By the beginning of the 80s, Eric Clapton had become an indolent rock star. Cocooned in alcohol, his career was drifting along, with increasing disinterest on all sides. His life was basically catered for – right down to having somebody else take his driving test for him. On stage, however, he could still play guitar, even when he couldn’t stand up, something he proved occasionally. But even that was preferable to the drunken on-stage racist rant that prompted the foundation of Rock Against Racism.
In 1983, Clapton got sober and switched labels to Reprise. That year’s Money And Cigarettes (5/10) reunited him with producer Tom Dowd, who brought in heavyweight American musicians including Ry Cooder to help Clapton raise his game. He even scored a moderate hit with the gentle, rolling I’ve Got A Rock‘N’ Roll Heart. But Clapton didn’t have the originals to back up the covers.
Next he teamed up with his new best friend Phil Collins to co-produce Behind The Sun (6/10). But powerful blues rockers like She’s Waiting and Same Old Blues were not enough for Reprise, who flew in producer Ted Templeman to sprinkle his 80s fairy dust over Forever Man and give Clapton a proper hit.
August (7/10), in 1986, cemented Clapton’s comeback with a variety of hits including It’s In The Way That You Use It and Tearing Us Apart, a feisty duet with Tina Turner. There was also the stirring, emotional Holy Mother. Bassist Nathan East and keyboard player Greg Phillinganes were incorporated into the band, bringing a funkier edge to songs like Run and Hung Up On Your Love (both written by Motown legend Lamont Dozier).
1989’s Journeyman (8/10) set up Clapton for a two-year world tour, with Pretending, Anything For Your Love, Bad Love, Running On Faith, No Alibis, Old Love and Before You Accuse Me all becoming part of the live show as it progressed from arenas to stadiums.
1994’s From The Cradle (7/10) probably needs Unplugged (which does not qualify for this set) to put it in focus – 16 blues classics recorded live and unembellished in the studio. Arguably more live than the carefully contrived Unplugged.
Pilgrim (8/10) was Clapton’s first collection of new songs in a decade, and gave his live show another jolt with My Father’s Eyes, River Of Tears, Goin’ Down Slow and She’s Gone. But what will make Clapton fans dust down their turntables for this vinyl set is the bonus Rarities Vol 1 (6/10) – six B-sides and a couple of previously unreleased tracks.