Of all his notable distinctions, John Fogerty has the rather ridiculous one of having been sued for plagiarizing himself. Yes, himself. If to plagiarize is to take someone else’s creation and pass it off as your own, it seems impossible that a songwriter could run afoul of any moral, ethical, or legal standard by passing off his own work as his own work. And yet, Fogerty was sued for doing just such by his former record label, Fantasy, because one of his solo songs, “The Old Man Down the Road”, sounded too much like “Run Through the Jungle”, a song he wrote while with Creedence Clearwater Revival. To prove his innocence, Fogerty had to take his guitar into the courtroom, play the two compositions, and demonstrate how they were distinct and different creations.
This incident was but one of many in a hate-filled relationship between Fogerty and the label of his former band. The ill will spawned by this feud led Fogerty to turn his back on his own legacy. He even refused to play Creedence Clearwater Revival songs in concert; it also drained the joy out of being an artist, and the result is a solo career with large spans of time between releases. Thankfully, this feud was put to rest a few years ago when Concord Music Group acquired Fantasy and made amends with Fogerty. Not long afterwards, he released The Long Road Home: The Ultimate John Fogerty/Creedence Collection, which finally bridged his work with Creedence Clearwater Revival with his work as a solo artist.
Now John Fogerty gives us Revival, an album many will proclaim as a return to the past sound of Creedence Clearwater Revival. The truth, however, is that he never left his signature sound behind. Listen to any solo album of Fogerty’s — whether it is Centerfield or Full Moon Swamp or Deja Vu All Over Again and you will hear the Fogerty Sound, rock ‘n’ roll returned to its roots, then delivered with simplicity and soul. Whether with Creedence Clearwater Revival or as a solo artist, Fogerty has never made distinctions between country, R&B, soul, rockabilly, or blues. For him, it’s all American music, and many of his songs can simultaneously be placed in all of these categories while belonging to none of them.
And yet, it’s easy to see why many will see Revival as a return to the past for Fogerty. After all, the debacle with Fantasy left him so disillusioned that he ran from his own iconic status, even though his sound never wavered. With the feud resolved, Fogerty is embracing his legend and making sure you never forget it. Everything from the title of the album to the third track (titled “Creedence Song”) to the familiar themes of social and political injustice serve as reminders of his immense influence. No, this isn’t a return to the past, but a celebration of it, and who could honestly say that Fogerty isn’t worthy of some self-induced praise and fanfare?
The main reason, though, that Revival shouldn’t be viewed as a return rather than a continuation is that it sets up an unfair comparison. Yes, “Don’t You Wish It Was True” possesses the same laid-back shuffle of “Proud Mary”. Yes, “I Can’t Take It No More” is a blistering, scathing screamer that lashes out at an unpopular war just like “Fortunate Son” (the former even references the latter). However, to compare the newer tracks with the older ones only result in seeing Fogerty’s newest songs as pale imitations of his classics which they aren’t.
Indeed, while Fogerty is clearly excited to be at peace with his roots, his songs have matured with time. “Broken Down Cowboy”, for example, shows a lyrical and emotional depth only bestowed by time. “If I was a gamblin’ man,” the narrator says, “Never would’a let you play your hand / With a broken down cowboy like me.”. Portraying a man who’s regretful for allowing love to slip away from him, the song is poetic in its ability to communicate profound truths with simple images. In a similar vein, though pertaining to social, rather than romantic, matters is “Gunslinger”, a lamentation about the decline of the values that made America a great place to live. In moments like these, Fogerty sounds all the more vulnerable because of the passage of time.
Then there are those moments when Fogerty sounds like an angry young man again, particularly when he’s directing his ire towards George W. Bush. The majority of the tracks have, at the very least, subtle references to Bush’s foreign policy blunders, but many are anything but subtle. “Long Dark Night” and “I Can’t Take It No More”, in particular, rage against Dubya, the latter proclaiming “I bet you never saw the ol’ school yard / I bet you never saw the national guard / Your daddy wrote a check and there you are / Another fortunate son”. Yes, it’s the same old thing in some regards, but if the politicians would stop being crooked, Fogerty could write about something else.
Revival is neither the great album nor the disappointment many are proclaiming it. Rather, it lies firmly in the middle, a solid album that does both Fogerty and his incalculable legend justice. This is only fitting. After all, if there’s one songwriter who has made a career of being solid, it’s John Fogerty.