Monday, August 20, 2007

No. 112: Disraeli Gears

Band: Cream
Album: Disraeli Gears
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: "Disraeli Gears" has the best example of Eric Clapton's signature guitar sound in the classic "Sunshine of Your Love," and several of Cream's best songs. Also, "Tales Of Brave Ulysses," which is based on a book my high school required all students to read.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Cream is nice and all, but the hits are really the only good songs on the record. The rest is mostly acid-induced filler (as opposed to acid-induced hits).
Best song: Well, I like "Tales Of Brave Ulysses" is fantastic, though "Sunshine Of Your Love" is great.
Worst song: "Dance The Night Away" is b-a-d.
Is it awesome?: Not really.

Looking thought Eric Clapton's various recordings, one of the turning points is "Sunshine of Your Love." His guitar tone -- the "Woman Tone" -- was basically only present on the Cream records, but it's wonderful. The tube amp distortion and low brightness on his guitar sound was allegedly gained by turning the volume knob on Clapton's Gibson SG (his preferred guitar during those years) , while playing on the neck pickup almost exclusively. It's perfected on "Sunshine Of Your Love," but it appears on other songs. It's wonderfully warm, yet sharp. The slight distortion is great.


One of the best songs on the record, in my eyes, is "Tales Of Brave Ulysses." I love nearly any rock and roll song that references a classic book and Homer's epic poem is the source for this one. Ulysses (the Latin name of Odysseus, basically)is the star of the song, as the sirens and winter affect him. It's not quite Mastodon's "Leviathan" album (a favorite of mine), but it's always cool to see musicians that have read something other than comic books and Melody Maker.

"Tales Of Brave Ulysses" is one of the first great songs that made use of the wah-wah pedal, an innovation that Clapton and Hendrix came upon around the same time. Clapton's use is less frantic than Hendrix' was, as much of "Disraeli Gears" uses the wah-wah as a tone pedal, left at one position. "Tales Of Brave Ulysses" has a lot of wah-wah work and it's some of Clapton's best.

"Strange Brew" and "SWLABR" are both cool songs, though both are clearly all about drugs (SWLABR stands for "She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow," whatever that means). Clapton's love of old American blues is also well-executed on "Outside Woman Blues," wherein he says he's going to get a bulldog, which always makes me happy.

But, otherwise, there are songs like "Take It Back." The song's lyrics are essentially "Take it back, take it back, take that thing right out of here." Not "thang." Thing. The creative juices clearly weren't flowing on that particular day for Jack Bruce.

Cream is a greatest hits band and I'm OK with that. It's not just a Clapton side project (check back later this week for one of those), but it's also not a great band.

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