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While the demise of a great and popular band is usually lamented by their fans, it can often turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Can you imagine how lousy the Beatles would have been if they'd stayed together? Sepultura were pretty rubbish after Max Cavelera left. And if you've heard the two little known Doors albums recorded AFTER Jim Morrison died, there's a case for musicians parting company if ever there was one. But Cream never suffered the death of a band member to force them apart, just the collision of too many big personalities for the three-piece jazz/blues/rock ensemble to take.
'Goodbye' was released shortly after Cream went their separate ways in 1969, and is the weakest of their albums, seeing as it is cobbled together from a few live recordings and a scant three studio tracks. As a send-off, it feels a bit underwhelming but the quality of the musicianship is still stellar.
The three studio tracks are all grand, the best known being 'Badge', a melancholic song featuring Eric Clapton taking a rare vocal lead, with his voice sounding a bit thin compared with the range that bassist Jack Bruce possessed, but sounding suitably emotional as he recounts a story that is edged with nostalgia and regret, a theme that would penetrate Clapton's work for some years, due to his infatuation with Patti Boyd. Interestingly, Boyd's spouse, George Harrison, turns up as a co-writer of the song. Perhaps they were both lamenting under the spell she cast on both of them. Either way, it's a deftly written and executed piece, remaining one of Cream's better known songs, with Harrison and Clapton trading guitar parts in a way that really complemented each other. It's a bit of a shame that they didn't team up after both of their bands became defunct, especially as Clapton soon lulled into quite an underwhelming solo career.
'What a Bringdown' is another piece of melancholy, this time with the jazz elements that pervaded the band's approach to all their songs. Virtuoso drummer Ginger Baker drives the song on at a frenetic pace, with keyboards and guitars hissing and veering into meltdown, perfectly matching the themes of despair that pervade the mood of the song. Cream didn't seem like a very happy band, but then the blues isn't supposed to be particularly happy, and all the best jazz is melancholic, so it's hardly surprising.
The live cuts are fiery, but perhaps a little overlong for most people's tastes, especially today. 'Politician' is brilliant though, with Jack Bruce sounding even more slimy, his vocals all oleaginous as the titular politician as he schmoozes and sleazes his way round the insiduous riffs. It's ace, and very often when I see a member of our current ConDem leaders on TV it snakes into my head. 'Sitting on Top of the World' is their take on Howlin' Wolf's take on a blues standard that was probably a gospel standard before then... for anyone interested in the history of blues music, be prepared to stumble across the same songs in any number of guises. The genre has a fascinating history, and at its heart the music is chameleonic, but trying to keep up with it all can be a bit of a headache.
In all, this is a slightly disappointing album from the group, and seems a little rushed as a sort of 'thanks! ok we're going now bye' gesture to their fans. If you like the band, then it is still worth getting, but for the casual listener there are many 'Best Ofs' out there that do the band justice. It can be picked up for a couple of pounds on Amazon, so completing your Cream discography is not going to break the bank.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 I'm So Glad
3 Sitting On Top Of The World
5 Doing That Scrapyard Thing
6 What A Bringdown