No Reason to Cry is no reason to rejoice. Let alone dance in the streets. Eric Clapton's latest album is as shiny-slick as an iced-over sidewalk and about as enticing as sit-slideing your away along one--easy, too easy, smooth, too smooth. He sings "Hello Old Friend" all around the AM networks but the lyrics leave you colder than the "Hi! What's happening?" of an acquaintance who passes by before the reply.
His current version of the blues is chillier than a used Christmas tree lying in a gutter--Derek of the Dominoes has degenerated beyond shooting the sheriff (in self-defence, of course), to the dog days and pseudo-gospel of There's One In Every Crowd and thence to Shangri-La. Which (surprise, surprise) turns out to be a recording studio just raring to press this most recent rocking/R & B-ing/reggae-ing/reneging-on-his-followers onto vinyl.
The Cream flavor has soured. The memory of the genius of Layla, able to redeem hours of poorer Clapton, has disspated: "Innocent Times" on side two whines, "no reason to laught...no reason to cry."
It would be hard to find a less "Beautiful Thing" than the opening track of this album. Clapton's choice of lyrics has always tended towards the fourth-shot-of-Jim-Beam simplistic, and though Richard Manuel and Rick Danko dreamed up this particular opaque gem, Clapton's lazy guitar and uninspired vocals add no lustre. This prolonged and painful recollection of a past love is chicory-bitter moaning. It won't generate much energy except in your fancy new turntable. You know, the kind you can program to skip tracks.
But Halleluia! This premature Lent musci is succeeded by a frothy, exuberant and brilliant Mardi-Gras "Carnival." Clapton finally gets a move on. Though the song palls after the umpteenth kaleidoscope whirl around the muscial merry-go-round you hope again that next time, on the next track, you'll win a real prize.
But the next song, Bob Dylan's "Sign Language," attracts about as much attention as a deaf-and-dumb hawker. You feel you ought to pay some attention but it quickly fades from your memory.
Then the "County Jail Blues" begin, with first slowed-down, next revved-up-to-speed-at-the-end-of-the-phrase guitar riffs, with a tight and consistent bass backing that provide the steadiness needed. It is easily the most unsettling and so the most successful track on the record. It repeats itself methodically but never to the point of monotony. There's a feeling behind it that is generally conspicuous by its absence on the rest of the album. Called almost-blues.
Eric Clapton is just too good for his audience's good--it makes him self-indulgently reliant on wild and wonderful improvisations that lend themselves ill to your run-of-the-mill Top 40 song.
His chief mistake has been to forget his past, unique, personal statements of the Layla vintage ("Bell-Bottom Blues,"
reYou Ever Loved A Woman," et. al.) Under the impression, it seems, that he can reach an even wider public by broadening the scope of his musical sources.
And so you get "Hungry," which basically echoes "County Jail Blues" but is muffled by a chorus whose hunger "for your sweet smile" belies the rasp in their voices. There are tantalizing jammings between relatively bland layers of sentences and, after a while, you begin to wish that he's either turn it into an instrumental or stay with the stong and stop showing-off all his fancy tricks. Again, this song wasn't written by Eric Clapton but you rather wish he hadn't brought so many other people into the act--less is more and too many cooks...
Clapton has digested so many musical influences that he's dulled his palate. Invesitably the result is bland, a sort of baby pea-and-ham mush of originally solid substance. It's hard to distinguish Clapton's puree from Brand X any more and his appealnow lies chiefly in the hints at the original taste of the musical base than today's too-well-blended pulp. Not any reason to cry--that's too strong a reaction.