What Have You Done For Us Lately, Eric Clapton?
In What Have You Done For Us Lately?, we examine the recent output by legendary artists. Yeah, we’re happy when they return with a new album… but really, just how happy are we? We’ll gauge their output since 2000, take a hard look and see how their recent material has held up… and maybe help you to find a few gems that you overlooked.
Eric Clapton is the only artist to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame three times, for his membership in The Yardbirds and Cream, as well as his solo career. The fact that E.C. has also enjoyed membership in two other legendary groups, Blind Faith and Derek & The Dominoes, is even more impressive. On top of that, he’s had a solo career that has yielded tons of classic jams, including “Let It Rain,” “Wonderful Tonight,” “She’s Waiting,” “Tears In Heaven,” plus fresh takes on “I Shot The Sheriff,” “Cocaine” and “Lay Down Sally.”
And while his popularity has never dipped beneath arena headlining status, his last few albums haven’t gotten much attention. So is that justified? Here, we take a look at Clapton’s output, both as a solo artist and a duet partner, since 2000. During this time, Clapton’s albums have been polite, and generally speaking, they’ve been accepted politely. That seems to be the case with his latest, Old Sock, released March 24. Rolling Stone gave it three stars, saying, “This is comfort music, made by a guy who seems to be chilling with friends. If it sometimes sounds too comfortable, well, Clapton has probably earned it.” That seems to be the prevailing thought about the man: When he made what most would regard as his best music in the ’60s and ’70s, he was going through drug addiction, relationship issues and volatile band lineups. These days, he’s a happily married, family-oriented, drug-free guy who puts tons of time, effort and money into his Crossroads drug rehab in Antigua. It seems almost churlish to begrudge him his happiness, and his contributions to modern music are beyond reproach. That said, let’s check out his recent output.
B.B. King & Eric Clapton – Riding With The King – 2000 Clapton has always loved working with, and calling attention to, the blues legends who first inspired him. The cover – with Clapton playing chauffeur while King is in the back set – tells the story: It’s more of a King album produced and supported by Clapton, who is extremely deferential to his idol throughout. Curiously, Clapton hired three other hot guitarists – Jimmie Vaughan, Doyle Bramhall II and Andy Fairweather-Low – for the album. With Clapton and King, why would you need any other six-stringers? The setlist was fun: the title track (a cover of a John Hiatt song), plus blues numbers from both men’s catalogs (“Key To The Highway,” “Help The Poor”) and other covers (Sam & Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Coming”). Critical Response: The press welcomed the collaboration,with Entertainment Weekly gave it an A, calling it a “triumphant collaboration.” Jazztimes said “The great majority of selections here is downhome, gritty and inspired.” It also won a GRAMMY for Best Traditional Blues Album. Sales: Crazily, this was the best-selling album of King’s career, selling over two million copies in the U.S. It topped Billboard‘s Blues chart, and hit No. 3 on the Billboard 200 album chart. What stuck: Surprisingly, there was no tour to support the album. “Ten Long Years” was later included on B.B.’s Ultimate Collection, and the title track made The Complete Clapton.
Reptile – 2001 This one could have been called Laid Back, had he not already used that title. There are a couple of originals here, but the standouts are the covers: Ray Charles’ “Come Back Baby,” Stevie Wonder’s “I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It,” James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” and J.J. Cale’s “Travelin’ Light.” Critical Response: As polite as the album, with Rolling Stone giving it three and a half stars, saying, “Clapton hits his stride about half the time” on the record. Entertainment Weekly was much less polite, giving it a C, saying, “At heart, Reptile is yet another version of the tepid corporate rock records Clapton’s been making ever since 1974’s best-selling 461 Ocean Boulevard.” Ouch! Sales: Not great by Clapton’s standards, only going gold for sales over 500,000 and peaking at No. 5 on the album chart. What stuck: Not much: None of these songs were included on the Complete Clapton best-of.