The first guitar lick sizzles, and so Disraeli Gears opens. "Strange Brew" calls up equal parts back-alley blues and haunting psychedelia — an appropriate theme for the entire record, really. Eric Clapton's velvety vocals drip like wet DayGlo all over the piece.
And "Sunshine of Your Love"? I recognize Ginger Baker's drumming from the music my dad played while working in the garage, not to mention most every flick with a plot line involving LSD. But pulling myself away from any personally historical context... wow. Testosterone-packed bass lines lay down the spine from which the rest of the eerie body and tendrils of twisted guitar hang. I believe an involuntary, groove-centered response to the near-perfect riff of "Sunshine of Your Love" is primal — unavoidable, even. It's completely brilliant.
The tiny ripples kicking off "Tales of Brave Ulysses" sink in effortlessly, so that you're unable to pull away. "Blue Condition" plays like a leisurely stroll through thick mud.
Cream performed "Tales of Brave Ulysses" on The Summer Smothers Brothers Show in May 1968.
"World of Pain" provides a nice relief from the nearly (but in a good way) exhausting "Sunshine." It provokes thought with its existential lyricism. "Is there a reason for today? / Do you remember?" These questions ring timeless. Those pleas of "We're Going Wrong" do, too. At the same time, you don't have to take it too seriously to enjoy the sounds.
However, the original meaning or significance of Disraeli Gears' is likely lost on younger audiences today. I fully recognize the album's original impact, as have plenty of contemporary artists like Black Mountain and Brian Jonestown Massacre. I recognize its importance in rock history, its role as a major path-paver for psychedelia and the social relevance embodied in each swirl of druggy guitar. Today, that particular pocket of counterculture is completely familiar (as it should be 40-plus years after its birth), and now much of the concern echoed in the album plays like a well-worn cadence, something good to be reminded of, but not a bone-shaking revolution.
I believe one of the stronger points of this album is its keen sense of pacing. Cream doesn't pack one hard-hitting, philosophical number after another, nor does it just blast through heavy and heady the whole time. It's less of a trip and more of a journey — one I'm embarrassed it took me 23 years to pack my bags for. Long live Disraeli Gears.