50 Years Ago: Cream Release Their Masterpiece, ‘Disraeli Gears’
Disraeli Gears was the second album Cream released in their short career, and all these years later, it still shines as their crowning achievement. Issued in November 1967, the landmark LP found Cream flipping the switch toward full-on psychedelia while remaining true to the blues roots of their 1966 debut.
Fresh Cream signaled a new force was on the scene. Like a blues-drenched warhorse, Cream plugged in and cranked up the volume delivering their own take on American blues. Along with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream ushered in not only the power trio concept, but also the heavy blues which would eventually lead into hard rock and heavy metal. But first there was Disraeli Gears.
From the opening notes of "Strange Brew," it's clear that the band had moved on from the style of their debut, taking those blues roots and twisting them into a vibrant 1967 technicolor. The pattern is followed with even more dramatic effect on the album's second track, "Sunshine of Your Love." A simple blues guitar riff sets the tone, but the pounding of Ginger Baker's drums propel the song into foreign territory. Throw in a killer Eric Clapton solo and you've got a true classic. Released as a single in early 1968, it hit the Top 5 and helped push the LP to No. 4.
Throughout the album, the interplay between the three is stunning, setting the benchmark for hard rockers to follow. Even though Clapton often gets the most accolades in Cream, in many ways, Jack Bruce is the real star of the show here. His vocals are hauntingly beautiful and his bass playing is stellar.
"We're Going Wrong" is a psychedelic tour de force. Bruce's ethereal vocals hover over the circular chord pattern and tribal drumming, while "World of Pain" and "Dance the Night Away" mix in elements of psych pop, but with a slightly darker mood. "Tales of Brave Ulysses" is one of the most haunting rockers of all time. Written by Clapton and artist friend Martin Sharp, it's descending main riff and wild lyrics meld together perfectly. Clapton delivers one of his finest solos at song's end. And "SWLABR" is one of the album's rawest tracks with a dynamic riff pushing things at full throttle.
Cream would release one final studio album, the two-record set and half-live Wheels of Fire, before calling it a day less than three years after forming. They felt they said all they had to say, and were gone before things got stale. Disraeli Gears remains the band's finest hour and still still sounds fresh.