Slowhand (Super Deluxe Edition)
Universal Music Group
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Slowhand was Eric Clapton’s most successful album of the 1970s, with sales fueled by airplay on pop and A/C stations that hadn’t played him all that much. He was a major guitar hero from his days with Cream and Derek and the Dominos, but still largely unaccepted by radio listeners whose tastes didn’t embrace FM rock. But in 1977 Slowhand changed that.
Radio-friendly pop tunes “Wonderful Tonight” and “Lay Down Sally” gained him a new audience of women, while “The Core” and J.J. Cale’s “Cocaine” kept his “Clapton is God” fans on board. Now, to recognize the 35th anniversary of Slowhand’s release, Universal has issued a Super Deluxe Edition of the album that includes three CDs with live and bonus tracks, an audio DVD and a vinyl LP, as well the option of purchasing these remastered components separately.
So the question in 2012 ends up being, Was this album really that good in the first place? The answer is, well, probably not. Here we had a guy who helped change guitar playing and rock music, who was (and probably still is) the undisputed master of playing electric blues in the key of E. But even more than on its toned-down predecessor 461 Ocean Boulevard, Clapton chose to include mellower material on Slowhand that didn’t really mesh with his vocal ability or his guitar-slinger’s rep.
He obviously meant well when he included “We’re All the Way” by the wonderful Don Williams to end the A side of Slowhand, but the album was already dragging by that point. The inclusion of John Martyn’s somnolent “May You Never,” and a five-minute instrumental nearly anyone could have written in “Peaches and Diesel,” didn’t help the B side any. If the CD format had existed in those days, the male stoners among us would have skipped many of the tracks, while many women would have clicked past the harder edged tunes, including Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “Mean Old Frisco,” perhaps the closest thing on the album to Clapton’s glory days. When compared to other albums of that year, such as Steely Dan’s Aja, Muddy Waters’ Hard Again, or Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True, or even Clapton’s own rejuvenated work from the late 1980s forward, this album just doesn’t stand up.
The Super Deluxe Edition of the reissue contains a live two-disc, 14-track set of Clapton and his band performing at the Hammersmith Odeon a week before the Slowhand sessions. This band of mostly Oklahoma musicians had been with Clapton for several years by this point, and they were a tight unit. The live set contains familiar songs from several chapters of Clapton’s career, including “Layla,” “Badge” and “I Shot the Sheriff.” Vocalist Yvonne Elliman saves a draggy version of the old Blind Faith classic “Can’t Find My Way Home,” and the previously-released “Further on Up the Road” and “Stormy Monday” feature some hot playing. The live discs definitely make the package better.
This remastered material may be a pleasing trip down memory lane for the older Clapton fan, or a good choice for the 50-something audiophile to enjoy with a nice Merlot. But just because a legendary artist has stuck around a long time doesn’t necessarily mean that everything he’s done has been all that great.