Unlike the title of Reptile, Eric Clapton’s recent release, the actual album moves along upon a relatively smooth skin. While many fans associate Clapton with his chart-topping hit “Layla,” they will be disappointed with Reptile‘s mainstream, lukewarm quality that leaves little room for any apparent number one singles.
Devoid of any single Top 40 song, the album as a whole, with its blues-based R&B ballads, flows according to the operative word: smoothly. Following the release of last year’s album, Riding With the King, a Grammy-winning collaboration with B.B. King, Clapton continues in much of the same blues-based style (with many of the same players), but without the same overwhelming success. For the blues novice this album may seem an ingenious creation, but for the longtime Eric Clapton fan, Reptile is basically a disappointment.
By just glancing at the titles of the songs on this fourteen-track album, Clapton’s hard-rock persona quickly dissipates and transforms into the “corporate rock” persona that plagues so many of his contemporaries. Perhaps the purely sappy themes that dominate the album pushed Clapton to find a new sense of self. Perhaps, though, he should leave this new sense out of his music before it becomes too old, too fast.
Many songs, such as “Reptile,” “Modern Girl,” and “Son & Sylvia” (which is dedicated, as is the entire album, to his uncle and uncle’s wife), are original cuts. Other tracks, namely “Believe In Life,” “Broken Down,” and “Find Myself,” are also an original part of his new “old” self that emerges in his “inspirational” lyrics.
A large part of the album can be identified with other notable musicians. Although Clapton should have adhered to the motto of leaving well enough alone, he includes versions of Stevie Wonder’s “I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It,” Ray Charles’ “Come Back Baby,” J.J. Cale’s “Travelin’ Light,” and James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely.” Upon listening to Clapton’s languid rendition of James Taylor’s classic song, I wanted to skip to the instrumental segments of the album, which, with Clapton on the guitar, are relatively praiseworthy. One must admit, that although the album does leave little to be desired, Clapton can still play the guitar like no other. At least his ability to play the blues surpasses his attempts to sing them on this album.
Despite his accomplished artistry, Clapton has more recently been labeled as part of this group of classic mainstays that have evolved into the “corporate rock” genre. Rather than Clapton’s usual style, this album is more reminiscent of a new Michael Bolton release. Not only a complete disappointment, it is a complete change from the charismatic quality that had been infused into most of his previous work.
Perhaps it is understandable that his fans are expecting more than the unenthusiastic sound of this album. Clapton has not only been the recipient of numerous Grammys, but he has been inducted three times into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – twice with now-dissolved groups (the Yardbirds and Cream) and once as a solo artist.
Clapton’s dedicated listeners will, if anything, appreciate his smooth blues-based R&B style and the instrumental segments that exemplify his immense talent. Clapton may be turning 56 this month, but his age is exactly what heightens his reign as the masterful king of the guitar. Nevertheless, although unparalleled in his instrumental talent, it is hard to say the same of Reptile‘s ironically smooth and subdued lyrical ballads that lack practically any textured skin. While Clapton claims that the word “reptile” is one of recognition, his album hardly deserves the attention that he grants himself with this title.
Archived article by Barbara Seigel