Eric Clapton – Unplugged [Finely Tuned]
MTV Unplugged is well known for hosting the iconic ‘all-acoustic’ performances by artists from all over the world. Eric Clapton’s performance on 16 January 1992, in the show’s third season is perhaps the most historic one till date. When the performance made its debut on television in March 1992, it became the series’ highest rated episode, encouraging the producers to telecast a Part 2 later. Clapton, on his part, released a live album comprising 14 of the 25 tracks that were performed that day, to resounding success. It won him 6 Grammy nominations, huge commercial success, and proved to be a major turning point in his career. The songs introduced in Unplugged, new as well as heavily reworked classics, would shape the path that he and his band would take from there on.
The album has a homely feeling to it, with conversational snippets thrown in, along with the sounds of band members fiddling around with their instruments, making it a near-live experience. The album opens to a lively piece called ‘Signe’, a peppy samba track. ‘Before You Accuse Me’ and ‘Hey Hey’, two popular blues songs follow. Clapton’s entrancing guitar prowess and the aging of his erstwhile rock-star voice starts becoming apparent as the album progresses. You can almost hear him embracing his middle age, with the delightful pace the songs progress in.
‘Tears in Heaven’ is the most powerful track on the album. It was penned the year before the Unplugged performance, after the tragic death of Clapton’s son. With stark words that pull at your heartstrings and a soulful performance by Clapton, it is no surprise that the song shot to popularity and received tremendous response at every single one of his performances in the future. ‘Lonely Stranger’ is another song written when Clapton was grieving. It is a stirring track with some great chordal work. Jimmy Cox’s ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out’ provides a peek at the songs that influenced Clapton as a child, and a nice precursor to the biggest takeaway of the performance.
“See if you can spot this one” says Clapton and a couple of bars into the song, you can hear one of the audience members shouts “Yeah!”, with the rest breaking into an applause. Clapton and his band then present a hugely reworked version of their hit ‘Layla’. It had been converted from the original cry of pain into a slow shuffle, and it worked wonderfully. ‘Running on Faith’, the next song, is another one that brings out the richness in Clapton’s voice, unlike his usual performances.
The remaining part of the album is majorly blues. Songs that were obvious choices to Clapton to include in the set-list, as they were a huge part of his influence. ‘Walkin Blues’, ‘Alberta’, ‘San Fransisco Bay Blues’, ‘Malted Milk’, and ‘Old Love’ are a delight for any blues fan. A mention for Chuck Leavell is a must when talking about these blues classics, who complemented Clapton delightfully on the piano. The album ends with ‘Rollin and Tumblin’, which has an abrupt start to it because Clapton begins playing it impromptu, with the band joining in and the crowd cheering them on. It turns out to be a marvelous end to what was a treat for every Eric Clapton fan.
This album is as much about Clapton’s recovery from grief as it is about showcasing the different strands of his musical DNA. It transformed his career because it gave him new avenues to explore, like trying out finger-picking his electric guitar. It is an album worth putting on those big headphones and getting immersed in for the entire length.