Monday, March 15, 2010

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Creedence Clearwater Revival

Nowadays, Creedence Clearwater Revival is known for the iconic brand of swamp rock they perfected. A mix of electric blues, knife-concise songcraft and fuzzy guitar tones that somehow evoked hot summers in the wetlands of the American south to a near-perfect degree. Perfect evocation wouldn't have fit, either; CCR was a natural creature, with rough-hewn recordings showing warts and all.

It's strange, then, knowing the archetypal sonic image of CCR, to encounter their self-titled debut album for the first time. The band, making their first recording under their soon-to-be-legendary moniker after years as the Golliwogs, appears to be circling their signature sound without finding it yet. Here, CCR is unrefined (ironic, given how raw their later hits sound, but in retrospect there is tremendous refinement in evidence in their greatest songs.)

The album is loosest when they're reinterpreting others' songs, as they do on three tracks here. They unleash an eight-minute cover of "Susie Q" that would fit at home in a Quicksilver Messenger Service album, fitting considering the San Francisco scene they shared. Their cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You" takes the manic energy Hawkins erupted through his maniacal vocal and transport it to writhing guitars. Lastly, Wilson Pickett's "Ninety-Nine and a Half" rocks out to a groovin' bluesy boogie. The covers don't really relate to a common sound except for a generic classic rock tone, where the guitar solos sound clarion clear in the higher registers but chunky and thick in the chords.

That sound is also where they're writing the originals, like Fogerty's straight-up blues "Get Down Woman." It's a good track, but its just like any other electric blues record from the '60s, there's nothing exceptional about it. The same could be said for "The Working Man" except that would be short-shrifting its lyrics, which move the typical blues lyrics closer to the common-man voice Fogerty would develop for later CCR hits.

The first track on Creedence Clearwater Revival to carve out a unique sound is, "Porterville." It's got the bass surging deep underground on the track, beneath a wiry-thin guitar that snakes behind and around Fogerty's passionate vocals and bright, clear hand percussion. The sound isn't the trademark CCR sound, but it's closer and it's still a great sound. Following it comes a slice of psychedelic rock, appropriately titled "Gloomy," replete with backwards guitars and sound effects. It's a sound they can manage well, but without depth.

Maybe knowing where they were headed colors my judgment of where they were before, but much of Creedence Clearwater Revival is a by-the-numbers classic rock album circa 1968. It's easy, in hindsight, to call this the sound of a band looking for its hook. The truth is it's a good album, but it's also not the band I came looking for at the beginning of their chronology. By the time "Walking on the Water" brings things to a close with Jefferson Airplane-like militance, it strikes me that this album is more reflective of 1968 than Creedence. So it'll likely stay as a document of the sound of a time in my mind, instead of the sound of a unique band. There's nothing wrong with that; I'll just have to go on to the next album.


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