Eric Clapton – Journeyman
[Reprise/Duck Records 92-60741, 1989]
I bought this for a couple of songs that I love, and ended up liking the whole thing. Mostly. The guitar work is, of course, unimpeachable, and most of the songs are so strong it hurts. But the 80’s weren’t kind to anybody, and some of the sound is pure 80’s cheese.
Pretending’s cool little blues intro devolves quickly into its Miami Vice-like sound (with blistering guitar runs and solos, of course), which totally matches the hilarious, wrinkled and ill-fitting grey Don Johnson-esque leisure suit (with shades!) he’s wearing on the back cover of this record. Those reverb synths, that chorus that somehow manages to bring things down a bit rather than lifting it all up (as a chorus should), Chaka Khan on backing vocals… Great song. Just definitely of a period.
Anything For Your Love keeps that sound alive, at half-speed, sounding like it could have come off any major Hollywood movie soundtrack circa 1985. The guitar hammer-on noodling in the background is fun, but it helps to have headphones on to notice that it is there. Really nice solo here, and Robert Cray on guitar too!
Bad Love’s synth intro gives way to a satisfying guitar line worthy of Cream. Of course, by the time he starts singing, the song lightens up again. The pace also seems too quick, trying too hard. I wonder if Phil Collins being on drums for this track has anything to do with that. Oh well. The soloing here is absolutely blistering.
Running On Faith is one of the reasons I bought this record. It’s one of the most gorgeous songs Clapton has ever recorded, capturing that longing, that blues that can (and does, here) save a record. The acoustic slide guitar, the choir, everything. Perfect. The version on 24 Nights is also glorious.
Hard Times is the main reason I brought this home, and my favourite track on this record, Greg Philliganes is all over the piano on this superlative cover of Ray Charles, his playing the real heart of the song. The guitar is perfect, the horns (including a sax solo!), the story of the song… Man, I love this track.
Hound Dog is a fun, stomping jalopy run-through of an old classic. You can tell this is the point in the recording sessions where the band just wanted to be loose and have fun. And who wouldn’t, with Robert Cray along for the ride again?! Good on ’em, anyway. It totally worked. The spirit here is easy to recognize.
No Alibis is another 80’s blast, worthy of any of Steve Winwood’s records. A great guitar sound, that soaring soloing. Daryl Hall grabs harmony vocals (where was Oats?), and Chaka Khan and friends return for backing vocals.
Run So Far, written by George Harrison, features the man himself. This track definitely displays his sound and influence. Amazing he’s here, really, given his history with Mr. Clapton and a particular woman… shows incredible personal courage and restraint. Anyway, also cool to see Rolling Stone Darryl Jones on bass, here.
Old Love is a great blues that wants to break free of the 80’s grip of the record. Robert Cray on guitar, Gary Burton on vibes. Just a great slow dancer with guitars everywhere.
Breaking Point is funky chunky, and still holding tight to the sense that it ought to have Harold Faltermeyer playing on it. Great wah-wah guitar. The song drags on a bit long with far too much repetition (taking the listener to their own Breaking Point?), but whatever. Maybe they could have cut out the synth break. Oh yeah, they could have.
Lead Me On is a pretty, wobbly-sounding love song with Cecil and Lina Womack (it’s their song) sharing vocal duties. Some of the lyrics are right out of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, and the rest is pure disgusting maudlin, but I guess they were just in a touchy-feely mood. Let them have their moment.
Before You Accuse Me brings back Robert Cray again for a rip through this Bo Diddley classic. I love this track. Some absolutely scorching guitar solos here, and that great shuffling 12-bar blues that Clapton should use more often. You may know the version on Unplugged better, but this one absolutely smokes.
This record contains a couple of my favourite Clapton tracks, and some toss-aways too. It may also have seemed to be the last of its kind for ‘God’ himself, teetering as it was on the edge of the grunge period.