Review Summary: Fresh Cream. It all changed here - for better or worse. Your choice.
Classic. Yes, that's how I'd have to describe this album. Not so much for its intrinsic musical qualities, but more for the simple truth that it was the blueprint for an explosion of artists in the late 1960s and into the 1970s. Most of these have come to define - for better or worse - classic rock.
The blueprint. Why? Not the first power trio - The Who had been thrashing around for a year or so. Not the first blues band. Apart from the purism of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton's home prior to the formation of Cream, bands less afraid to experiment with pop styling - The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Animals - were recording plenty of soulful and convincing blues tunes. What Cream brought was a certain virtuosity for virtuosity's sake. Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker - with jazz roots - and Eric Clapton, recently anointed God of the guitar, were all capable of mouth watering musical showmanship. During "Fresh Cream", they all had the opportunity to cut loose and all did.
So, perhaps for the first time, the listener found himself listening to a rock band as a jazz fan might listen to an 'All Star' jazz conglomeration. This was quite a shift and started the sea change in rock & roll and pop music that turned it into rock music, Beatles notwithstanding. Serious, weighty, flashy and sometime inspired. Depending on your point of view, this was the beginning of a golden age or the setting-in of a rot that it took The Sex Pistols and their do-it-yourself ilk to expunge from the body rock ten years after the release of "Fresh Cream".
A lot of history, a lot of polemics under that particular bridge. Coming back to the start of it all, listening to "Fresh Cream" reveals all those seeds and early sproutings, some fully realized, the immaculate "I Feel Free" - an essential slice of pop-rock psychedelia, some strangely malformed such as the curious waltz "Dreaming". Paradoxically, it's these less immediately arresting songs that keep the "Fresh" in "Fresh Cream", a sense of experimentation for experimentation's sake - such as "Sweet Wine" with its extraordinary bumpy bursting guitar break. By "Disraeli Gears", Cream would have smoothed their pyschedelia into a more satisfying whole but at the cost of some that freshness. Listening to "Fresh Cream" almost challenges you to wipe from your memory those endless classic rock tunes that dominate so much popular culture, then and today, and revel in the possibilities to come. For this alone, the album is essential.