The History of The Albums – n°359
Cream is the embodiment of a legendary trio shaking up the codes of Rock forever. Disraeli Gears remains as its spokesman. Formed by guitarist Eric Clapton, singer and bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker, Cream is known first and foremost for being the very first "Supergroup" of all time, a term given to a group made up of already famous musicians. Clapton was already considered one of the best guitarists with his experiences in the Yardbird and John Mayal's band (Bluesbreakers). The other two came up through one of Alexis Korner's underground groups before forming The Graham Bond Organization. Not to mention that Bruce was even a member of the Manfred Mann. In itself, I think the term Supergroup is a bit of an exaggeration, since only Clapton had a significant popular following. On the other hand, if the history will know more prestigious "supergroups" if we base ourselves only on the line-up, Cream remains the symbol of this new phenomenon. The Cream adventure will have lasted only 2 years, since the group will end up not getting along anymore because of a too overloaded common lifestyle, but the British brought so many things beyond their content. One thinks inevitably of their way of playing very strong, amplified in disproportionate ways for the time which owes them the nickname of Power Trio. Cream knew how to reformulate a mixture of Blues Rock and Psychedelic Rock to become one of the major pioneers of Hard Rock. To illustrate my point, you only have to look at all the Blues Rock, Hard Rock and Heavy Metal artists/bands from the late 60's to the 80's to see Cream in their genes as a fundamental base.
The genesis of the Cream formation is quite funny. Some time ago, Eric Clapton had left the Yardbirds because he wanted to keep a Blues Rock soul, unlike Jeff Beck who was moving towards new psychedelic and experimental trends. Clapton then bounced back easily and incredibly within John Mayall's band, an authentic band that suited him more at the base. However, it wasn't long before Clapton became bored and considered a more exciting experience, of which Cream would be the ideal. It was then that one of the best guitarists in the world proposed to Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce to form this famous trio. However the initial idea was quite audacious. Baker and Bruce were part of the Graham Bond Organization, both tired of their situations, marked by big conflicts. Cream was built on the understanding of the latter, as if you put a dog and a cat in the same room who can't stand each other. This is how the "cream of the crop" was born in 1966, in a relatively humble way.
Soon the band Cream was on the lips of all of London and soon the United States, while Clapton was totally unknown there. The band performed on the capital's rock circuit and at festivals, and their talent/reputation easily landed them a contract with Reaction. Within a few months, the band recorded their first album Fresh Cream, released at the end of 1966 with a mix of original songs and covers, accompanied by the single I Feel Free. After a local tour, the group flew to the United States in early 1967 to satisfy a new audience on the other side of the Atlantic, but this experience was a failure overall. Cream had an impressive reputation on the British circuit, but sales were not as high as this phenomenon. Never giving up, the band continued to perform live and flew back to the United States, to New York, to deliver three days of sessions in the Atlantic Records studios that would give birth to their classic Disraeli Gears. In spite of the delays for the official release of the album, these allow the group to gain a precious time which allowed them to finally impose themselves during the Summer Of Love in the United States, thus opening the doors of the deserved success.
With the mythical psychedelic cover of Martin Sharp, Disraeli Gears was released in November 1967 and was a great success. Beyond that, Disraeli Gears is the holy grail of the supergroup since this album has become the absolute reference that we think of when we talk about Cream. Recorded with more resources and produced by the winning pair Felix Pappalardi/Tom Dowd, Disraeli Gears features mostly original songs, often co-written with additional songwriters so that the band can better focus on their interpretive skills where they excel. It is important to note that this masterpiece was thought as an album, by doing the impasse on the Jam songs. On the contrary, this album never had a life on stage, or at least very little. The way of recording it was mainly based on spontaneity and live effect. Yet Disraeli Gears wants to be direct and without erasure. The songs are conscious, the trio was looking for dynamism and efficiency. On 33 minutes, Disraeli Gears also testifies of the almost equal participation of all the members that we feel like a real alchemy, even if the leadership of Clapton begins to impose itself. If we take into consideration the natural feeling we get from this experience, but also the variety of style explored, Disraeli Gears sounds like an evidence from start to finish.
Strange Brew sets the tone, a subtle Blues Rock sprinkled with a sparkling pop that melts like sugar. The main performer Clapton shows through a risk-taking that he is strongly attached to the authenticity of the genre, to his love for the American blues and its influences. For this reason Strange Brew never really strays from the limits, but gives it another dimension. Right away, Sunshine Of Your Love brings the rock aspect back to Cream's music, with an absolutely classic riff that doesn't even escape the more casual listener. It's as if all the primary ingredients of heavy metal and hard rock were combined in one groovy explosion. Sunshine Of Your Love is already distinguished by its structure, which makes it the most suitable to be played live. You can feel all the amplification and saturation effects, the technical prowess of Clapton and Bruce, as well as the final nail offered by Baker on the tom-tom drum. In a more discreet way, the contribution of additional writers such as Gail Collins, Pete Brown or Martie Sharp on most of the album allowed to accompany the songs present with a more sophisticated poetry and it is noticeable when it is only the members of Cream who are at the origin.
World of Pain and Dance the Night Away are examples of Cream's talent in fusing Psychedelic Rock and Blues Rock. Eric Clapton, who has always been rather shy and unconfident about his vocal abilities, lets himself be impressed by the bold melodies. To conclude the A side, the drummer Ginger Baker delivers a hypnotic blues that consolidates the fact that this album promises constant surprises. Now it's Jack Bruce's turn to take care of the second side overall, underlining the same qualities of the new leader Clapton. Tales Of Brave Ulysses is carried away by a mythical theme to experiment for one of the first times the Wha-Wha pedal. The hysterical She Was Like A Bearded Rainbow (SWLABR) clearly settles in the top of the repertoire of the British band because it is fun and terribly infectious. Illustrating the theme, around a love dispute, the structure and construction of We're Going Wrong is carried away by the chaos and frenzy. The tension is so palpable that Bruce's vocal talents come out with a strong emotion. Like (almost) every album of the time, this one has a song about the Vietnam war called Take It Back. Finally, Disraeli Gears ends with Mother's Lament, a cover of Martin Carthy's 'Your Baby 'as Gorn Dahn the Plug 'ole where we hear the trio singing this wacky ballad in a folksy manner. If Disraeli Gears does not necessarily have the unanimous approval of the listeners as a perfect album, this is also explained by the fact that this one makes the impasse on the freedom of the blues and the session jams. By depriving itself of the possibility for the songs to have a double life, this defect is sometimes considered as a thorn, where many find themselves enjoying more the live albums. In my opinion, this is exactly what I appreciate about Disraeli Gear because it sounds like a conquered and formidable version of Cream on LP. In any case, it is indispensable for its experimentations, its technique, its classic songs and for the considerable impact that has fed a great number of significant artists.