted at what their sound may have morphed into had they not been ripped apart by their extreme personal differences. Their hardcore following had already painted them into a corner from which they would not be allowed out of. Tiring of playing to type, the operation came to an authoritative stop.
So they hastily completed their respective compositions at London's IBC Studios, with Felix Pappalardi on hand tp produce.
Fellow Band enthusiast and pal George Harrison had originally supplied the majority of "Eric's Tune" to Clapton.
Harrison: " I wrote most of the words and Eric had the bridge and the first couple of chord changes. I was writing the words down and, when we came to the middle bit, I wrote 'bridge'. Sitting opposite to me, he looked and said, 'What's that- badge'? So he called it 'Badge' because it made him laugh."
George plays rhythm up to the pregnant pause and then Eric does the best GH imitation ever, complete with Leslie toned arpeggios and a laid back solo. Funky bass lines and piano are provided by Bruce, culminating in one of the most accessible, melodic things that they ever did. Ringo Starr added the lines about "our kid" (younger sibling) marrying Mabel and the swans in the park.
Bruce's whimsical "Doing That Scrapyard Thing" had most of the lyric supplied by Pete Brown over the telephone, around midnight in the midst of the recording. This is a remarkably bizarre tune, though I say this in the kindest sense as it is stacked with fantastic changes, prominent piano breaks and falsetto vocals. Jack claims that it was autobiographical, though with so much going on it seems tough to pin down any specific meaning. Ginger's "What A Bringdown" was anything but, as it represents his finest offering to the Cream discography. Barreling through changes in time signature and sporting surreal words, it brings the LP to a close with edgy uncertainty.
That was it.
Well, it would be 25 years before all three would find themselves playing together again in a one-off gig for their rock hall of fame induction. Following this, twelve more years would pass before they reformed once more in 2005 for a series of concerts that will likely stand as their last shows.