First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2007, Volume 14, #11
Written by John Metzger
Tue November 13, 2007, 06:40 AM CST
Complete Clapton is not the first retrospective to be devoted to the recorded output of the highly influential guitarist who, over the years, has been dubbed both "Slowhand" and "God." Neither will it be the last. Regardless, the act of distilling Eric Claptonís career into a two-disc, 36-track endeavor is not an easy feat. Past attempts either have been too superficial to matter (Time Pieces: The Best of Eric Clapton) or too elaborately detailed for the general public to care (Crossroads). Although the latter collection sold remarkably well ó and is insanely good ó itís rather doubtful that the entirety of the set shares equal weight among the songs in its purchasersí personal playlists. Complete Clapton, therefore, is designed specifically to bridge the gap between these two disparate approaches, and for the most part, it succeeds in its goal of being both comprehensive and concise.
Of course, Complete Clapton isnít without its deficiencies. Beginning not with his formative moments with The Yardbirds and John Mayallís Bluesbreakers, but rather with his fiery outbursts with the power trio Cream, the collection merely skims the surface of Claptonís legendary history. Its biggest flaw, of course, is that it utterly avoids peeking into any of the fascinating nooks and crannies of its subjectís massive canon. Considering its contents, however, such a criticism of Complete Clapton is almost a given, though at the same time, it also is easily dismissed since an in-depth and insightful examination of Claptonís work isnít ó in any way, shape, or form ó the purpose of the set.
Issued 12 years ago, The Cream of Eric Clapton provided a tidy summation of Claptonís most highly regarded recordings by pulling into a single, cohesive package all of the requisite moments from what arguably were his best ó or at least his most consistent ó years. With the exception of replacing Blues Power with Lay Down Sally, the first half of Complete Clapton wisely follows in its footsteps. From the psychedelic crunch of Creamís Sunshine of Your Love to the enlightened, gospel-born beauty of Blind Faithís Presence of the Lord to the epic, classic rock staple Layla, the collection traces the path that Clapton took as he tried to cope with his fame as well as with his insecurities, which he accomplished by relinquishing at least part of the spotlight to Steve Winwood and Duane Allman. By the time that he embarked upon a solo career, he further had shed his penchant for "guitar god" pyrotechnics in favor of emphasizing his ability to pen a song. Claptonís obsession with the works of J.J. Cale and The Band parlayed itself into music that was more subdued and seductive (Hello Old Friend, Promises), and although many fans balked at his change in direction, the results are, in hindsight, quite brilliant.
The other factor that continued to weigh heavily upon Claptonís output, however, was his desire to capture the essence of the blues in a simple pop tune, and as rockís landscape changed, this became a more difficult balance to achieve. While this methodology served him well during the 1960s and 1970s, it caused tremendous consternation for his fans during the 1980s and 1990s. Consequently, the latter half of Complete Clapton is a more problematic affair. Essentially, this portion of the endeavor reworks and fine-tunes Clapton Chronicles by sequentially presenting material that ranges from his 1983 effort Money and Cigarettes (which is represented by Iíve Got a Rock ínĎ Roll Heart) to The Road to Escondido, his 2006 outing with Cale (which is illustrated by Ride the River). While itís true that the inclusion of cuts like Forever Man, Itís in the Way that You Use It, and, perhaps, Change the World, and My Fatherís Eyes will test the patience of some of his followers, these songs are, nonetheless, an integral part the overarching narrative of Complete Clapton. They dutifully highlight how the guitarist altered his approach, for better or for worse, with the times.
In the end, Complete Clapton contains absolutely no surprises, and everything on the collection is precisely where it ought to be. While itís true that taking Claptonís greatest moments out of context diminishes them to a slight degree, this same process significantly elevates his lesser works. In the end, the way in which he brought his career full circle, by returning to his folk and blues roots, is what not only gives the set its sparkle but also holds the greatest promise for the future.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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