Kronomyth 14.0: THRILLER IN VANILLA. More than a comeback, August is the story of how Clapton got his groove back. Until now, Clapton had been, for better or worse, the white curator of dead black men’s music (Sleepy John Estes, Robert Johnson, Bob Marley). August eschews the blues/reggae history lesson for a full immersion in modern R&B featuring Lamont Dozier, Greg Phillinganes, Robert Cray, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner and Stephen Bishop. The results are sometimes unexpected (“Behind The Mask,” “Hung Up On Your Love,” “Walk Away”) and often exciting (“Run,” “Miss You,” “Holy Mother,” “Tearing Us Apart”). In this new setting, the opening “It’s In The Way That You Use It,” recorded with Albert Lee and Henry Spinetti, almost sounds like a throwback to the old days rather than the contemporary hit that it was. Warner Bros. had to be happy with the results this time, as August is exactly what you would hope for in the pairing of two of the 80s biggest and most bankable stars, Phil Collins and Eric Clapton. Behind The Sun, his last record, was interesting but disjointed and ultimately underwhelming. August comes out swinging and never stops. Granted, ending the elpee with “Behind The Mask” is unsettling; the epic and guitar-driven “Grand Illusion,” which appeared only on CDs, brings the album full circle. Those expecting flashes of guitar brilliance may miss them if they blink, but in exchange for extended solos are some of Clapton’s best vocals in years; anyone who can get the best of Tina Turner in a duet is no second stringer. Rolling Stone, in their original review, called the album “stilted and disappointing,” but their zealous veneration for the blues is well documented and August is simply not a blues album in any sense; even the Robert Cray cover (“Bad Influence”) has a strong streak of mainstream pop in it. If, however, the idea of Clapton playing the King of Pop for a day is intriguing, August lives up to its name.
Kronomyth 13.0: YOU’RE NO SUN OF MINE. Phil Collins’ plans for world domination apparently included producing at least one Eric Clapton album. Warner Bros., it would seem, had other plans, and sent Clapton back into the studio with their own producers (Ted Templeman, Lenny Waronker) to record some professionally penned songs from Jerry Lynn Williams including “Forever Man” and “See What Love Can Do.” The result is an ungainly hybrid of overproduced crap (which would include the studio version of “She’s Waiting”), synthesizers and some decent songs from Clapton that are shuffled into the back of the family photo like unwanted stepchildren. Behind The Sun clicks some of the time, but not where you’d expect. The Phil Collins money shot, “She’s Waiting,” though not a bad song in and of itself, is a terrible vehicle for Clapton. The label-approved “Forever Man,” on the other hand, turns out to be the best song on the album, but the other two Williams tracks fall flat. The blues, Clapton’s strong suit of late, take a turgid turn on the eight-minute “Same Old Blues,” while the R&B chestnut “Knock On Wood” is whitewashed into the album’s blandest (albeit cleanest) track. The album only begins to hit its stride on the second side, where the Collins/Clapton pairing finally finds a comfortable middle ground between Collins’ synth-driven production values and Clapton’s core guitar, voice and personal songwriting. I can understand why Warner Bros. freaked out when they heard songs like “Behind The Sun,” since it represents a complete departure from what Clapton has done in the past, but they should have had the vision to see that songs like “It All Depends” and “Never Make Your Cry” (which sounds uncannily like Annie Lennox’ version of “No More I Love You’s”) were an ambitious extension of what Clapton had been doing all along. It’s almost as though Warner was too blinded by profit to see the value of what Collins and Clapton were doing. All most. Despite the temptation to label the album a comeback (it did sell a lot more copies than his last), Behind The Sun is hardly a bright spot in the constellation of Clapton.
The Rolling Stone Record Guide of 1980 called this a “grand gesture,” and one was needed after the letdown of The Beatles’ breakup. None of the Fab Four had sketched out a roadmap for the future, McCartney opting to recycle ditties from the past, and All Things Must Pass became something of a beacon. Great works from John, Paul, even Ringo would follow, but it took George to call their bluff. Spread out across three albums (now two discs), All Things Must Pass confirmed what many already knew: George was a good songwriter just waiting for a patch of sun to call his own. No longer overshadowed by John and Paul, the quiet Beatle has a lot to say about the breakup, God, and (on the album of jams) his own guitar heroes. Phil Spector sometimes suffocates good ideas under too much varnish (“Wah-Wah,” “Awaiting On You All”), but more often elevates these acoustic songs into powerful statements (“My Sweet Lord,” “Beware of Darkness,” “Isn’t It A Pity”). With Bob Dylan contributing half of “I’d Have You Anytime” and “If Not For You” (given a more earnest reading on his own New Morning), it’s perhaps no surprise that All Things Must Pass sounds like a son of the Nashville skyline, all cool country charm when the mood strikes. You can imagine “Let It Down,” “Behind That Locked Door” and “All Things Must Pass” sharing a train ride with “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.” Maybe it’s the pedal steel guitar or the fertile arrangements, maybe it’s the easy way these songs just roll along with an offhand genius. And then there’s the joy apparent on All Things Must Pass. It’s at the heart of songs like “What Is Life,” “My Sweet Lord” and “Awaiting On You All,” a sort of revival-meeting energy that sweeps you up. Toss in some songs that recall the solo work of John (“Beware of Darkness” in its demo version) and Paul (compare “Art of Dying” to “Mrs. Vanderbilt”) plus a few nods to The Beatles (“I Dig Love,” the second version of “Isn’t It A Pity”) and you may have the most substantive solo musical statement in all of Beatledom. The album of instrumental jams, while often overlooked, show Harrison, Eric Clapton and Dave Mason blowing off some steam in various settings. Of course, Jimi Hendrix left vaults full of stuff like this behind, so they’re best seen as a bonus disc of curiosities rather than a balanced contribution.
Kronomyth 1.8: HEIRING AID. A year after Live Aid, Midge Ure and a smaller, star-studded cast returned to Wembley Arena to celebrate the 10th anniversary of (and raise money for) the Prince’s Trust Charity. This disc highlights the biggest stars from the concert, including bits by Ure, Dire Straits, Phil Collins, Tina Turner, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Sir Macca himself. As concert discs go, this one is pretty tepid; so was Live Aid for that matter. Performers don’t get a chance to set up the acoustics the way they’d like, they don’t get a chance to warm up, in some cases they’re playing with ad hoc bands (albeit with very good players), all of it conspiring toward mediocrity. The sound engineering on this one isn’t particularly good either; a lot of sound seeps out and what remains sounds thin. So if you weren’t invited to the original party, Highlights is no magic ticket. Some of the performances are good, most of them fall flat. Honestly, if you’re interested in hearing an oldies revue like this, pick up one of Ringo’s All-Starr albums. Speaking of The Beatles, McCartney does a decent version of “Get Back” with Tina taking a few lines and a short, spirited revival of “Long Tall Sally.” (The elpee version featured a bonus single with Sally and I Saw Her Standing There.) As someone who still isn’t completely sold on the merits of live albums, I’m rarely charitably disposed to these save the worldwind tours. The Trust’s Tenth is a great cast for a good cause, but a good live album it isn’t.
The opening moments always remind me of Tales From Topographic Oceans, which may sound like high praise to some, but I felt that work didn’t walk in beauty so much as meander in it. Two Sides of Peter Banks meanders something awful, as if the guitarist never got around to finishing it. In its defense, there are some brilliant prog passages on the first side that anticipate the work of Anthony Phillips and Steve Hackett. Other bands that come to mind are Camel, ELP and, of course, Flash. All of which should be enough to pique the curiosity of most classic prog fans, and with good reason. Solo albums are a surprisingly good source of music sometimes: Olias of Sunhillow, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Voyage of the Acolyte, The Geese and The Ghost, etc. Classic works in their own right, and Two Sides holds their company about half of the time. The other half of the time, Banks is busy unraveling the tapestry he’s created. The nadir to Knights’ zenith is the aptly titled “Stop That!,” thirteen-plus minutes of aimless playing that makes the jam side of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass seem inspired. However, Yes fans in particular are likely to pay close attention to Banks’ every move because his sound is so similar to Steve Howe. That’s where the Topographic comparison holds the most: Two Sides sounds like classic Yes a lot of the time. It wilts under closer inspection as weakly strung together, but there’s no denying it’s inspired in spots. If you believe the magic of Yes is undermined (and I do, in spite of Starcastle), then Two Sides of Peter Banks is a diamond in the rough. Unfortunately, One Way didn’t bother to polish it for the CD reissue, resulting in still-audible tape hiss and uninspired repackaging.