29 October 2014

Cream - Disraeli Gears


Very sad news indeed to hear the passing of Jack Bruce in the last few days, one of my favourite bassists of all time. He didn't enjoy much commercial success following the breakup of supergroup threesome Cream in the late 1960s, and his subsequent works were certainly nowhere as near as fruitful nor recognised as that of his bandmates Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker. What also makes it worse for him is that the finger of blame of Cream's dissolution points towards the Scotsman himself, as Clapton and Baker observed he was a difficult character to get along with.

While most of us who knew what Cream was all about back then, and with this recent tragic news in mind, I thought I'd quickly write this. Their brief reformation in 2005 for the Albert Hall concerts offered some hope of a more permanent get together, but from what I saw from the performance, it really wasn't Cream at their best, and certainly it was a tell tale sign that none of the three really had their heart in it. The act was technically flawed, there were plenty of mistakes in the show suggesting that it hadn't been rehearsed thoroughly. A real heartbreaking pity for me.

It's as good as time as any to have an examination of what made this supergroup great. The phrase "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" gets tossed around a bit these days, but no exaggeration for this blues influenced outfit even if they only existed for barely two years. I'm struggling to rack my brains at present of any earlier threepiece instrumentalists, or of any previous acts labelled as supergroups.  And their debut album, their first of four, Fresh Cream, showed the Robert Johnson type influences that the free thinkers of the time would be treated to.

The album sleeve, even if it's strictly psychedelic, is for me a work of art, encapsulating what it was like in the 1960s. It was designed by an Australian in Martin Sharp, who was also commissioned to do art pieces for Bob Dylan and Donovan. Curiously, the album title for the next one, was born from a play on words, when Clapton, wanting to purchase a pushbike, referenced toward derailleur gears. The term was mispronounced by a roadie as Disraeli, alluding to a 19th century UK prime minister , obviously a Freudian but still amusing slip. Nevertheless, the term stuck well and the rest is history, et al....

First track is the heavily blues run three chorded Strange Brew although with the psychedelia hints not straying far away, it certainly doesn't get too intense and overindulging. Eric Clapton takes a rare lead vocals on it, then it's straight onto to Sunshine Of Your Love, one of the most recognisable riffs of the 1960s with both Slowhand and Bruce sharing the verses though I fear most listeners and readers here who know little of Cream may not recognise it themselves. Then it's World Of Pain, where the wah wah pedalwork features prominently and where again the vocals are split between the two musicians, and one I love so much if it's melancholic.

Dance The Night Away has also some respectable chords and I Feel Free type harmony work between the two singers, while Ginger Baker, in a curious London accent, makes a rare vocal appearance in his self written Blue Condition closing off side one. Side two for me gets off on the best footing possible with the beautifully written Tales Of Brave Ulysses, the guitarwork is a strong scene setter, and the lyrics are just as exemplary, it's just such a spectacularly fantastic narrative.

Now for the next track which I find very oddball and just, well, odd altogether, SWALBR. Ok, granted that Eric Clapton's got a good ear for putting a good stringed set, but apparently the abbreviation is She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow. Lyrically, and they were composed by Pete Brown, a poet and friend of Jack Bruce. And while it appears that it was written under heavy influence of substances, it's basically about dealing with a love interest that walks and out of his life. Now for the minimalist track, We're Going Wrong, where it's Ginger featuring more prominently with some kettle drumsticks throughout, I certainly like the calm before the storm approach of it.

The next two tracks appear to be strictly blues-run-the-game order, first with Outside Woman Blues, originally performed by Blind Joe Reynolds, again some SWALBR type six string leads. From what I know of Reynolds, he had a disdain of women and maybe misogyny, and followed by the slightly less misogynous Bruce penned Take It Back, which is a similar Louisiana styled theme, but more meaty with JB in the vocals. Final track is Mother's Lament, basically two minutes, and I believe it's an old Cockney rhyme which I haven't heard in 30 years! Basically it's a honky tonk piano led by Jack, with all three members in full East End flowing voices, very quaint and I couldn't help giggling at it!

It might be confined to the swinging decade now, but Disraeli Gears hasn't lost the charm and unashamed grace, from overtones of blues of the Deep South to how the free thinker set his stall out fifty or so years ago. Ok, so half an hour's airplay isn't a lot to absorb these days but there's so much inventive arrangement and lyricisms that Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker put in, that suddenly I don't feel like I'm in a time warp. Not exactly overpowering The Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request or of course Sergeant Pepper, they were of course the front page news, but Cream thankfully were more than doing enough to hold their own. And of course, it comes down to at least 33 per cent the better known voice of the band - Jack Bruce, which I will charge a glass to. R.I.P.

9 out of ten. Almost perfect....almost.
Best Track : Tales Of Great Ulysses

Buy Disraeli Gears here on Amazon
Listen to the album here on Spotify
Deezer listeners click on this link - There's also a welter of bonus tracks and demos too
Cream Facebook page here, but may not be official
Official Ginger Baker website here
Official Jack Bruce website here
Eric Clapton Official Website here

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