It seems that the last time we heard from blues guitar legend Eric Clapton was during his collaboration with B.B. King on the album Ridin’ with the King. Now Clapton has produced a solo album entitled Reptile. The album contains both original numbers and covers of songs by the likes of Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and James Taylor. Despite the legendary significance of Clapton, his album is not immune to scrutiny due to its moments of not-so-brilliance.
The basic complaint is that, for the most part, the songs written by Clapton are weak. They come across as being lyrically convenient and sounding more like something on an adult contemporary, listen-all-day-at-work radio station. “Believe in Life” is a supreme example. The title alone gives away the basic plot of the song; it is so cheesy. The rich guitar is lost in the shuffle of the dainty percussion. Clapton’s vocal delivery is muddy, and the background vocals are straight out of the easy-listening underworld. The repetition of the line “I Believe in Life” makes this song destined for a commercial. We’ll just have to wait and see what kind of product grabs it up first.
Similarly, “Find Myself” lacks in quality. The song is cute though, with its honky-tonk piano theme. Once again, we’ve got those silly background vocals, but they fit with this song a little better. This is not one of those self-empowerment songs either, like “Change the World.” The song seems to be a tribute to those who assisted Clapton during his musical endeavors. “Second Nature” is another song written by Clapton with help from Simon Climie and Dennis Morgan. Clapton really digs into the vocals on this number, which saves it.
With all that being said, Clapton wrote a really nice song called “Modern Girl” that contradicts the previous judgments. “Modern Girl” does not try to be bluesy or funky. It is incredibly mellow and quiet, and that saves it. The acoustic guitars and the calm vocals are a nice touch.
The title track “Reptile” is an instrumental tribute to the “reptiles” in Clapton’s life. In the liner notes Clapton explains that there have been many people who have helped him along the way, and he affectionately refers to them as reptiles. The last song on the album, “Son and Sylvia,” is also a fitting instrumental piece; no whine and cheese here.
What really makes Reptile are the covers that Clapton did for the album. His version of James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” is a bluesy take on the sad song. Clapton’s vocal treatment of the song is much more edgy than Taylor’s, so it is an interesting spin on the classic. Also, the Ray Charles song “Come Back, Baby” gets the Clapton treatment and is probably one of the best songs on the album. Clapton’s true blues guitar abilities come through as one expects in this song.
Reptile is a mix of some really sweet moments, like Billy Preston’s piano part in “Broken Down,” and some not so sweet, like “Believe in Life.” For a diehard Clapton fan, the album is not a disappointment, but if you are in the mood for some hardcore good Clapton then the Derek and the Dominoes version of “Layla” is still a safe bet.