Eric Clapton – [Album]

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

It has always puzzled me why this album was called Slowhand, when it is one of Eric Clapton’s least guitar-centered albums. “Slowhand,” after all, was the nickname given to Clapton in the Sixties for his guitar playing prowess. Listening to the album now, I find it more puzzling than ever; coupled with the iconic cover picture of his hand on a guitar neck, it almost qualifies as false advertising.

Or maybe it was meant as an ironic warning, for here he actually plays with a slow hand. What guitar work there is here is, while tasteful, very restrained. There are very little pyrotechnics. In fact, there is very little guitar in general, of any sort.

Not that the album is totally devoid of guitar; it does kick off with “Cocaine,” which definitely rocks out. But even a funky guitar workout like “The Core” fails to really excite, and  the token blues number, “Mean Old Frisco,” is remarkably restrained.

Slowhand is the album where Clapton tried to establish himself as a songwriter. It contains two of his best loved songs, “Wonderful Tonight” and “Lay Down Sally.” Most of the other songs on the album (some written by Clapton, others not) follow in the same MOR pop vein. It is interesting, but pointless, to speculate on why Clapton turned to writing such mellow songs, especially compared with the blues burners he came up with for Derek and the Dominoes. Did it have something to do with sobering up? Was it a conscious attempt to write a hit? Or maybe the answer lies in the difference between “Why Does Love Have to Be So Sad?” and “Wonderful Tonight”: he was now happily in love, not tormented by it.

If his goal was to establish himself as a songwriter, he did succeed with Slowhand. The album was a success, and, as previously stated, several songs from it became classics. It no doubt earned him new fans, but it certainly also lost him old ones. This is the point when I stopped paying any attention to what Clapton released. He didn’t win me back until he returned to his blues roots a couple of decades later. On the other hand, the shift does seem to be more of a following his heart than a blatant commercial move.

This being a special anniversary reissue, there are, of course, bonus cuts and discs. The four bonus studio cuts included here (One more old blues cut (“Alberta”) and three more mellow pop tunes very much in the same vein as the rest of the album) don’t really add much to Slowhand. The bonus disc (or discs, depending on how much you want to spend) are taken from a 1977 Hammersmith Odeon concert, recorded about a month before Clapton went into the studio for Slowhand. The Super Deluxe edition contains the whole concert on two CDs, the merely Deluxe edition has a single CD of selections from the concert (for some reason rearranged in an order which bears little resemblance to the original order of the concert). This is where you find Clapton showing what he can do on the guitar, with lively versions of “Layla,” “Stormy Monday,” and, especially, an extended jam on “I Shot the Sheriff.”

Interestingly, none of the tracks on Slowhand were played at the concert. Maybe they weren’t ready for performance. Or maybe he recognized that the people who came to his concerts were interested in Eric Clapton the guitarist, not Eric Clapton the songwriter.

Whether you should invest in this release is a tough call. If you’re a fan of the mellower Clapton and you don’t already own Slowhand, this is certainly a good opportunity to pick it up. If you do already own it, I’m not sure the bonus material is enough to justify further investment, especially as about half of the live material has already been released elsewhere. If you’re a fan of Clapton the guitarist, there are certainly better places to spend your money; go get one of the many live albums available instead.



The 35th Anniversary reissue of Slowhand is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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