Disappointing Albums, Music

51 Disappointing Albums: ‘Mardi Gras’ by CCR

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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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When he was still a music critic, Jon Landau found Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR)’s final studio album disappointing. In his Rolling Stone review he called it “Fogerty’s Revenge” and said that it was the worst album ever by a major rock band. That’s a huge call and one that suggests he’s never heard Byrdmaniax.

The revenge angle is an interesting one with a curious twist. Apparently bass man Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford had gone on the record complaining that John Fogerty was a control freak that wouldn’t let anyone else write songs. What they didn’t know was that he wasn’t letting anyone else play on them either. According to several sources, Fogerty would go for pizza with the fellas after a recording session and then slip back to the studio to spend the night rerecording all of their parts. Those classic CCR songs are possibly just John Fogerty on guitars, drums, bass, keyboards and everything else. That’s indisputably him playing all the horns on Chameleon from Pendulum. He’s something of a mad genius but I’m not complaining.

Tom Fogerty had jumped ship before work on Mardi Gras commenced. Tom was the older brother and the singer in The Golliwogs, the proto CCR. He was okay, the songs weren’t bad but his little brother John is a superb songwriter with a great voice. What can you do? Quit or, in the case of the other band members, just complain.

John was fed up with them and, in Landau’s telling, he allowed them to sing their own songs on the album to demonstrate his superiority and their utter amateurishness. Landau says that he threw on three of his own songs and a cover, recorded in an indifferent manner so that it was clear that even his weakest efforts were ten times better than Stu and Doug’s. Great story, but a little far fetched maybe.

Doug Clifford goes a bit Ringo on Tearing up the Country and Need Someone to Hold. His singing is as flat as a board but the songs aren’t bad at all.

John Fogerty’s battle with Fantasy records is legendary and his anger at the label boss, Saul Zaentz was almost biblical in its intensity. Fogerty is an intense dude and who knows what he thought he was doing with this album? Does Mardi Gras sound like a band at the end? Sure. Is it disappointing? Of course it is. It followed Pendulum after all. Would a final album of Fogerty originals and a couple of rockabilly covers have made for a better record? Yes. But is this Self Portrait? Not by a long shot.

First of all, the Stu Cook and Doug Clifford songs aren’t that bad. Sail Away, the Cook song, usually singled out in reviews as the bottom of the Mardi Gras barrel is, in it’s own way, a little gem. He’s not as good a singer as John Fogerty but few are, and this song has really grown on me over the years. It’s like one of those mad, early seventies Beach Boys tunes. You know it’s flawed but there’s something utterly irresistible about it. His Door to Door is great too. A no bullshit bar band letting loose on a Saturday night. It’s not Proud Mary but, then again, what is?

Doug Clifford goes a bit Ringo on Tearing up the Country and Need Someone to Hold. His singing is as flat as a board but the songs aren’t bad at all. If either turned up on an Eagles record, you’d fall off your chair. I suspect that John Fogerty had a lot more to do with these songs than is commonly thought. His impeccable guitar work shines throughout this album and it’s a good place to appreciate just how good he is on less familiar songs. The arrangements are as strong too and, despite Landau’s dismissal, there are no real duds on this record. Try this at your next dinner party: make a playlist without the Fogerty songs and put it on after dinner without saying anything. If one of your guests doesn’t demand you burn them a CD, you need to make some new friends.

But Fogerty’s contributions are at the heart of the record, not surprisingly. Landau dismisses his cover of Ricky Nelson’s Hello Mary Lou. He says that the guitarist makes a mess of James Burton’s original guitar work. Impossible since Fogerty is the better player. Sacrilege! Did I mention that I am a Fogerty fanatic? Sweet Hitch Hiker is one of the first songs I remember hearing as a kid. It’s maybe not one of CCR’s truly great singles but I’d still get out on floor if it came on the jukebox at the great roadhouse of my imagination. It’s raw and a little unhinged.

Which leaves Someday Never Comes. I think this is Fogerty’s most affecting song. It certainly affects me every time I listen to it. I don’t think there is another rock and roll song that can consistently have me reaching for the hankies. Fathers, sons, sons of sons. It’s heartbreakingly honest and John tells his story in an entirely convincing manner. Landau calls it boring. What does he know? Springsteen’s music hasn’t been the same since he came on board, as far as I’m concerned.

What’s wrong with it?

Quite simply, it isn’t as good as the five CCR albums that came before it, nor is it as good as just about any of Fogerty’s solo albums.

Why do you need to hear it?

The Fogerty material makes it essential but the Stu Cook/Doug Clifford stuff is worth hearing, particularly with John Fogerty’s arrangements and guitar work.

Mardi Gras used to be hard to get and every record guide that I owned trashed it. I bought it at a record show at the height of my CCR fanaticism in about 1989. It’s disappointing but, for me, it’s the best kind of disappointing album.

For the rest of this series, click here.

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