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Cream: Disraeli Gears - Album Of The Week Club review

Adding the headlong rush of psychedelia to the British blues, Cream's Disraeli Gears captured the original power trio at their peak

Cream - Disraeli Gears cover art
(Image: © Reaction Records)
Cream - Disraeli Gears

Cream - Disraeli Gears cover art

(Image credit: Reaction Records)

Strange Brew
Sunshine of Your Love
World of Pain
Dance the Night Away
Blue Condition
Tales of Brave Ulysses
SWLABR
We're Going Wrong
Take It Back
Mother's Lament 

If ever a record stood at the crossroads of rock, it was Disraeli Gears, the second album by Cream. Written, recorded and released in the watershed year of 1967, it was a collection that linked the legacy of the blues to the onward rush of psychedelia. 

Made in America, yet unmistakably British in sound and sensibility, it captured epic studio performances by Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker at the peak of their powers as a group. 

With its iconic cover artwork by Martin Sharp, featuring the granite-faced trio staring out across a garish red and pink dreamscape of irradiated flowers, peacocks, galloping horses and amorphous swirls, Disraeli Gears became a touchstone recording of the 1960s counterculture. 

A massive worldwide hit, it propelled Cream to international stardom and remains the trio’s finest hour. “It’s nice that people remember that album,” Bruce says. “It was a lot of fun."

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in November 1967

  • Forever Changes - Love
  • Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd - The Monkees
  • Days of Future Passed - The Moody Blues
  • Buffalo Springfield Again - Buffalo Springfield
  • Tangerine Dream - Kaleidoscope
  • Magical Mystery Tour - The Beatles
  • After Bathing at Baxter's - Jefferson Airplane
  • The Amboy Dukes - The Amboy Dukes
  • I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die - Country Joe and the Fish
  • The Time Has Come - The Chambers Brothers

What they said...

"Unfortunately the album does not totally hang together, marred by some poor material. They usually compensate for what they lack as composers and songwriters by thorough brilliance of performance. But in some tracks (We’re going Wrong, Dance the Night Away and Blue Condition, among them), the material is too pale to support the heavy instrumental work which makes Cream such an overwhelming trio." (Rolling Stone)

"Even with the questionable engineering choices and the horrid cover, Disraeli Gears remains a superb album, fifty-or-so years after its release. Clapton has a few good turns at the mike and on the fretboard, Jack Bruce sings and plays with confidence and command, vocals and, even if Ginger is sitting in the wrong place in my headphones, his drumming is super." (Alt-rock Chick)

"Anchored by a handful of songs that were to grow into rock staples, the album is often overlooked as an amazing display of experimentation and contrast. The 11 original tracks are a hodge-podge of sounds, shifting musical genres at dizzying speed, as each band member shines in his own ways." (Pop Matters)

What you said...

Michael Kay: Pick your superlative: 1) One of the most influential psychedelic rock albums ever. 2) One of the greatest albums released in the climacteric (real word!) of 1967 3) The second truly great album by a rock power trio, hot on the heels of the first, Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The correct answer is, of course, all of the above.

Maybe it's fitting that Disraeli Gears came out in Nov. 1967, the fall after the "Summer of Love," double meaning intended. There is a dark current to this psychedelia, like a bad trip is just around the bend from those bright neon hues radiating from Martin Sharp's fantastic album cover.

If your first listen, like mine, was as an impressionable teen, it might have felt a little something like this...

The needle drops on the vinyl. The jagged and lurching title track kicks off. Hmmm...You feel like you walked in too late into a party that's gone on way too long. Eric Clapton crooning lyrics like, "Strange brew, kill what's inside of you" fill you with an uneasy dread. You tell yourself you shouldn't be here.

But before you can make your getaway, you are pinned down by the smothering and suffocating riff of Sunshine Of Your Love. What does he mean, dull surprise? And who is doing this eternal waiting? Oh man, you are just going to have to ride this one out.

The next two songs sound upbeat but those lyrics, man, they keep weighing you down. "There is a world of pain in the falling rain around me..." "Dance myself to nothing. Vanish from this place. Gonna turn myself to shadow so I can't see your face." Help!

Then comes Blues Condition, croaked out by drummer Ginger Baker. It seems like a goof but it gives you some much needed breathing room. Maybe it's going to be OK after all.

Then the album flips over...

Images and sounds and colours and words swirl and explode all around and through you. You get it now! It's you! You are brave Ulysses tempted by the sirens' sweetly singing! You are Gilgamesh, Beowulf, Siegfried, King Arthur... You are The Hero with a Thousand Faces!

Then it gets weird again! Who's coming in the morning? Why does the rainbow have a beard? Soulful look? Such good responses...that's good, right? But the picture has a moustache! Whaaaat's happening?

Oh no, now it's dark! Why's it so dark? You don't want to open your eyes like the lyrics implore. You gasp as the skittering drums make your heart misfire and chords bind you, and now Jack Bruce keens, "IIIIII found out today, we're going wrong! we're going wroooooong!" Make it stop, make it stop, you'll never come here again, you promise.

Wait? What's this? Thank God, just some heavy "leave my woman alone" blues. Ok, you can handle this. Take It Back is even more upbeat. Oh man, who knew the blues could be so joyous? Then the cackle of Mother's Lament starts. You wipe tears away from your eyes, check and make sure you haven't wet yourself. Was it all a goof? Was Cream just having you on?

You better put it on again, just to be sure.

Bill Griffin: This is not the first time I've heard this record and I was not impressed with it the first time. There are some great tracks on it but overall, it was less than satisfying.

Something was different this time though; I actually liked it all the way through, so much so that I'm thinking it's not the same album at all. Haha.

Of course, it is and the tracks I liked the first time are still my favourites but the others don't sound dated as they did before.

Richard Cardenas: This record epitomises the start of a revolution. All the discord that occurred at the end of the 60s and in the early 70s come to mind when I listen to this record. Maybe because many of the movies about that era use this music in their soundtracks but, more likely it’s because that what was on when I lived it.

To me the gold in this record is Bruce and Baker. When my kid started playing music and picked up the bass this was one of the bands I played for him. The power of this threesome is unmatched. Some may bring up Rush, whom I love, but this was bare bones and talent.

Just a great record.

Brian Carr: A question to ponder: did Led Zeppelin conquer the music world because they had a guy that could sing well? (Rhetorical question - I know there were many reasons for Zep’s success.) There are so many bands with loads of ability that I just can’t explore too deeply because I just don’t like the vocals. Cream might be the greatest example, and it kills me because I know how important and revered they are.

So for possibly the first time, I’ve listened to an entire Cream album, and it’s basically what I expected: an album I’d like a lot more with a different singer. There’s just nothing about the timbre of Jack Bruce’s voice that excites me, and that essentially grinds Disraeli Gears for me.

There are highlights: Tales Of Brave Ulysses (how is this song less than three minutes?), SWLABR (huh?) and Outside Woman Blues are great, and Sunshine of Your Love is classic but borderline overplayed in my experience. On the downside, Dance The Night Away and We’re Going Wrong are quite psychedelic in nature, which some people like but just sounds dated to me. Blue Condition and Mother’s Lament are unlistenable, but without them the album is less than 30 minutes.

Yes, Baker and Bruce are a legendary rhythm section and Clapton is fantastic and influenced many. There’s just plenty of Clapton output in which I actually like the songs and vocals.

And to my opening question, from what I’ve read, I suppose they didn’t have enough ego space left in the band to fit in a vocalist...

Uli Hassinger: It's a good idea to go back to the 60s because we havn't had an album from this decade for a long time.

To pick out Cream is the second good decision. Cream are one of the most influential bands ever. If you could travel back in time to 1967 this album would have blown you away.

The band consists of three genius musicians. It's almost pointless to mention the guitar work of Clapton. What he did on Strange Brew and Tales Of Brave Ullysses is outstanding even from today's point of view. Jack Bruce wasn't just a brilliant bass player but furthermore the main songwriter, which is remarkable when you have someone like Clapton in the band.

But the most fascinating character was Ginger Baker. He invented drumming on another level. Before Cream the drummers only were responsible for the beat, usually the same beat throughout the whole song. Ginger Baker has developed the drums to an instrument carrying or a at least underlying the melody. His genius is best captured in We're Going Wrong and Outside Woman Blues. No one played drums like that in these days and I don't know a drummer nowadays who comes near.

Unfortunately he was a lunatic asshole. Otherwise the band probably would have had a longer career. But he was a fascinating character nevertheless. I can highly recommend the documentary Beware Of Ginger Baker which gives you a good impression of his difficult personality. But musical genius and madness are often two sides of the same coin.

The best tunes of the album are the two Clapton is responsible for. Strange Brew and Tales Of Brave Ulysses are musical gems.

I don't think there is a weak song on the album. It's an 8/10.

Hylton Blignaut: Bought this as a teen in 1980. Still love it. Other Cream albums were rather patchy (eg. the boringly self-indulgent Toad ruined Wheels Of Fire), but this is perfect.

Marike Elzinga: OMG I love this album! Tales Of Brave Ulysses, SWLABR, Strange Brew.... Sunshine is a standout track but I have heard it too often. Love how Bruce, Ginger and Clapton sounded together.

Colin Halls: Awesome album. I was 20 years old when I first heard it. Been playing it for 40 years.

Michael Baryshnikov: Tales Of Brave Ulysses was the first Cream song I ever heard. That was 1968 and I was hooked forever. This is one of the greatest Blues-rock albums of all time, although it sounds a little outdated nowadays.

Elad Winberg: Great and classic album! Groundbreaking in almost every aspect, and Clapton was definitely on top of his game in the late 60s/ early 70s, and the phrase "Clapton is God" from those times was pretty much on point. Plus, songs like Strange Brew, Tales Of Brave Ulysses and, of course, the iconic Sunshine of Your Love, are such timeless masterpieces and milestones in rock music as well as the rest of this legendary album.

Alex Hayes: 1967 is one of the definitive years of classic rock for me, with many of the albums from that year heralding new heights of greatness for the genre. I say that with huge dollops of hindsight of course, and also as someone not actually around at the time. It should go without saying that there was obviously great music prior to 1967, but the year of the Summer Of Love stands out as a landmark for music, where the then nascent rock scene took a giant leap forward and full on into the 'album era'.

Sgt. Pepper, Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold As Love, The Doors, Strange Days, Surrealistic Pillow, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Odessey And Oracle (not released until '68 but recorded in '67 and a great snapshot of the time), Mr. Fantasy and, ahem, Their Satanic Majesties Request. These albums, and many more, didn't so much open doors for listeners at the time as blow them off their hinges altogether, and gave the world a glimpse into a future where anything in rock music seemed possible.

You can add Derailleur... cough, I mean... Disraeli Gears to that prestigious list also. A more compact set of songs when compared to other parts of the Cream discography, it's a sublime fusion of the band's blues roots and the psychedelia of the day. Every inch as influential as the albums listed above, it stands tall as the definitive Cream album. A seminal recording from an essential year in music history? Yeah, I like this one. Oh, for a time machine....

Greg Andrew: A pretty good album overall. It's hard to be too critical of any of these groups that were trying to forge new paths, naturally some of it works and some doesn't. I feel that Blue Condition and We're Going Wrong don't quite hit the mark and the inclusion of Mother's Lament seems a terrible choice (in hindsight). Fortunately the bits that do work are strong enough to make you overlook the misses. Some of it may be a bit dated these days, but it's still cool

John Davidson: Starting off with Strange Brew, Disraeli Gears sets out its stall as a sophisticated slice of British psychedelic rock/ heavy blues and fully establishes Baker, Bruce and Clapton as the original power trio.

All three carry their weight in the band. Clapton has rarely played with more verve, Bruce brings his own musicality to the songs, and Baker in particular plays fills that seem like they were ahead of their time (or certainly at the leading edge).

Overall while it sounds ‘of its time’, as any slightly psychedelic blues is going to, but it manages not to sound too dated for the most part. I draw a line at Baker’s Blue Condition and the short ditty A Mother's Lament, both of which sound like filler (quite a feat for a 33-minute album).

Top tracks are Strange Brew, Sunshine (albeit played to death), Tales Of Brave Ulysses and SWLABR.

I presume the single album version on Spotify version was remastered in Stereo in 1998 (it sounds like it) as it holds up pretty well. The mono version on the deluxe version sound muted and constrained by comparison.

There’s not much to say really. It’s a bonafide classic. One of the albums that inspired the artists that came after them and played a big part in kicking off the blues based heavy rock explosion of the late 60s and 70s.

As an item of rock’s classic canon I guess I really should be marking this as a 10, but with 15 minutes of songs I’d play nowadays I’m inclined to pare that back to an 8.

Final Score: 8.12⁄10 (211 votes cast, with a total score of 1714)

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