Graded on a Curve:
Eric Clapton,
Unplugged

Well here you have it–the most feckless, no account, totally useless dog turd of an album it has ever been my displeasure to hear. On 1992’s Unplugged axe legend turned pop hack Eric Clapton plays the blues with far less passion and commitment than your average 94-year-old lady puts into a game of Mahjong, laying waste to “Layla” and adding his live version of “Tears in Heaven” to the short list of contenders for worst song ever in the process.

The joke’s on me, I suppose. Here I’d been begging somebody to unplug old Slowhand for years, and when they finally did I got… this monstrosity. Be careful what you wish for.

Robert Johnson–whose “Malted Milk” Clapton does a grave disservice to here–sold his soul to the devil; Clapton sold his soul–or what little was left of it–to MTV. As it turns out, one is much safer making deals with the Lord of the Underworld. But I’m not blaming MTV; its corporate heads didn’t force E.C. to go the adult contemporary, easy-listening route. The decision to sleepwalk his way through the LP’s assortment of hoary blues covers and lackluster originals was all his.

Champions of this bland excuse for an album–and there must be legion, given it’s the best-selling live album of all time–will no doubt argue that Clapton had every right to play like a guy who’s taken too many muscle relaxants, and they have a point; Clapton’s mid-1970s conversion to the easy-does-it Tulsa sound is a matter of historical record, and you can hardly fault a guy for digging the likes of Clyde Stacy and J.J. Cale.

But there’s a difference between laid back and Sominex, just as there’s a difference between taking it easy and taking the easy way out. On Unplugged Clapton takes zero risks, that is unless you call his unspeakable transformation of “Layla” into an advertisement for adult diapers taking a chance. Clapton left the passion at home and plays it safe throughout, and while there are a precious few genial winners towards the end of the LP, there isn’t a single lightning strike. Unplugged? Make that Can’t Find a Thrill.

I’ve always disliked Clapton–if it weren’t for Layla and Assorted Other Love Songs and a precious few other tunes, I’d have no use for the man whatsoever. His politics are despicable, he stole George Harrison’s girlfriend, and if that’s not enough to convince you he’s a dastardly cur he followed the execrable “Tears in Heaven” with the exquisitely vile “My Father’s Eyes,” thereby achieving a kind of immortality as the author of the two worst tear-jerkers ever to bedevil listeners of discernment and taste. Oh, and if you plunk down for 2013’s “Expanded and Remastered” version of Unplugged, you can hear BOTH OF THEM!

All five of the songs Clapton had a hand in writing are shite; “Signe” is a forgettable trifle, powerless ballad “Lonely Stranger” is yet another variation on a tired Clapton formula, and “One Love” is pure pap for people who apparently can’t get enough of the stuff. Clapton leeches all of the romantic torment out of “Layla,” dispensing with both tempo and coda in the process, and as for “Tears from Heaven,” I know the man underwent an unthinkable personal tragedy, but I’ll be blasted if I can see why I should have to suffer for it.

Poor Eric loiters his way through covers by everybody from Bo Diddley to Big Bill Broonzy, risking moving violations on only three of them. His country Stones take on Son House’s “Alberta” wins me over on the power of Chuck Leavell’s piano alone. On Jesse Fuller’s “San Francisco Bay Blues” the gormless one does the unthinkable by picking up the tempo and, believe it or not, having a little fun; Leavell bangs away on piano, Andy Fairweather Low throws in on harmonica and Clapton, improbably enough, picks up the kazoo. And on closer “Rollin’ & Tumblin’” the band rocks and rolls, Clapton plays a stinging guitar, and for once he sings with what almost sounds like real passion. All three songs are at the end of the album, and it’s as if a waiting team of emergency medical personnel, mistaking the star’s complete lack of energy for death, had raced on stage to administer a needle filled with adrenaline into his heart.

If Unplugged depresses me, its unfettered success depresses me even more; the goddamn record’s a complete snooze, and I can only deduce from this that its true appeal is to people who despise the blues. Because on Unplugged Clapton dispenses with all of the things–pain and passion, urgency and mystery–that make the blues great. What is left? Easy listening for the MOR set, and some clap-alongs for the nostalgia crowd.

Forget what I said earlier; the hand at work in Unplugged really does belong to Old Scratch. He made a deal with Clapton, if not at the crossroads then backstage at Bray Studios in England where the LP was recorded. He said, “Betray your gifts, Eric, and I’ll revive your career. Toss in a version of “Tears from Heaven,” and I will seat you at my right hand for eternity.”

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text