Home Read Classic Album Review: Eric Clapton | Reptile

Classic Album Review: Eric Clapton | Reptile

Whichever Slowhand you prefer, you're sure to meet him on this crowdpleaser.

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This came out in 2001 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):

 


Reptile? Isn’t Dinosaur more like it?

I really don’t mean that to be as cutting as it sounds. But there’s no sweet way to say it: ’60s guitar gods like Eric Clapton are pretty much an extinct species these days, killed off by new evolutions like teen-pop and hip-hop. In fact, Clapton’s former Yardbirds compatriots Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck are practically the last men standing — the latter because he’s apparently too stubborn to quit and the former because he’s presumably still too hungover from the ’70s to notice he’s become an anachronism. And of that triumvirate, Slowhand has had the most varied and commercially successful solo career. He puts out albums that satisfy blues purists, writes weepy singles that storm the pop charts, takes home awards by the armload and even dabbles anonymously on occasion in electronica, all somehow without ruining his rock-star image or alienating legions of fans who worship him as a guitar deity.

Clapton continues his quest to please everybody — including, one hopes, himself — on his latest CD Reptile. According to the press bumpf, the title comes from affectionate British slang for one’s old mates. But it’s also a fitting title for this album, the musical equivalent of a visit from each of Clapton’s many musical personae. There’s the rootsy bluesman of Got You on My Mind and I Want a Little Girl; the J.J. Cale-loving, laid-back troubadour of Travelin’ Light; the smoothly soulful, acoustic-pop balladeer of Believe in Life, Second Nature and Modern Girl; the juke-joint rocker of Come Back Baby and Superman Inside; the anthemic FM mainstay of I Ain’t Gonna Stand It; the McCartneyesque pop tunesmith of Find Myself; and so on. You know all these Claptons as well as I do. So do your parents. And maybe their parents.

This game of musical chairs may be the variety that adds spice to Clapton’s musical life, but on Reptile it’s a mixed blessing. On the one hand, no matter which incarnation of Clapton you prefer, you’re pretty much guaranteed to meet up with it somewhere here. Of course, that also means that you’re going to have to sit through an encounter with the version you dislike the most. Either way, admittedly, there’s no quibbling about the quality of Clapton’s playing. His skills haven’t diminished even one iota from the days when kids peppered the walls of London with ‘Clapton is God’ graffiti. He can still toss off searing, jaw-dropping solos at a moment’s notice and without even breaking a sweat. Even more to his credit, he knows when not to play — for someone so fearsomely adept, Clapton remains one of rock’s most restrained guitarists, often using one tastefully bent note that says more than 100 mile-a-minute licks. Likewise, his vocals, the arrangements and performances of the studio aces here — many of whom also played on last year’s Grammy-winning collaboration with B.B. King — are impeccable.

That, once again, is a sword that cuts both ways. Impeccable is swell, sure, but blues and rock were never meant to be impeccable. Somewhere along the line, between the Unplugged albums and the endless accolades and all those royalties, Clapton seems to have lost touch with that notion. Frankly, it’s a damn shame. Not to mention ironic, coming from the guy who quit The Yardbirds 35 years ago because he thought For Your Love was too commercial. Once a dinosaur, always a dinosaur.