May 1998

Eric Clapton - Pilgrim
Reprise 9 46577-2
Released: 1998

by Jay Piriz

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment *1/2

[Reviewed on CD]The material on this newest Clapton release is an unusual departure from the classic rocker’s typical blues/rock fare. And don't expect any acoustic stuff here either. This recording has very little in common with From the Cradle (Reprise 9 54735-2). Pilgrim is a dark, introspective and commercially packaged effort. On this release, Clapton appears to be in the same state of mental turbulence as Bob Dylan on his last recording, Time Out Of Mind (Columbia CK 68556). Many of the tunes on Pilgrim deal with mortality, love lost, pain, betrayal and regrets for what should have been done in life. I guess we’re all getting older.

Some of the lyrics evoke a sense of inner peace and hope for whatever lies down the path of life "...sailing down behind the sun / waiting for the prince to come / praying for the healing rain / to restore my soul again." On "Pilgrim," my favorite tune on the disc, Clapton appears to be communicating a comfort zone with his lot in life and a degree of satisfaction with his life choices, but some doubt remains about how genuinely he has been loved by others on this sojourn: "how do I choose / where do I draw the line / between truth and necessary pain / and how do I know/and where do I get my belief / that things will be alright again."

I thought I would hear of people in hell getting ice water before Clapton would record an album using only synthesized drums and percussion programming. John Bonham is probably rolling over in his grave. There is clearly a George Michael Older (Dreamworks DRMD-50000) feel (no pun intended) to the music on this CD. Let me state at the outset that generally I am not an aficionado of the synthesized-drum-and-percussion sound. When selecting music, I usually steer clear of any recordings that employ such techniques. But hey, this is Eric Clapton after all. The synthesized sound of the drums and percussion is all over this recording, imparting a lifelessness to the pulse of the music. Tunes that would be winners with real musicians on the drumkit are rendered mediocre ("Needs His Woman," "Sick And Tired," "Pilgrim," "You Were There"), and the mediocre tunes are downright objectionable ("Born In Time," "One Chance," "She's Gone," "River of Tears"). Hey Eric, dump the synthesized drums. Your talent is above it.

This CD is not a complete waste of money however. Clapton's virtuoso guitar playing is smooth, quick, clear, and sexy. There are a few tunes that include the strings of the London Session Orchestra, and such wonderful musicians as Joe Sample on piano and Paul Carrack on organ bring fleeting moments of real musical enjoyment on selected tracks. Kenneth "Baby Face" Edmonds and Tony Rich also perform on a couple of cuts.

As I listened to this CD a couple of times while writing this review, my disappointment increased exponentially at the realization that a potentially successful and enjoyable album has been rendered so dismally disappointing by a miracle of modern music technology. What a shame! But hey, this is Eric Clapton after all, and he is very good on this recording.