Disappointing Albums, Music

51 Disappointing albums: ‘Goodbye’ by Cream

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Each week TONY THOMPSON discusses a ‘disappointing album’: why it’s disappointing, what that means in the context of the band or musician’s career, and what that says about changing critical tastes.

One thing must be made clear,” he says, this is not a series about terrible albums. They might be disappointing, but they are records that you need to hear.

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Cream is an important band. That little magpie Jimmy Page found much to his liking in their sound and sprinkled many of those ingredients into the heavy stew of Led Zeppelin. Since Zep then spawned so many of its own imitators, it is fair to say that Cream is one of the starting points for English hard rock.

It’s hard to think of another band, particularly a three piece, with so much raw talent. Ginger Baker ended up playing Afrofunk with Fela Kuti himself. He started out with poor old Graham Bond playing something like jazz. It was here that he met the man who would become his great frenemy, Jack Bruce. Bruce is, in my estimation, one of the three finest bass players in rock and roll. Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna’s Jack Cassidy and that guy in The Beatles are the others. Jack Bruce’s playing is astonishing. Listen to his first solo album Songs for a Tailor on the headphones. Amazing.

It is fair to say that Cream is one of the starting points for English hard rock.

And, of course, the guitar player isn’t too bad either. When he was playing with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, there was graffiti around London that proclaimed Eric Clapton as God. One night God went to see Hendrix and came crashing down to Kensington where he put together his own Experience and turned everything up. Their first album Fresh Cream is good without being great. The next one, Disraeli Gears is almost perfect. Wheels of Fire is a double album with all the inherent problems of such an endeavour but the studio songs on the first two sides are wonderful. These guys could write. Pop, blues, psychedelia, it’s all there on those platters.

But then God heard The Band’s Music from The Big Pink and got rid of his Hendrix style perm. Cream was finished. To be fair to Clapton, the level of antipathy between Ginger and Jack would have been too much for anyone. The stoned camaraderie of The Band must have looked pretty good. Goodbye, Cream’s final album, is a genuinely disappointing affair but not a bad album at all.

Why is it disappointing?

Nearly 10 minutes of I’m So Glad to kick things off seems bonkers now though perhaps at the time, the endless blues workout wasn’t such a dull cliche. That said, I don’t mind the five minute version of Sitting On Top of the World. Jack Bruce’s bass playing is intricate and utterly compelling. Clapton plays well – is it becoming obvious that I’m not a huge fan? Ginger is monstrous as always. It’s a great song but five minutes is enough. Politician is a slog. There’s no nice way to say it. They were all recorded at some barn in LA in 1968 and sound like they are two days away by camel. Underwater.

Why should you hear it?

The answer is simple: The studio stuff on the other side. It begins with Badge, a Clapton/Harrison co-write featuring additional lyrics by Ringo who arrived just pissed enough to give them the daft ‘swans in the park’ line. In fact, they were all drunk and someone had written ‘Bridge’ on the lyric sheet. It looked like ‘Badge’. The words make no sense whatsoever but are delivered in a vital way that makes them sound like they really mean it, man. George plays rhythm guitar while Clapton chats up Mrs Harrison in the control room, the cad! It’s one of Cream’s great songs and their final UK single.

I sometimes sense a critical poo pooing of Cream these days and I don’t like it one bit. Very few other bands from this era produced so much great music, so beautifully played.

Doing That Scrapyard Thing is another of the Cream songs that Jack Bruce wrote with Pete Brown, the poet. It’s a loose vaguely psychedelic tune with great chord changes and a mellotron. Again the lyrics mean little but it all has this wonderfully eccentric English atmosphere about it. It’s The Beatles at their loopiest or perhaps Ogden’s Nut-era Small Faces. I’ve been listening to it since 1980 and have never tired of it.

The album closes appropriately with the insistent Ginger Baker-penned groove of What A Bringdown. The song itself is anything but. It stomps along with Clapton and Bruce harmonising on the again nonsense lyrics. Clapton’s guitar work gives the song a strange urgency and leaves you wondering what another Cream studio record would have sounded like.

I sometimes sense a critical poo pooing of Cream these days and I don’t like it one bit. Very few other bands from this era produced so much great music, so beautifully played. Goodbye is certainly disappointing but I would argue that it remains essential. Did I mention that Robert Christagu has declared it his favourite Cream record? The contrary scamp! A+ for your courage, Mr Dean of Rock Critics.

For the rest of this series, click here.

One response to “51 Disappointing albums: ‘Goodbye’ by Cream

  1. Disappointing albums can be a little like your forgotten second cousin or an eccentric uncle. Get them drunk at a party and they turn out to be more entertaining than you realised. When I bought this, on its release, (’69? 70? 52/6) lumpen jams were everywhere, and popular, and Cream’s were better than most. Haven’t dated as well as we may have hoped, but still good for a run every so often. For a less-than-flattering look at Ginger I can recommend “Beware Of Mr Baker” on Youtube. Ouch!

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