Clapton: Still God. Compilation: The Devil.
Let’s start off by saying the “7” ranking you will see at the bottom of this review is based on Clapton’s abilities as a guitarist and to put together memorable music. If I was allowed to assign a ranking based on the package itself, this would be about a “2” or “3” at best. Why? (Glad you asked.)
The irksome point in all this is the word Complete in the title. This is about as complete as Beethoven’s Unfinished Symphony. If memory serves, didn’t Clapton play in a little-known band called the Yardbirds? Wasn’t he also a one-time member of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers? And perchance, didn’t he do some work with Delaney & Bonnie? I know, minor details. Why let facts get in the way of a good compilation?
The reason for said hits package to make its appearance is that it bookends (no pun intended) with Clapton’s autobiography. Really, only the curious need apply to purchase the CD with the book. Those who have either of the previous Clapton retrospectives (the single disc The Cream of Clapton, or the absolutely awesome four-disc set Crossroads) have no need for this new grouping, Complete Clapton, unless you need to add some of his middle of the road hits to your collection.
Clapton still earns high marks as a guitarist of legend. And the best way to hear this collection to hear just how great an axe man he is, is simple, listen to each song twice. The first time, you hear how the song comes together, the melody, the obligatory solo, etc. But the second time around, just try to focus on the guitar(s). This is where you hear Clapton’s genius. He is so nuanced a guitarist, he can use one note, one short run, or one off-the-cuff riff to change a song’s dynamic.
Take for an example, “I Can’t Stand It”. Listen to the song, and you think it seems so simple, yet as the song moves on, Clapton does more tweaks and mini-runs with his guitar to give the song a bit more body and fullness. But on this example, and several other of his solo works, the frustration is that, except for his solos, his guitar seems to be buried low in the mix.
The collection, song wise, is basically a “Clapton For Dummies” collection. It runs chronologically, and starts with five Cream songs. You can probably guess at four of them and be correct; the two mega-hits (“Sunshine of Your Love”, “White Room”), the “recognized” guitar masterpiece (“Crossroads”), and the best non-hit album cut they ever did (“Badge”). The fifth chosen one is the first song off their very first album, Fresh Cream (“I Feel Free”). And then name any other Clapton song that was a staple on FM-radio, and it’s likely to be on here, from rockers like “Layla” (both electric AND acoustic) to “Cocaine” to “After Midnight” (sadly, only the fast version; the slow one is on Crossroads) to the ballads, such as “Wonderful Tonight”, “Tears In Heaven”, and “My Father’s Eyes”.
This grouping touches on some of the later stuff too. Some of the welcome inclusions are “Motherless Child” (from the underrated all-blues album From the Cradle), “She’s Waiting” (still love the fife and drum ending, though it runs a tad too long), “Sweet Home Chicago” and “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day” (both from the Robert Johnson cover album), and one each with duets with B.B. King and J.J. Cale (“Riding with the King” and “Ride the River”, respectively).
For all of the above, plus the songs that are on here that weren’t mentioned, if you do the “twice-listen” test, you will certainly hear why Eric Clapton has been labeled as “God” (the fans), or as “Slowhand” (Clapton’s preferred nickname). His passion about his work is unquestioned; his talent on a six-string is in rarified air, and people of all musical tastes, from rock to mellow, love something of his.
So in essence, if you want a batch of hits in a nice, neat, tidy two-disc package, then again, you certainly can’t go wrong with Complete Clapton. That’s why musically, this ranks a solid “7”. Otherwise, there’s no new ground here. It’s certainly not even in the same ballpark as “complete”. This is strictly a marketing ploy to go hand-in-hand with his biography, and it will sell to a new generation of baby boomers who didn’t want to invest in a four-disc box set, and who would rather hear “Tears In Heaven” than “For Your Love” or “Strange Brew”. In fact, dare I suggest you purchase Crossroads instead, then just download the few songs from Complete Clapton that don’t appear on there? I do.