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Album reviews: Eric Clapton's 'Clapton' and Phil Collins' 'Going Back'


What a difference six years make — the small but significant difference in years between when Eric Clapton was born in 1945, near the end of World War II, and the birth of Phil Collins in 1951, shortly before rock ’n’ roll would take hold of the world’s imagination.

Whatever the explanation, the contrast couldn’t be more striking between these two British rock veterans’ new albums.

Even the titles are revealing of the differing missions: For Collins, “Going Back” suggests a return, a nostalgic retreat even, to music he obviously loved — specifically, classic R&B, heavy on the ’60s Motown sound; for Clapton, it’s about identity and the exploration of self, which he does by way of mostly vintage blues, R&B and gospel in which he immerses himself with more liberating gusto than he’s exhibited on record in a long time.

Collins takes on 18 tracks in an outing as understandable as it is unnecessary, a high-priced karaoke spin for the ersatz prog-rock-percussionist-turned-master-of-the-’80s-pop-single. He’s largely re-created the original arrangements of Motown standards such as “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “(Love Is Like a) Heatwave,” “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” and “Going to a Go-Go.” But Collins’ bamboo-reed-thin voice is no substitute for towering oaks like the Four Tops’ Levi Stubbs, and the others who sang them the first time around.

He has his greatest success conjuring a thin but silky Marvin Gaye-like elegance on a couple of numbers.

Clapton, on the other hand, soars with the elemental styles he’s lived and breathed for most of his 65 years. Sharing production duties with Texas guitar whiz Doyle Bramhall II, they move effortlessly from Texas bluesman Lil’ Son Jackson’s sinewy minor key workout “Travelin’ Alone” through the Mills Brothers-Louis Armstrong ’30s standard “Rocking Chair” to his longtime pal J.J. Cale’s soulful “River Runs Deep” and the ebullient New Orleans jazz treatment of Johnny Burke and Harold Spina’s endearing marriage proposal, “My Very Good Friend the Milkman.”

Guitarists often get obsessed with what’s known as “tone angst,” and Clapton’s tone is consistently to die for: whether it’s the crisp sting he applies to the Cale tune, the deliciously muddy distortion on Reverend Robert Wilkins’ “That’s No Way to Get Along” or the sinfully dark, thick cloak around the notes he plays in another Cale tune, “Everything Will Be Alright.”

Clapton and Bramhall also have pulled off a minor miracle in assembling an ad hoc group that manages to sound like a blues band whose members have been absorbing one another’s abilities to the point of musical osmosis. Fabulous Thunderbirds harpist Kim Wilson, New Orleans R&B godfather Allen Toussaint and steel guitar ace Greg Leisz pop up on different tracks adding their distinctive touches — but it’s really Clapton’s show.

— Randy Lewis

Eric Clapton
Three and a half stars (Out of four) 

Phil Collins
“Going Back”
Two stars (Out of four) 


Comments () | Archives (8)


Collins' delivers exactly what he promised on Going Back and it is a thoroughly enjoyable album that pays homage to his musical heroes and introduces a new audience to some magnificent songs. Sadly, old prejudices continue to wind through the critique above. Why the musical "elitists" simply can't enjoy the music is baffling.

Great review of my favorite musician, who always seems to reinvent himself. Even his looks change throughout his career. It is almost like the Black Widow, where you never could get the same appearance twice. I cannot wait to receive my copy, and add it to my complete Eric Clapton collection!

phil collins, another no1 album, say no more!

Phil Collins musical background includes the proggy pop of Genesis and musical theatre, besides the review-mentioned
80s hits. It seems to me that Phil has been and is an entertainer. I haven't heard the album, but I can hear the numbers in my "mind's ear". It is enough, sometimes, to only be entertaining.
Besides, Randy, there was only one Levi Stubbs.

Collins' album is a great. Not sure why you characterize it as a "...a high-priced karaoke spin..". He does not pretend to be one of the original singers of those Motown hits, rather pay tribute to them in a masterly engineered album and 100% true to the originals with a great lineup of musicians (even some of the original Funk Brothers) , not a re-written Phil Collins' version.

A great album that I would recommend to anyone. Randy, I think there is a lot more you need to learn about music before you write another critic.

Phil Collins has always, and continues, to have success regardless of what narrow minded critics-for-hire think. It is a pity that so many critics are too afraid to admit that they actually like anything that he comes out with. The fact that Collins' album is #1 in the UK shows that he has staying power. He has demonstrated time and time again that he is a brilliant musician, songwriter and producer. He has more than earned the right to cover songs by his favourite artists, and devotes great attention to "Going Back".

Pinch your nostrills together and sing the line, "Throwin' it all away"... I can't handle much of that voice, either. Collins is a great drummer (so intense that he developed avascular necrosis of the scaphoid bones in both hands), and a great back-up singer for Peter Gabriel, but he just doesn't have the voice of a soul or blues singer. The Tarzan movie was cool, though.

Now Clapton, on the other (slow) hand... when he straps in he is definitely a conduit from and to a place that mere mortals can only visit through him. Clapton may not be God, but I'll bet he kicks back and plays his guitar on God's front porch.


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