Never before or since has so much volume been made for so many by so few. And that...
Chris Jones 2003
There's a lesson to be learned by the likes of Spiritualized, Lambchop and the Polyphonic Spree here. With Cream less really was more. Who needs three bassists and a marimba player when you can make as sophisticated and joyous a noise with just three musicians? Even the power blues of Led Zeppelin (who surely would never have existed without Eric, Jack and Ginger paving the way) needed four members. And one of them was a multi-instrumentalist. Never before or since has so much volume been made for so many by so few. And that includes the White Stripes.
That's not to say that this is all sturm und drang. The whole secret of Cream's success was their ability to progress from Chicago blues to psychedelia and beyond with a jazzy sophistication. This was due to a seasoned rhythm section that a young Eric Clapton had lacked to support his extended (and extending) soloing in previous bands like the Yardbirds or John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. This album collects and polishes up Cream's BBC sessions - all part and parcel of a standard band's career during the 60s.
While most numbers are mono mixes the skill and sense of a band evolving in double quick time dispel any audio grumbles. Listen as Clapton's guitar style passes through a lysergic filter to move between old standards from his Bluesbreaker days, like Freddie King's ''Steppin Out'', to the wobbly wah-wah tones of ''Tales Of Brave Ulysses''. As EC's guitar gets looser Jack Bruce's vocals get more angelic and Ginger Baker's drums get, err...louder. To top this you get the shockingly youthful tones of Brian Matthew appealing to the 'groovy, tuned-in, turned-on, way out fans' and getting some remarkably ego-free interviews from EC himself.
The fact that the BBC forced the band to curtail any excessive soloing comes as a blessing for those familiar with the longeurs of Wheels Of Fire. Ginger still does his falling-down-stairs impersonation, but it's the succinct, poppy nature of tracks like ''I Feel Free'' and ''Strange Brew'' that forces Clapton to give us guitar work that he's rarely bettered since.
Strangely, this historical overview highlights how their major musical touchstone, the blues, was to eventually lead them astray. Post-Disraeli Gears their muse (tainted by bad blood and too much touring) lapsed into bloated twelve bar behemoths such as ''Politician''. Could Free and Black Sabbath be far behind? Yet even these lows surpass most other contemporaries' best efforts. If you never shelled out for the marvellous 4 cd set, Those Were The Days, here's a handy alternative career overview that'll leave you smiling.