As some of the Boomer’s most revered artists contemplate the twilight of their careers, no less than three categories have arisen from their subsequent catalog additions.
The first type is an honest attempt at delivering records that challenge themselves, with the hope being that the record will not only be received well, but at least be formidable additions to their legacies. David Bowie’s most recent album is an example of this.
The second categories are the artists who have completely given up on making a creative statement at all during their golden years. They are content with repackaging yet another compilation, and touring in support of their catalog just to deliver the very same songs that the public expects to hear. For anyone who’s briefly glanced at REO Speedwagon’s offerings for the past 20 years will notice just how many times a band can release greatest hits records. These artists are sneaky too, making it very important to read the liner notes just to be certain that a collection of an artist’s most remembered material isn’t merely a collection of newly recorded versions. The reason for the ruse is because the artist no longer owns the rights of their original recording and they’d like to sneak a new revenue source on to their diminishing audience.
And then there’s the aged artist who spends a great deal of time, reminiscing about the music that inspired them when they were younger, those trigger points that bring up their happy times or perhaps the very songs that caused them to pick up an instrument in the first place.
Their nostalgia causes them to give their influences a go, sometimes being referred to as a “standards” record. Bryan Ferry, Paul McCartney, and (ugh) Rod Stewart have all had their careers swing by this obligatory direction, and each one has had varying success with the idea.
Eric Clapton is one of those artists who likes looking back, and he has done his share of records that focus on the music of his past. So from that angle, Old Sock-a title appropriately lifted from a conversation with David Bowie-isn’t really anything new. In fact, one could even accuse Clapton of continually playing footsie with this concept not only for the love of the music and the memories it recalls, but also because he’s quite comfortable with the subject matter. It gives him a chance to putz around the house, riffing on licks for the helluva it, scratching his balls with a pick when he gets an itch.
Make no bones about it, this is retirement home stuff. Not the “months to live” kind of prognosis, but the kind that screams “Get off my lawn!” and “Don’t be late for the early bird special.” This is a record devoid of any pretense of Clapton giving a shit, mainly from a perspective of caring about his place in today’s musical echelon. And what’s curious is how Clapton has chosen to make his voice-probably the most limited tool he has-the most prominent instrument in the mix of Old Sock.
For the guitar aficionados like myself, strong solos and fills abound, but you literally have to seek them out as Eric’s guitar and enviable tones are buried deep within this tepid offering.
For the uninitiated, you will find no answers within Clapton’s 21st record, Old Sock, and for those of us who remain uncomfortably loyal to this legendary artists, you will find no reason to stop pointing to the Beano album as the proper source for why anyone would continue to care about him 50 years after the fact.
Half a lifetime later, Clapton continues to execute at his own pace, either admirably choosing to paint his late-career records with brief glimpses of his prowess, or foolishly lettings his talent-and, more tellingly, his heart- squander on his path of comfort, seemingly learning nothing from the moral of Robert Johnson’s story: every day is a sacred opportunity to use the talents that the devil so desperately wants to get a hold of.
Clearly, Clapton no longer feels the need to prove anything regarding his talents, but he really should feel the need to prove something, like an inherent desire to release an album based on creative need instead of treating it like an obligation. Old Sock isn’t really a bad record. It’s just, as its title suggests, the work of a well-worn performer who’s quickly becoming forgettable because everything he's been doing for the past decade is beginning to sound the same.
If it weren’t for the guest stars that obediently show up when Eric calls, we wouldn’t be able to tell the records apart. There was the one he did with B.B. King, the one with J.J. Cale, and then there’s this project, a record that taps all of the usual suspects. The supporting cast lists everyone from Paul McCartney to Chaka Kahn, yet throughout Old Sock the mood remains an unthreatening retirement village, where feedback and drummers who speed up every now and then are viewed with generational despise.
After a while, you begin to wonder why. Why must we live through an artist’s own nostalgia if they are only going to provide their own hazy re-telling of the music? Have we gotten to a point where we’re now required to hear Clapton once again tackle his favorite reggae tunes, now with the added benefit of him sounding not just white, but old and white? Explain to me again why I’m supposed to feel excited about having to endure another entry in Clapton’s long decent into middle of the rock schlock.?
Towards the end, Old Sock grabs a few handfuls of saccharine when Clapton asks his young daughters to provide the background to the original “Every Little Thing.” It transforms the song into a cute ball of proud papa schmaltz, until things get uncomfortable. Almost immediately, you’ll want to tear down the “Clapton Is God” graffiti of lore and replace it with the more accurate “Clapton is Dad” proverb.
Old Sock is the soundtrack to your lame family reunion this summer, and Clapton has become that annoying third uncle who keep emailing you the same generic plea to come visit this year. As Old Sock’s title reminds you, “I’ve got better things to do. Like laundry.”