Here are my reviews of Cream’s studio albums.
1966: Fresh Cream (8/10)
Though many of the elements found on their best studio tracks are already present on their debut, with hindsight we can see that this record finds them caught between more traditional British blues and the kinds of jazz-influenced, arty stuff they would do over the next two years.
Like all their studio music, this record gives barely a hint of what they were like in concert, which is where their real influence lies.
It’s still extremely well done blues rock (with the exception of some of Clapton’s rhythm parts) and it’s understandable why such high-end musicianship would have been such a big deal at the time.
But this is not their best record.
1967: Disraeli Gears (8/10)
Cream’s second album is far and away their best.
The songs are better here than on Fresh Cream and the band’s sound (on record) is much more coherent – this feels like a psychedelic blues band instead of just a louder, jazzier British blues band. (Also, Clapton appears to have drastically improved his rhythm guitar playing.)
And it’s far more consistent than the weirder studio disc of Wheels of Fire. And though I like Goodbye, the studio tracks there really don’t feel like Cream.
So this is their best record. It’s not one of the great psychedelic records though, it’s just a very good one. Cream’s songs were never good enough to compete with the best psychedelic bands and, though Cream are incredible musicians, this isn’t even remotely as trailblazing as Hendrix. (And that’s because Cream did most of their innovation live, for whatever reason.)
If you’re going to listen to one Cream album, it’s this one, but you’re probably better off with a Best Of.
1968: Wheels of Fire (7/10)
Many years ago I wrote the following:
The more I listen to it, the less I like it.
When I was in high school and early university, I thought this was pretty good. I don’t know why I overlooked the filler. But that’s the chief problem: filler, filler and did I mention filler? Studio half I’d probably still give a 7 but I’m leaning towards 6 for the live part.
The Bruce songs on the studio half are good and often classic. The blues covers are good. The Baker stuff is passable, but barely. And I don’t see why they had to include it.
On the live side, “Crossroads” is great (obvs), “Spoonful” is okay – but check out Goodbye for better live performances – and “Traintime” and especially “Toad” are total wastes of time.
This band was clearly coming apart at the seems, as it’s obvious they were all going in totally different directions by this point. I’m starting to think Goodbye is the better album, an opinion I never used to hold.
I don’t entirely disagree: there is some pretty good art rock and blues rock on the studio side, but half the live tracks are awful.
7/10 does feel charitable. Part of my problem is I have listened to this album so many times that I like a lot of the crap on it, or at least know it well enough to confuse familiarity with enjoyment.
To further explain my comment about the live tracks: “Traintime” is an old Graham Bond Organisation number that Bruce stretches to interminable length here, and it’s just him singing and playing harmonica, with Baker playing the drums. This live version of “Toad” presumably helped start the horrible ’70s trend of drum solos that go on for 10 minutes. I used to know every pattern, but I’ve long since come to hate what this song caused.
1969: Goodbye (7/10)
Yes, the live tracks are excellent. The studio songs are more consistent than Wheels of Fire. But this is still a flawed, half-assed record.
Let me try that again:
The live tracks are excellent. It’s like a whole side of tracks of the quality of “Crossroads” or “Spoonful” from Wheels of Fire…Oh, wait…they already did that? Okay, it’s that again but without another side of time-wasters. (I realize after writing this that one of the live tracks is on side 2. Oops. Still, this is a much better version of live Cream.)
The studio material is indeed more consistent than Wheels of Fire:
- “Badge” is the prettiest song Clapton wrote for the band, and it’s no surprise he had help
- “Doing That Scrapyard Thing” is definitely on par for other material of Bruce’s from Wheels of Fire
- Is “What a Bringdown” the best song Ginger Baker ever wrote?
Because I listen to the CD, I’ve always thought of “Anyone for Tennis” as part of this. It presage’s Clapton’s solo sound.