Music

Eric Clapton: Back Home

Lou Friedman

At one time, Eric Clapton was God. Right now, he's not even George Burns.


Eric Clapton

Back Home

Label: Reprise
US Release Date: 2005-08-30
UK Release Date: 2005-08-29
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Excitement, thy name isn't Clapton, Eric. Yes, we are past the point of expecting E.C. to generate songs that would take us back to the nostalgic '60s of Cream or the early '70s of his Blind Faith period, or even a few years past that during his earlier solo works. We are quite aware that E.C. is, more often than not, happy to be an M.O.R.'er who puts out songs that snuggle tighter to the pop format than the rock format. And yet, we wait and we hope, because once in a blue moon, the former guitar God has dropped an uncharacteristic bombshell that makes us pine for the days of yore (From the Cradle). And with that exception, Clapton hasn't put out an overall good (I'm not even talking great here) album since 1981's Another Ticket. (Ironically, the smash hit from that release was "I Can't Stand It".)

Clapton is a lot like R.E.M. right now. You put either one in a live setting, and no matter how much a song sucks on a CD, it sounds better because all of the layering and sheen and magic tricks that can be pulled off in the studio have no chance of happening live. R.E.M.'s 2003 hits tour was one of the best of that year, simply because of the energy and lack of overproduced sound in concert. Clapton is the same way. No matter how deep his guitar is buried on a recorded version of a song, it's at ear-level when he's performing live. Both of these artists take too much control in the studio and tend to overproduce, giving their songs a sheen that a jackhammer couldn't break through. And while this may appeal to some of the baby-boomer crowd, the old diehards wish for some more organic sounds. And sadly for Clapton, Back Home falls again into that shiny trap.

Clapton also seems to have reconciled that at least one or two songs on his "pop" albums have to have some of what made him so popular to begin with -- his amazing guitar work. When E.C. is in the mood, he can run leads with the best of them, even today. His imagination is limitless, but more often than not, he chooses to rein it in so he can remain appealing to those older fans that are okay with the nostalgia of the Cream days, but are more in tune to the later, safer solo works.

The title Back Home is in reference to Clapton's happiness that he has a home to return to, where his wife and three young daughters await his presence. Yet with that happiness, he still has time to bitch and moan about having three young kids in the opening track, "So Tired". Yes, E.C. ultimately says that all this work is okay because of the presence of his kids, but if he was trying to be cute, he failed miserably. What makes the song more maddening is that it actually has a catchy melody line, and all the extra instrumentation doesn't detract from that fact. So score one for the music, and take away a large one for the lyrics.

Most of the other songs on here are pure Pablum. If they weren't so damn overproduced to the point of choking off much of the possibility of spontaneity, a few of them might actually be decent (and they'll probably sound a lot better in a live setting, if that's the way E.C. chooses to go when he does his next solo tour). Case in point: a decent rendition of friend George Harrison's "Love Comes to Everyone" would sound so much better with less production. Compared to the rest of the album, "Lost and Found" is the grittiest song here, a blues-based number where Clapton's playing sounds like it was released from its self-imposed prison. Likewise, the otherwise bland "One Day" jolts with a surprise killer solo in the middle break and again at the end of the song. But alas, on the very next song, "One Track Mind", it's back to the same old thing (though guest Robert Randolph's restrained playing is stellar, as usual).

Two of Clapton's old tricks are prevalent: the reggae thing, and the long, drawn-out ballad. What E.C. may not realize is that "I Shot the Sheriff" worked because it was so new and unique to him, but both "Say What You Will" and "Revolution" have no bite. A cover of the Spinners' "Love Don't Love Nobody" is so drawn out, hate becomes an option. "Run Home to Me" also fits that category. (A general rule is to listen to the first 15 seconds of any E.C. song that clocks in six minutes or longer. If there's a slow tempo, avoid.)

The final cut, the title song, is the only one Clapton wrote solo (most of the others were with co-producer/keyboardist/programmer Simon Climie). It seemingly comes straight from the gut, with no middleman involved, which makes the song palatable...and believable. There's no doubt that he is in a new place under new circumstances; good for him. However, he will forever live under the shadow of his earlier days with Cream and Blind Faith, and his formative years as a solo artist. And that shadow loomed larger when he reformed with Cream to play those four nights in London earlier this year.

What the Cream reunion did was conjure up the cynicism of old-time Clapton fans, who said that even under controlled circumstances, he can still kick major butt on guitar, but that he chooses not to do so. Clapton has taken the path of least resistance for the latter portion of his career, and though he revisits his old muse on occasion, he prefers to keep his focus on the here and now. That's a good thing for those who prefer the current, blander Eric Clapton. But the rest of the Clapton masses have basically written him off. Back Home does nothing overall to change either opinion. Heartfelt? Yes. But who would have ever thought Eric Clapton's music could become so disposable? Yes, he can still flash brilliant moments (and he does here), but it's all just a tease. At one time, Eric Clapton was God. Right now, he's not even George Burns.

4

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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