eric clapton is sort of a tough case for me. he is widely acknowledged as one of the best guitar players ever to grace the stage, even prompting graffiti artists in the 70s to write the infamous phrase “clapton is god” various places around england. the problem for me is that his music and his playing is so deeply rooted in the blues. now this is absolutely not a bad thing, but instead of adding the sensibility of blues into his pop music (or vice versa) in a subtle way, he often plays lots of just straight up 12 bar blues music, like straight from the 20s. it’s pretty intense bluesy music. and as much as that music is great, i usually don’t just sit down and listen to an album full of it. that’s why i’ve never really digested anything he did with cream, anything with the yardbirds, any of the derek and the dominoes, any of his first few solo albums. the only ones i’ve ever really gotten into are obviously unplugged (basically the album that taught me how to play real guitar) and pilgrim.
i had heard this album reptile once or twice, but really the only songs i had remembered and liked were the title track and the album closer. i first heard the album in kansas city, so sometime around 2003. fast forward to 2009, my roommates and i set up my new record player in our living room and we put on the first record i’d ever owned, stevie wonder’s hotter than july. we are sitting there talking and listening to it and all of a sudden the fourth track comes on, i ain’t gonna stand for it. it sounds crazy familiar but i can’t exactly place where i’ve heard it before. it jangles around in my noggin for a day or so before i realized clapton covered it on reptile so i dust those files off on my ipod and have been listening to it consistently for about two weeks. it is a really great album. it consists of three covers and lots of originals. here’s a bit more on it.
1. “Reptile” (Eric Clapton) – 3:26
title track. just a simple instrumental, but there are so many great chord patterns in this one. there are two really incredible parts to this song, the gorgeous lead guitar part and everything else. let’s break the everything else down first. there is a really groovy acoustic picking the chords in the background, and whoever is playing this rhythm guitar has got some serious funk in his bones. and the chord progression is so quiet but foundational. such good rhythm playing. on top of that, you’ve got a really quiet fender rhodes electric piano adding gorgeous chords and riffs in the background, spicing up the tune just enough. the bass is almost impossible to make out but essential, and the drum part is so sexy. the drummer is really rocking the brush stroke perfectly. i also hear the occasional wind chimes that close out a verse, such ambience. in the end though, two words really sum up the drum part: egg shaker. ’nuff said.
now the lead guitar part. what a hawt solo. overbearing this is not. this is where clapton’s playing really comes into focus and has the potential to slap you in the face if you are paying attention. he’s got such beautifully bluesy little licks that sit perfectly in this completely un-bluesy tune. and it’s just a catchy solo. if nothing else, it’s fun to listen to because it sounds like it’s fun to play. on the concert dvd one more car, one more rider, clapton’s band opens with this track and it just looks like a fun tune. and if i had to play my electric guitar with only one tone for the rest of my life, this would be one of the few i would be choosing between. such a muffled, warm sound.
2. “Got You on My Mind” (Howard Biggs/Joe Thomas) – 4:30
this is one of the more traditional blues numbers on the album. tunes like this really showcase how much the blues are imprinted in clapton’s dna. he’s got the guitar riffs of the great bluesmen down perfectly and adds his own touch. this is also one of the songs that nails clapton’s voice so well. his voice sits perfectly over a 12 bar blues progression and you can really feel the blues in his voice. it’s clear when it needs to be and growls just enough to be awesome.
3. “Travelin’ Light” (J. J. Cale) – 4:17
written by usual clapton collaborator j.j. cale, this one has a bit of a rockin’ feel to it. clapton’s guitar sounds great as ever, but i’m not crazy about this song. it just doesn’t really speak to me all that much, and the solo is a little too whiny for me to really want to learn it or anything.
4. “Believe in Life” (Clapton) – 5:05
a slower track, this has a very pilgrim-ish feel to it. sounds like change the world’s distant cousin or something. nice little acoustic chords behind the lead guitar. it’s a great tune, but clocking in at just over five minutes, i hardly ever listen to the whole thing unless i’m listening to the whole album straight through no skips, which only happens occasionally. this isn’t one i skip to ever. which doesn’t mean i don’t like it, but there’s just not enough that captures me to hang in there for a full five minutes.
5. “Come Back Baby” (Ray Charles) – 3:55
the first cover on the album. this sounds very much like the ray charles original, just a lot more full and better quality of recording. this tune features the real gravel in clapton’s voice to belt out tunes written by ray, and he really tears into his guitar solo, something not found in ray’s version. great tune.
6. “Broken Down” (Simon Climie/Dennis Morgan) – 5:25
this is a really great bluesy track. it’s along the same lines as old love, not thematically but musically for sure. by that i guess i mean just a really killer tune, something that sounds almost harsh, and would sound perfect with a full band or played acoustic. the album features a full band version, but this tune would fit well with just an acoustic guitar and a lead playing over it. really catchy progression, even if it is a simple two chords. leads to lots of soloing possibilities, which clapton takes advantage of. this tune features a fantastic huge mix of instruments that all add a lot to the song. super fun to play with.
7. “Find Myself” (Clapton) – 5:15
this has a very ray charles feel to it but it’s a clapton original. the rhythm plunks along a cute little chord progression. worth 4 minutes, but not 5 and a quarter.
8. “I Ain’t Gonna Stand for It” (Stevie Wonder) – 4:49
here’s the track that reignited my whole love affair with this album. hearing the stevie wonder original made me want to hear this again and it was all over after that. this song is just too much fun. my vote goes to clapton’s rendition rather than stevie’s. stevie’s smacks just too much of country, while clapton’s pulls off this really full sound that just blows out your ears. this is one of those songs that makes me wish i could sing and play at the same time. i don’t know how clapton does it but to sing the chorus with any sort of conviction while riffing like he does is incredible. it’s like his guitar and his voice are trading licks.
9. “I Want a Little Girl” (Murray Mencher/Billy Moll) – 2:58
quickly becoming another of my favorites on the album. this has the plunkiness of an old ray charles tune with a splash of clapton soul. anybody that sings about the girl of his dreams being able to cook chicken…that’s good lyricism right there. no other way around it. great piano on this one too, with gorgeous guitar over it.
10. “Second Nature” (Clapton/Climie/Morgan) – 4:48
haven’t given this one tons of listens. but i enjoy it. not much else to say other than it’s pretty generic.
11. “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” (James Taylor) – 4:47
he turns a sexy james taylor song into an even sexier eric clapton song. i always thought this was a great song but hearing it with some rippin’ guitar over this hawt chord structure really takes the song where it needs to be. sexy music deserves sexy guitar and clapton provides it.
12. “Modern Girl” (Clapton) – 4:49
really cool acoustic number. it’s got a gorgeous melodic structure and a weird cheek popping noise every third beat which is awesome.
13. “Superman Inside” (Doyle Bramhall/Clapton/Susannah Melvoin) – 5:07
the low point of the album for me. sounds really generic. reminds me that clapton is still capable of making music that larry the cable guy fans could potentially enjoy listening to. kind of a bummer for me.
14. “Son and Sylvia” (Clapton) – 4:43
beautiful acoustic instrumental. this and reptile were the two songs that really hooked me from the beginning with this album, like 6 years ago when i first heard it. i think i heard this right around the time i had purchased my strat, and learning this was a great exercise in terms of picking stuff up by ear and soloing too. the layering in this tune is superb; each verse just keeps adding more and more, another guitar, a harmonica, weird instruments i don’t even know about. and added all up it just sounds so beautiful.
i’d recommend this album to any clapton fan, no matter how marginal. clapton spans like eighty different genres for this album so it’s got something anybody can groove to. plus lots of other good stuff too. check it out.