God struggles with relevancy in the early ’80s
Throughout much of the Seventies Eric Clapton was on auto-pilot, sleepwalking his way through a series of lacklustre albums which failed to capture the spark of his earlier, younger days. What was frustrating is not so much that his albums stank, There’s One In Every Crowd (1975), No Reason To Cry (1976), Slowhand (1977) and Backless (1978), all had their moments, to be sure, making them if not necessarily essential, then certainly enjoyable reminders of Clapton’s once held status as God.
However by 1983, when Money And Cigarettes was released, times had changed, and with them Eric’s fortunes. First, he sacked most of his long time band the year before, choosing to enlist the support of Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn (bass), Roger Hawkins (drums) and Ry Cooder (guitar). Guitarist Albert Lee (not to be confused with Alvin Lee) was also on the payroll, meaning that this would be a far more back to basics style album compared to some of his previous efforts.
The album opens with a strong cover of Sleepy John Estes’ “Everybody Oughta Make A Change,” a rendition no doubt inspired by The Band (with whom Clapton was still fixated on), followed by the old fashioned boogie of “The Shape You’re In,” a dictatorial diatribe directed at his wife Patti Boyd due to her heavy drinking (talk about the pot calling the kettle black). Clapton channels Hendrix with “Ain’t Goin’ Down,” a song that is all but a carbon copy of Jimi’s stunning interpretation of “All Along The Watchtower.”
The ridiculous “I’ve Got A Rock ‘n’ Roll Heart” points to Eric’s future excursions into pop commercialism, while his obsession with Patti continues with “Man Overboard,” the acoustic “Pretty Girl,” and “Man In Love,” each of which are sung with conviction, thanks to Eric’s 40-fags-a-day habit, however the lightweight rocker “Slow Down Linda” is little more than filler.
Blues fans will likely enjoy Clapton’s take on Albert King’s “Crosscut Saw,” and “Crazy Country Hop,” a late ‘50s party number that closes the LP in fine nostalgic fashion. The addition of Cooder and Lee seems to have done wonders to reinvigorate Clapton’s own playing, which is excellent throughout. Though despite its virtues, Money And Cigarettes was perhaps a good album released at the wrong time. And while not exactly a poor seller, due to record company pressure, it would lead to Clapton doing a deal with the devil, or Warner Brothers in this case, choosing to enlist (for better or worse) the production talents of Phil Collins on his next two albums, Behind The Sun and August.
But for now, Clapton had delivered a modestly successful document, one that was aimed perhaps more at his own needs than those of his fans.