Tom Eviscerates Eric Clapton
Review by Tom Graves
Appeared in Rock & Roll Disc, Jan. 1992
Correction. Eric Clapton was God.
It beggars belief that the tired, limp-dicked, becluttered music we hear on 24 Nights is from the same artist whose very name once was the blues. In that magic time of the mid-60’s, when great guitar players seemed to be turning up on every street corner, Britain’s two other great bluesmen, Peter Green and Mick Taylor, worshipped the ground Eric Clapton riffed on. During his stints with the Yardbirds, John Mayall, Cream, Blind Faith, and Derek and the Dominos, Clapton burned a hole right through even the tritest material making junk like Cream’s “Anyone for Tennis?” required listening. His playing was at its zenith during the Layla period until both heroin and alcohol addictions robbed him of whatever fire was left.
It was Miles Davis who once said what I consider the wisest truth about making meaningful music: “The secret,” he said, “is finding the melody within the melody.” In all of Eric Clapton’s great music he is endlessly redefining the melody. Take the seminal “Crossroads”: Every lead run is like a song-within-a-song. It is beautifully melodic, muscular, and each note tells – there is no superfluous riffing, no antics for show. The lead breaks are so airtight and full of authority that they scarcely sound improvised. To the contrary, every fretted note of “Crossroads” sounds rehearsed to perfection.
But, alas, what do we get on 24 Nights, the highly anticipated culmination of his 1990 and ’91 tours at London’s Albert Hall? Try as he might, there’s not a glimmer left in old warhorses like “Badge” (which, here, has an unbelievably lame vocal), “White Room,” and “Bell Bottom Blues.” In fact he often requires help on vocals from his sidemen, who oblige by stepping in during the requisite hard parts. Eric Clapton has become the Perry Como of the rock world, with glassy-eyed, tepid pop ditties like “Pretending” and “Bad Love” anchoring his sets between aimless blues noodling. Anyone who can remain awake during the endless droning of Disc Two (the pop disc) should get an automatic license to operate heavy machinery.
Even when Clapton seems to suggest he is actually trying, his guitar is so weenie sounding that you wonder if he remembers how a god is supposed to sound.
24 Nights confirms what I’ve felt for about two decades about Ole Slowhand: That he has permanently traded in his blue suede shoes for a pair of brown Hush Puppies.