The nine years since he’d released his previous album of original material, 1989’s superb Journeyman, had been fraught with trauma for Ol’ Slowhand. Having overcome his 80s alcoholism, Clapton then lost tourmate Stevie Ray Vaughan and three crew members in a 1990 helicopter crash and his four-year-old son Conor in a tragic fall in 1991, prompting the heartbreaking Tears In Heaven.
He’d also recently begun a relationship with a woman 31 years his junior. No wonder Clapton sounded exhausted on 1998’s Pilgrim, his pace slowed to a casual jazz shuffle, his voice careworn, his production – perhaps down to the soporific touch of Climie Fisher’s Simon Climie – solemnly inoffensive.
Two of Pilgrim’s tracks are about Conor: the heartfelt but surprisingly upbeat My Father’s Eyes and Circus, a forlorn flamenco about his son’s last trip to Chipperfield’s. The latter – and the sense of loss that infects the sombre River Of Tears – is deeply moving, but the aura of resigned glumness dampens Clapton’s trademark roar into a tired Albert Hall slouch on the title track, One Chance, Needs His Woman and the Celtic-piped Broken Hearted.
He’s only roused by his new romance on Fall Like Rain and You Were There; otherwise it’s as if, after decades of pouring his heart and soul into other people’s blues, his own sucked the life out of him./o:p