Eric Clapton is one of those legendary guitarists who has a reputation as being a legendary guitarist with even the most casual music fans. Which is why I have always been a little suspect of his legendary guitarist credentials. It all comes down to an arbitrary rule that proves true in the vast majority of occasions. If my mum has heard of them, they can’t be all that great. There’s something about mainstream recognition that makes me question anyone’s legitimacy. A little snobbish and contrarian I know, but that chip on my shoulder is too established to go anywhere. But I have to accept that it’s very possible, that Eric Clapton might be a real deal, legendary guitarist. A theory I’m putting to the test via one of his earlier solo efforts, 461 Ocean Boulevard.
The constantly wailing guitar in the good time rock and roll of Motherless Children is hard to not like. But it also kind of justifies my dismissal of Clapton’s axe work. The guitars are great, but they’re also very middle of the road an accessible. Maybe it was new and innovative in 1974, but in 2015, it’s kind of bland.
I’ve never been a fan of Clapton’s I Shot the Sherriff, so the slight reggae shuffle of Willie and the Hand Jive and Get Ready were never gonna win me over. And when the trio is capped off with I Shot the Sherriff, that means a solid 10 or 11 minute suite of white guy reggae. But at least they’re better than the bland ooze that is Give Me Strength.
If there’s one thing with even more potential for danger than white guy reggae, it’s white guy blues. Add to that the white guy is also English, and there’s no reason to be hopeful about I Can’t Hold Out. But the end result, built around slide guitar solos is actually OK. Sure, it’s boring, white guy blues, but at least it’s well executed, boring, white guy blues.
Please Be With Me is the first song on 461 Ocean Boulevard to sound like the lyrics and vocal melody came first, and the guitar flourishes second. It also might be the most organic and heartfelt song on 461 Ocean Boulevard. I like that it sounds like the guitar flourishes were written to support the song. Whereas the majority of this album sounds more like a collection of awesome guitar riffs, with a song put around them to justify their existence. Immediately followed by Let it Go, these two songs make a great pair of singer/songwriter anomalies amongst a sea of guitar showiness.
The genre hopping continues and closes things out with the funked up pair of Steady Rollin’ Man and Mainline Florida. And while I came into 461 Ocean Boulevard worried about Clapton’s work being too predictable and safe, it’s actually his penchant for mixing things up that made me ultimately not love this record. The constant jumping from one genre or sound to the next, means Clapton stays anonymous and hidden behind them all. In a way, I’d rather an album of 10 ambitious failures than this collection of 10 competent, yet flavourless toe tappers.