First Appeared at The Music Box, May 2003, Volume 10, #5
Written by John Metzger
Over the course of the past decade, collections of songs recorded at the BBC have been trickling out from a variety of classic rock artists including David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, XTC, and The Beatles. The latest group given a fitting tribute is Cream — the ’60s psychedelic blues-oriented power trio that featured Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker. Simply titled BBC Sessions, the album culls 22 tracks (20 of which were previously unreleased) along with 4 brief interview segments with Clapton to form a distinctly different overview of the band’s short-lived career.
Given the nature of the BBC’s Top of the Pops — after all, it was a radio program — the tracks are unusually short, so those seeking Cream’s extraordinarily epic jams will have to wait. But bypassing this collection for simply this reason would be a terrible mistake. Contained within are numerous gems, many of which were originally previews of what was to come from the group. As such, each track offers an intriguing counterpoint to the band’s corresponding studio recordings. For certain, Cream was extremely economical in its approach to the BBC program — not only squeezing in as many songs as possible into its allotment of time, but also carrying each tune further than one would expect a few minutes to allow. As a result — and in spite of the group’s considerable focus — nearly all of the tracks are intense, Technicolor bursts of light that explode like an Independence Day fireworks display. Though it clocks in at just under two minutes, Crossroads is an explosive force, propelled by Baker’s pile-driving attack as well as the dual leads of Bruce’s bass and Clapton’s guitar. Likewise, Traintime chugs along so furiously, it threatens to derail, but remains thoroughly intact. On the slower side stands what is perhaps the BBC Sessions’ finest track — the mind-melting dreaminess of We’re Going Wrong. Laced with searing guitar licks, the song hides tense, ominous percussion beneath the pain in Bruce’s soaring vocals in a way that unquestionably outshines the rendition on Disraeli Gears.
During its brief career, the attention focused on Cream tended to revolve around the band’s incendiary live performances. "Clapton is God" was the mantra chanted by the faithful who had followed him through both The Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Often overlooked amidst its pyrotechnics was Cream’s collective ability to move the listener emotionally as well as to pen a great tune. The BBC Sessions — much like the band’s studio releases — corrects this misconception by spotlighting the latter without fully relinquishing the former.
BBC Sessions is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box