When musical artists have been around twenty, thirty, or even forty years one wonders if they reach a point where they just have nothing left to say. Others might note that the artists are a victim of their own success, the larger they are in one era the more difficult it is for them to bring their fans with them to the next. People change their tastes while the artist stay the same or conversely the artist grows and changes while fans want them to remain static. It can be a losing battle.
Eric Clapton, he of the forty plus years making music, has today released his latest effort, the aptly titled Old Sock. We have not heard much from Clapton in the last few years, he turns 68 later this month, perhaps he was taking lots of naps. Whatever he was doing the rest has worked as he has produced a solid album that includes ten covers, significant reggae influence, and of course a few guitar solos.
Ever since covering Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff in the seventies Clapton has been interested in reggae and on this album he goes down to the islands with the opening track Further on Down the Road. Till Your Well Runs Dry, Your One and Only Man, and Every Little Thing also have Clapton’s still strong voice moving over the familiar backing track. While these songs are interesting and certainly could provide a good backdrop for your first spring barbeque this spring something is missing. Having the right beat is not all that is necessary for a reggae song, Clapton sounds like he is reading lines in a script, no joy can be felt.
Clapton goes far into the wayback machine for his version of All of Me, yes really, All of Me. Lack of inspiration seems to be catching, is that really the best song he could think of to cover? More positive is Clapton’s take on the Leadbelly classic Goodnight Irene. This seems to be one of the few times that he is where he would like to be.
A couple tracks on the album work quite well. Gotta Get Over features solid guitar work, not “Clapton is God” worthy guitar work, those days are long gone, but the song would easily fit on one of Clapton’s late eighties albums such as Journeyman. Also notable is the familiar Clapton sound in his version of the classic Still Got the Blues, though the song is reduced in it’s intensity by too much piano and not enough guitar. Honestly after the intro guitar work when the vocal kicks in backed by piano the first thing came to mind was Billy Vera. Not, I am sure, the sound he was looking for.
If, after reading this review, it seems interesting is too much praise for an album I do not have a great deal of good things to say about I suppose I chose that word because Old Sock sounds like the album of the year compared to latest effort by Bon Jovi.
The problem with Bon Jovi of course is that they have, for the most part, outlasted their audience. A shocking high number of their fans have moved on to the ” new ” country music, something the band all but acknowledged with their move toward a more countrified sound in the last decade. Having not met success with that effort the band now is back to their usual post 2000’s Crush album sound. That album, we should remember, was a comeback of sorts from a period of non relevance in the late nineties. The sound clicked at that time, I remember relating to the track Older at the time. Now, however, even though the songs themselves are fine, they are totally forgettable.
On the title track What About You the band wants to be on our side, Bon Jovi wants to relate to you, and maybe they can be, perhaps we just don’t hear them anymore. Pictures of You sounds like it could have been a hit twenty years ago while Amen is a typical hold up your lighter at the concert song. Of course no one does that anymore, cell phones have replaced them. No one has replaced Bon Jovi yet however.
Like the Clapton album a couple tracks are worthwhile on their own merit. I’m With You is a very strong song, Jon is in fine voice, the song could easily have fit on my personal favorite Bon Jovi album Keep the Faith. We even get to hear Richie Sambora stretch out a bit on his guitar. On What’s Left of Me we hear about a Persian Gulf Veteran who comes home to find” another war.” He loses his house, his car, and the opportunity he expected. The band wants us to know they connect with that union worker and that teacher. It all feels, despite the best of intentions, a little too earnest.
For any band that has been around as long as Bon Jovi late career success will only come inasmuch as fans relate new music to favorite earlier albums. Certainly there is plenty here to remind you of earlier Bon Jovi work. Still, for me, it does not work. Same Sound, Different Decade is what I would call it. I like the band, saw them back in the early nineties and it was a great show. I am sure I would go if our friends at The Waterfront Concert Series could get them to Bangor. At that show I am sure that few of these songs would be played. It is a surety that the boys in the band know the hard truth of being a band twenty five years in, the new music, and this goes from the Stones to Springsteen, never replicates the success of the old. Bon Jovi’s new album does not alter this fact.
There has been some great music released this week, I will be back later in the week to tell you about these more successful efforts.