Some bands benefit from their hype. Some are diminished by it. Cream both benefited and suffered.
Some CDs benefit from their hype, too. (_Love & Theft_ and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot come to mind.) Some are diminished by it. (_Devils & Dust_ and Undermind come to mind.) At this point, it seems as though the new Cream live CD, like the band, falls into both categories.
Creams reunion disc is typical of reunions in one way it enables a listener to reconnect with past experiences. For me, being born in 1974, those experiences mainly involved digesting this bands music out of both enjoyment and a sense of duty, as an aspiring fiction writer might digest Tolstoys books. Listening to the live disc reminds me of triumphs I barely recognized until now: the insane contradiction between Sunshine Of Your Loves militaristic drumbeat and its flower power lyric, the proto-R.E.M. way in which Badge demonstrates that a lyric which veers from trivial to downright unacceptable can resonate when its got the right guitar riffs with it. And, of course, the more commonly recognized triumphs: the early metal riffs, the way they introduced the Willie Dixon cryptic wisdom of Spoonful and the old-man-sentiments of Born Under A Bad Sign into what was formerly a young persons music, their lodging of self-indulgent in the vocabularies of rock critics everywhere.
Was Cream the first jamband? If so, they had a decidedly different attitude about their music from most improvising units discussed here. No finding the hey hole for these guys. They were each the best of their day and they wanted you to know it. Reviews Ive read of their 2005 shows alternate between deriding this attitude and bemoaning its lack of representation in their new music.
I can take or leave most of Eric Claptons post-Cream music. (He made the peculiar choice to issue a typically forgettable new solo CD a few months before this Cream disc, including a single which makes the even odder choice of using Bob Marley-imitation music to put down someone who want[s] a revolution. Although the song gets more intriguing if you consider that its target might be, say, the Iraqi insurgency.) However, I must admit that the Unplugged Layla affected me a bit. Where the Derek & The Dominoes version was all screaming vocals and screaming guitars, this performance evoked the conclusion that, in love and life, sometimes things just dont work out, so accept it and move on.
The changes in Creams 2005 playing evoke the same feeling. Toad, for instance, which had an 1812 Overture-ish bravado in its old incarnation, is just a song now, an assured but unpretentious instrumental theme leading to a musical, polyrhythmic drum solo and (headline writers take note) lasting (as does every track on the disc) less than 10 minutes! The players play very well, but, for better or worse, they are just players, not world conquerors.
Granted, several of these songs are noticeably settled farther back on the beat than old versions. Sleepy Time Time has gone from a joke to something more like a statement of fact. But Eric Clapton can still play the blues, especially at slow tempos. And, for the inevitable non-blues, Ill take Were Going Wrong and Deserted Cities Of The Heart over Tears In Heaven or Wonderful Tonight. And if a few glitches made it onto the CD (and Ive gotten the impression from reviews that the editors needed to use their scissors on these recordings), its an acceptable tradeoff for hearing live players with personality.
I agree with one sentiment expressed by many of the hypemongers. Lets have a tour.