TBT - Cream Releases Their Seminal Album, Disraeli Gears, Melding Psychedelic And Blues Seamlessly
Widely considered to be the first supergroup of all time, Cream rose from Eric Clapton’s musical ambitions. This album showcases the many ambitions of the band as the musical climate of the time almost forced the band to incorporate the sweeping psychedelic music with their own traditional blues style. What makes this album so incredible and important to modern music is how its influence spread to both sides of the pond. The psychedelic/hard rock medley influenced many of the 70’s British rock bands like Led Zeppelin while the blues roots influenced many American southern rock groups like Lynyrd Skynyrd. While listening to this album there are not many distinct off-rock instruments that are so present on many of the other major psychedelic albums of the time. Cream’s genius is they are able to create a psychedelic atmosphere with mainly sole blues instrumentation.
What pushes the psychedelic envelope in most of these blues ridden songs is the lyrics. The lyrics build on this atmosphere to create this perfect melding between genres. This is embodied by pretty much every single song in the tracklisting, but really stands out on the band's anthem, “Sunshine of You Love.” A profuse love that exacerbates the flower power era with, as any seasoned Guitar Hero player knows, the greatest baseline of all time. While the lyrics almost pander to the psychedelia of the time, the instrumentation is heavy on the blues end. From the bass line to the crazy guitar solos this song is a portrait of heavy rock to come.
To encompass some of the more negative sentiments to come out of the 60’s youth Cream procures many tracks that embellish this pessimism and nihilism that was sweeping the nation. “Strange Brew” paints a story with lyrics about a witch’s potion that is destroying your insides. Since the witch can pretty much be projected onto any dissenting figure you please, it makes the song almost universal. The way that Clapton sings the words “Strange Brew” also contribute to the great atmosphere. A more up-tempo, but just as poignant, “World of Pain” seem to be stirrings of pure psychedelia. Clapton sings “Is there a reason for today” while musing about a tree outside his window. The changing vocals throughout the song, along with the more tame instrumentation leave the audience in a trance. “We’re Going Wrong” and “Take It Back” lend us to see the two extremes of this negative attitude musically. The former may have the most psychedelic instrumentation as the light, but fast paced, drums give way to a slow, groovy guitar solo that builds with Jack Bruce’s haunting vocals. The lyrics are simple (perhaps a breakup song of sorts) which allows the vocals to be the main focus of the song. The latter song, “Take It Back,” always reminds me of the famous company play from Monsters, Inc “Put that thing back where it came from, or so help me!” This is the most blues heavy song (apart from Mother’s Lament) as it is filled with a harmonica and has much more focus on the lyrics.
One of my favorite tracks on the album, “Tale of Brave Ulysses,” is filled with one of the most intense fits of songwriting in Cream’s discography. “Tales of Brave Ulysses” perfectly showcases the duality that Cream was able to achieve with this album. With intense guitar solos and blues inspired rhythms, but very colorful, expressive lyrics, Cream is able to slide the two genres of music on top of each other like fault lines. They achieve this again on the next track, “SWLABR,” which seemingly consist of lyrics that were decided by a dartboard. This definitely has the feel of a classic psychedelic song but listening to the instrumentation reveals the hard rock interior. The only place where there is a piano is the (probably improvised or a standard) “Mother’s Lament,” which feels very strange on this album. The circus like nature of the piano gives the impression of a couple of friends singing at the local pub or something. With all the “weird” psychedelia on this album I find this to be the weirdest part.
Cream’s influence is felt in the annals of rock and roll and what they did with this album was truly unique. Being true to their blues roots while folding to the culture bomb of the day creates a truly stunning sound. Rock and its many incarnations would not the be the same today without Cream, and especially this pivotal work.
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