Wednesday, August 22, 2007

No. 115: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

Band: Derek and the Dominos
Album: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Clapton's voice has never sounded better and his best post-Cream riff rocks the title track. His blues guitar finally gets a shot of country to soften it up. Duane Allman helps with guitar duties and the rhythm section is fantastic.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The songs just aren't that good. On paper, this should be a great album. It's not.
Best song: The title track has a great riff and "Bell Bottom Blues" is a wonderful tale of unrequited love.
Worst song: Nothing is really terrible, it's just kind of boring.
Is it awesome?: I don't think so.

Well, we're smack in the middle of the "Eric Clapton" worship portion of the list. Clapton is certainly a nice guitar player, but this side project of his appears to be some strange combination of Clapton's classic blues wail and the country leanings of the band he guested in for a few years (Delaney, Bonnie & Friends).

Let's get something out of the way, this is not a great album. There are great musicians on it (notably Duane Allman on guitar), but the songwriting is mediocre, at best. The way the record is produced (two genius guitar players, excellent production) is among Clapton's best and Clapton's voice is at best here.

"Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs" disproves two axioms. The first is that drugs make creative people better (the relation to "he started to suck when he stopped using"). Clapton was afflicted with a full-fledged heroin addiction at this point in his life and the songs he wrote are mostly tripe, slight Allman Brothers ripoffs ("Keep On Growing" comes to mind).

The best songs are the most famous. The title track suffers from the ridiculous piano coda (three goddamned minutes!), but that guitar lick is undeniable awesome. The story of unrequited love is rampant through the album, but "Layla" has Clapton literally screaming for this woman (who, as it turns out, was his best friend's wife, Pattie Boyd). "Bell Bottom Blues" also tells the same tale, but the chorus is what makes "Bell Bottom Blues" so great. The lilting quality of Clapton's vocals fit the song perfectly as he strums the old blues guitar licks.

Overall, it's not much. The rest of the record is paint-by-numbers blues with excellent guitar work. But, like Steve Vai after him, there isn't much emotion -- probably because he was strung out while making it. The famous tracks are great, the cover of Hendrix' "Little Wing" is fun, but the rest of the album is pretty boring. Blues rock. Fancy.

1 comment:

fft said...

Think this is a fair reading of an album that I've always loved.

To me, just hearing Duane and Eric play together on this album is awesome. Then add in the heroin-riddled emotion and raggedy-ness and its great to listen to. To me a great blues album... I own the box set which has a "Jams" CD that I think is especially good.

All that said, I can see your point. While there are other albums where I could argue "you don't see it yet", for Layla I think your point is valid.

I also think the Rolling Stone bias applies especially here. This is a "stars" album from the early age of RS magazine, and RS definitely looks at this from a "fan" lens.