After seeing Beware of Mr. Baker yesterday at HotDocs (writeup here), I’ve had a few Cream tunes stuck in my head, so I figured I’d dust off this, their classic debut album from ‘67. These guys called themselves The Cream cuz they were the best musicians in London at the time, and it’s still hard to argue with that—nothing heavier than Disraeli Gears came outta the Summer of Love!
The album opens with “Strange Brew,” a slow-rollin’ funky blues beat with Jack Bruce wailing overtop. One of the most memorable tunes on this record—and not just cuz it inspired that McKenzie Brothers movie—this tune does an awful lot in under three minutes. In fact, for all the long-winded psychedelic jam bands to come after, it’s worth noting that only one song on this seminal psych record exceeds the four-minute mark—the classic “Sunshine of Your Love.”
What more can be said about “Sunshine”? Chances are, you’ve already heard it a million times, both in its original form and a myriad of cover versions. Brant Bjork does a badass, laid-back take on it, and I dig the sludgy spinoff from French stoners Denizen as well. But of course, it’s hard to top the original, that iconic guitar riff, the pounding drums, and its classic chorus. Doesn’t get much better than this…
Mind you, there are another nine tracks on here, one of the rare rock records of the vinyl era to hit double-digits—and still come in at less than 35 minutes! “World of Pain” is a lighter, poppy psych single, albeit with an impressive Baker backbeat. “Dance the Night Away” features more of those Jack Bruce harmonies—an underrated, but solid singer in my books—along with some far-out Middle-Eastern guitar rhythms. Groovy, man!
The Baker-penned “Blues Condition” offers a laid-back cockney blues, the man’s lone song-writing credit(!) on the album, oft-overshadowed by the massive tune that follows. From its opening crescendo, “Tales of Brave Ulysses” captures your imagination, a wah-drenched riff and more Baker can-bashing forming a steady backdrop for Bruce’s mythological lyrics and an impressive (albeit abbreviated) bluesy Clapton solo. In another example of less-is-more, this number, like “Strange Brew,” clocks in at an even 2:46.
Elsewhere, “SWLABR” offers up some solid hippy-psych blues, while “We’re Going Wrong” takes things down a notch, its laid-back vibe driven by some insanely exhaustive tom-tom fills. (Seriously, Ginger Baker really goes nuts on this one!) “Outside Woman Blues” has a great funky bassline and some solid interplay between Clapton and Baker on the instrumental break. “Take It Back,” another blues number, adds a harmonica into the mix, before “Mother’s Lament” ends off the album with a folksy sing-along.
After the fistful of classic tracks on here, some of the other tunes are often forgotten, but this is a solid record from start to finish—as long as you disregard those last two minutes.