Review Summary: Mardi Gras is one excellent cautionary tale for aspiring bands, about why you should never shit on the most talented member in the group.(This review is #2 in my "Regretting the Past" series, a series that looks at albums that either ended the careers of artists, or were said artist's first efforts that they clearly don't want anyone to know about. This series began with my review of Alanis Morisette's 1992 self-titled debut. Said review will be linked to in the comments section for this review.)
If there's any band who has one song that most people can name, hands down it's CCR. I'm going to take an uneducated guess and even assume that most people can hear the first 10 seconds of a CCR song and immediately think, "yep, that's Creedence, alright". And not for nothing- they are fucking awesome. Their music is an effortless blend of country, hard rock and southern swamp vibes, best identified by simple yet effective hooks, John Fogerty's holler that could peel the damn paint off those walls, and a songwriting style that's as personal and genuine as it is thrilling. It's because of this that the band managed to squeeze out hit after hit after hit in just two years
. No joke, even for the sixties, this was uncommon. All 6 of these albums that were released in this amazingly short timespan just ooze songs that get in your head and stay there- "Fortunate Son"? "Down on the Corner"? "Rollin'"? "Have You Ever Seen the Rain"? I'm willing to bet you probably had the opening riff of one of those songs immediately play in your head upon reading those titles.
But... I'm not going to talk about those hits, or even their parent albums.
Wondering why, in the opening paragraph I only mentioned John Fogerty by name? For one, it's probably the most "schmogerty" name there is, and for another, he basically is the band. Who were those other guys again? Oh, right! I remember: Todd Creedence, Billy Clearwater, and... um... Joseph Revival... I think that's what his name was.
Okay, so obviously that was a joke. And here's the real shocker- despite being the one person that anyone can name, John wasn't even the only Fogerty in the band! His brother, Tom Fogerty, was the rhythm guitarist for the first six albums before abruptly leaving in 1970. As for the other two, Stu Cook is someone who I can only name because he's the one guy named "Stu" I can think of, and as for Doug Clifford? Just google a picture of him- he's a real "Doug Clifford" if there ever was one. Now if this was any other review of any other album, this would be a real waste of review space- but it's important to mention this because it's why Mardi Gras
, the band's seventh and final album, exists. You see, John Fogerty was the one who wrote basically everything. And it was also a real cause of tension in the band. It's easy to not know this, sure, because the band's music was so upbeat, that it hid this. But things were anything BUT happy in the CCR camp because of this. Watching interview footage to do research for this album, the clips I watched lead me to draw two obvious conclusions: John Fogerty was fed up with the band's lack of any real songwriting contributions; Cook and Clifford, quite conversely, were quick to accuse Fogerty of being something of a tyrant, hogging all the songwriting for himself. Whatever the case is, one thing is in fact, correct: 2 years of complaints and ungratefulness clearly drove John Fogerty to break down and go: "Fine. You want some songwriting credits, you do it yourself then, write some fucking songs."
And if any album is proof that nobody should ever take that piece of advice literally, it's 1972's catfight disguised as an album, Mardi Gras
is already a weird title for an album of this kind. Mardi Gras immediately conjures images of a giant party in the streets; this album, on the other hand, is nothing like a party, no matter what lead single "Sweet Hitchhiker" might lead you to believe. And indeed, said song is quite a banger. It's no masterpiece, but this 3 minute power-pop number sets some pretty energetic expectations for the album. A song about sexual frustration stemming from loneliness, with Fogerty's signature howls crying out for a "sweet hitchhiker", a simple yet, rocking riff, and a sick drum break in the middle, "Sweet Hitchhiker" immediately sets the precedent every album opener should.
The only problem... it's not the opening track
. In fact, it's the closing track to the album. This is opening track material and yet it's tacked on at the end as if it's some random track. This alone should warn you immediately about what a slap-dash and half-assed record this is; the sound of three individuals who clearly hate each other just wanting the fuck out. So what does open the album, then? "Looking For a Reason" is one very confusing way to open any album- a bluesy country number that begins with a lousy riff, and lyrics that contemplate the band's current miserable climate. And things don't get better from there. Next in line is Stu Cook's first contribution, "Take it Like a Friend". It's worth noting that every writer on this album sings their contribution, and to say Cook is no Fogerty is one hell of an understatement- in fact, his singing sounds disturbingly like a South Park character. Mind you, he still sounds better than Clifford, who sounds like Max from The Goofy Movie
. But we should at least see what they have to offer lyrically, right?
If maybe you'd move over,
Gave someone else a chance
To try their luck;
Instead, you run up closer,
Try'n to grab a page
Before they close the book.
Gee, I totally wonder what he's singing about. This isn't the only song he uses as an excuse to shit on Fogerty; "Need Someone to Hold" (which he co-wrote with Clifford) and "Sail Away"are both verbal fuck-yous to Fogerty, with the latter being a particularly savage revenge fantasy, where he imagines Fogerty as the captain of a sinking ship. Real subtle. And to be fair to Fogerty, would you want to play on a song about how much of an asshole you are? The one song on here he writes that isn't basically part of an "Eat My Balls, Fogerty" series is the album's penultimate song "Door to Door", an absolutely pathetic attempt at writing a sex song where he imagines himself as a delivery man trying to fuck a hot chick- and this wastes one hell of an awesome bluesy backing that exists on a solid, if slightly repetitive groove. Clifford's songs, on the other hand, basically float by undetected, although "Tearin' Up the Country" has a pretty cool bass riff.
And as for Fogerty, the man who's name has taken up at least 30 percent of this review despite only half the mentions being about him? It's clear that this is leagues below what he's capable of as a songwriter, but apart from an absolutely useless cover of "Hello Mary Lou" (which is basically the original song with barely anything new to contribute, he writes the album's sole excellent track, "Someday Never Comes". The music AND lyrics both create a heartbreaking atmosphere of loneliness and abandonment. The main riff that pepers the verses is a perfect blend of atmospheric and melancholy, and while the choruses are pretty upbeat, they clash with Fogerty's command to children everywhere: "Well, I'm here to tell you now each and ev'ry mother's son/You better learn it fast; you better learn it young, 'cause someday never comes
". With Fogerty writing the song about his troubled childhood, this one leaves you feeling a mix of nostalgic and sad, and it's very clear that this song deserves to be on a much better album.
I say that, of course, because it's the one genuine effort in 28 minutes of bandmates wanting to get the fuck out. You read that right, this album lasts only a mere 28 minutes long. I'm not sure that more songs or longer songs (the average length being 2 to 3 and a half minutes) would have made for a better effort, but when you consider this album was released in an age when bands were taking pride in seeing albums as sides, with one side being a one side-length track, this made for one wasteful effort for the time, and even by today's standards. Nothing seems to be a bigger sign of people just wanting it done and over with than 10 songs not even clocking in at a full half hour.
At the end of the day, Mardi Gras
is anything but a party. If anything, listening to it can be likened to sitting in a room with two people who refuse to talk directly to each other, with one even telling you to "go tell that asshole something for me" when the other is 10 feet away and can hear you clearly. It turns you, the listener, into the guy who doesn't want to participate, but are still being forced to take sides. The fact that the band still hates each other to this day is telling, and listening to it sure made me feel an enabler of a nasty feud.
FAILURE, FIASCO, or SECRET SUCCESS