Eric Clapton – Unplugged, 2CD+DVD
Here’s a slightly unusual candidate for reissue: Eric Clapton‘s 1992 Unplugged album. To my knowledge, this massively commercially successful album has never gone out of print, which begs the question: why reissue it? To be fair, this 2014 reissue does include some bonus material. But first, let’s take a look at the original album.
Filmed – as was standard procedure for the cable series MTV Unplugged – in front of a small audience and featuring more-or-less acoustic readings of the artist’s work, Clapton’s Unplugged came pretty far into the whole “unplugged” story arc. The TV series had begin its life as a Jules Shear-hosted show with all manner of musical guests. Artists would render stripped-down, often more subtle versions of their (generally) well-known material. Beginning in late 1989, MTV Unplugged began airing, and by 1991 at least a couple of major stars had not only appeared, but had subsequently released live recordings documenting their performances: Paul McCartney‘s Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) and Mariah Carey‘s single cover of the Jackson 5‘s “I’ll Be there.” So, by the time of Clapton’s Unplugged date, the idea was certainly neither new nor groundbreaking.
And, by this point in Clapton’s career, his style had calmed considerably from the days of Derek and the Dominos‘ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (not to mention Cream), so the mellow approach was no significant stylistic departure for him.
Still, Clapton – joined by longtime musical associates including percussionist Ray Cooper, keyboardist Chuck Leavell, and guitarist Andy Fairweather-Low – used the format to explore his love of the more acoustic-leaning “country blues” sounds that had long been a major influence on his playing. The result was a set heavy on covers (some might call them standards), with a few contemporary originals tossed into the mix. For his trouble, Clapton’s Unplugged LP scored him more than 10 million units sold, plus six Grammy awards.
The album’s most memorable cuts are a version of “Tears in Heaven,” the song about the tragic loss of Clapton’s son Conor, and a reinvention of “Layla” that bizarrely denudes the tune of its passion (and its classic extended instrumental coda), though it remains popular in many corners.
The new set expands the original album and offers three discs total. The first is an exact duplicate of the original 1992 CD, featuring fourteen songs form the television performance. The second disc features material recorded but not aired as part of the TV program, including three numbers (“Circus” and “Worried Life Blues” plus two takes of the unaired “My Father’s Eyes”) not broadcast, and four alternate takes/breakdowns of songs that did appear. A third disc (DVD) features the entire program as broadcast, plus an hour of previously unseen footage. None of the previously-unseen/unheard material is especially revelatory; they’re all very much of a piece. The booklet that accompanies the digipak is short on details; the opportunity to feature a contemporary essay on the performance has been passed up. And the cover art again features the grainy, “screen capture”-looking photo that graced the original release.
Verdict: good for Clapton fans who somehow don’t already have the lion’s share of this material on CD and DVD (or perhaps VHS); worthy of interest for most others, but not an essential purchase.
About Bill Kopp / Musoscribe
Depending on one’s interest, one is either amazed and entertained or bored to tears with Bill Kopp’s encyclopedic knowledge of the popular music of the last fifty years. A rock/pop music historian, he has amassed a collection of way more than 8,000+ albums, nearly half of those on vinyl.
Bill has written for the now-defunct Skope (where he ran things as Editor-in-Chief for two years), Billboard, No Depression, Trouser Press, Ugly Things, WNC Magazine, Mountain Xpress, The Laurel of Asheville, Shindig! Magazine, 60sgaragebands.com and Jambase.org, among others.
He has written liner notes for CD reissues of albums by Brotherhood (a Paul Revere and the Raiders spinoff group), jazz legend Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, and progressive rock keyboardist Rick Wakeman.
Bill has interviewed and written features on artists including Chris Squire (Yes), The Psychedelic Furs, Bill Wyman, Todd Rundgren, The Flaming Lips, Ray Manzarek (Doors), R. Stevie Moore, Harry Shearer, Larry Coryell, Nick Lowe, Van Duren, George Thorogood, Ozric Tentacles, Steve Hackett (Genesis), Tommy James, Graham Parker, Captain Sensible, John Wetton (UK, Asia, King Crimson), Felix Cavaliere (Rascals), Akron/Family, Paul Revere & the Raiders, The Moody Blues, Gary Wright, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Martin Newell (Cleaners From Venus), Bootsy Collins, Kenney Jones and Ian McLagan (The Small Faces), Ann Wilson (Heart), Kim Wilson (Fabulous Thunderbirds), Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Henry Rollins, Yoko Ono, Van Dyke Parks, Richard Barone, Jason Falkner, Rose Windows, Tony Levin, Mitch Ryder, Steve Cropper (Booker T & the MGs), Crowded House, Camper Van Beethoven, Project/Object, The Church, Bill Spooner (The Tubes), Jack Casady, Trey Gunn, Porcupine Tree, The Turtles, Howard Jones, Creedence Clearwater Revisited, The Fleshtones, KT Tunstall, Andy Partridge, Max Bloom (Yuck), Terry Adams (NRBQ), Carmine Appice, The Black Angels, Robyn Hitchcock, Roky Erickson, Gentle Giant, Richard Barone, Adrian Belew, The Polyphonic Spree, Shoes, Zoé, Thrice, Pat Mastelotto, Steve Wynn, Nik Turner, Fall Out Boy, Dungen, Richie Havens, Sean Lennon, Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone of The Zombies, Bigelf, Pete Yorn, The Residents, Los Straitjackets, RPWL, Radio Birdman, Veruca Salt, Richard X Heyman, Tommy Keene, Black Mountain, Marshall Crenshaw, Keith Allison, Bob Moog, The Veronicas, The New York Dolls, Johnny Winter, Thijs van Leer (Focus), Roger Manning (Jellyfish), The Waterboys’ Mike Scott, Jeremy Spencer (Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac), John McLaughlin, The Fuzztones, George Thorogood, Randall Bramblett, Rose Windows, Opeth, Bobby Rush, Thijs van Leer (Focus), Doug “Cosmo” Clifford (CCR), Southern Culture on the Skids, The Orange Peels, and many others. He’s reported on the Bonnaroo, Moogfest, Hopscotch, YepRoc 15, Dig!, Ponderosa Stomp, Americana Music Association, Mountain Oasis and Echo Project festivals, and written about consumer products including the Microsoft Zune, Rock Band: The Game and many others.
Bill lives in a nearly century-old house in Asheville, NC with his fianceé, two cats, all those records and CDs, and way, way, way too many synthesizers.