The long-awaited Super-Deluxe reissue of this revered debut is a full-fat dairy feast for the senses. A sumptuous main course of the original album is available here in multiple formats to satisfy both purist, stereo-intolerant listeners, as well as audiophiles that demand the clarity and separation afforded by state-of-the-art high resolution stereo provided on the Blue-Ray audio disc.
Cream: ‘Fresh Cream’, Deluxe Edition
Out Now (Universal Music Group)
Words: Andy Rawll
While it’s true that some of the additional archive material, spread across this four-disc set, has been previously released, notably the BBC sessions, there’s plenty for the Cream completist to savour. The newly compiled assortment of early versions, outtakes and alternative mixes are fascinating and not every Cream collector will have tracked down the further contemporary variants that were released in EP form in France.
The casual connoisseur may find themselves frustrated by multiple instances of the same core tracks, with six doses of ‘N.S.U.’ and a liberating seven renditions of ‘I Feel Free’ across the three CDs for example. However, given the quality of the source material, for many, such repetition will serve to enrichen the appreciation of this landmark release. The packaging also is high quality, incorporating 64 pages of photographs and extended sleeve notes by respected Rolling Stone writer David Fricke.
For now, the reissue is only available in four disc format, but there is word of a follow-up heavyweight vinyl version of this creamy goodness, spread across six half-speed mastered LPs.
Although its successor, ‘Disraeli Gears’, is often considered the commercial and artistic peak of the band’s short but stratospheric trajectory, ‘Fresh Cream’ represents the explosive launch point of this glorious gang of three. The deified digits of Clapton, the rhythmic dervish of the fabulous Baker man and the melodic polymath that was Jack the Bruce, all aligned in their vision to use the language of blues to create new kind of music, rather than be bounded by the traditional blues idiom.
Indeed, serendipity determined that all three virtuoso musicians felt unfulfilled in their previous bands at the same time. It’s therefore remarkable that ‘Fresh Cream’ was conceived, composed, recorded and released within six months of the band’s inception, although this debut does include only four original songs and two instrumentals, including the mighty ‘Toad’.
This urgency and the sense of unbridled joy in their performances makes for an intoxicating brew enrichened by the clarity of the mastering of this reissue. ‘I’m so Glad’ says it all. This more than outweighs the fact that there is heavy reliance on blues staples, like ‘Spoonful’ and ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’, yet these are masterfully delivered, with Bruce’s devilish howl and Baker’s paranormal percussion in particular taking these songs to another world entirely.
Unlike last year’s no-frills box-set compilation of their four albums, classic track ‘I Feel Free’ is not the lead track in this fully-frilled box, as it did not feature on the original UK album, but following its success as a single in the UK, it was subsequently inserted for the US release at the expense of ‘Spoonful’. Here it is treated as bonus track separate to the original UK track list. Although one of the band’s best songs and an ad-man’s dream, its smooth groove and driving melody lack the distinctly non-bluesy, psychedelic punch of ‘N.S.U.’, the rightful track to convey the Cream manifesto to the world.
As such, ‘Fresh Cream’ remains a pivotal release and is more than worthy of a box set dedicated to this album alone. It reset the bar and blues-driven music, on both sides of the Atlantic, would never be the same again since its release in December 1966. You could even say there are two musical eras: Before Cream and After Cream; just consider some of the albums released in 1967: ‘Are You Experienced ?’, ‘Sergeant Pepper’ and ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’.
By the time that Led Zeppelin had arrived in 1969 with their own mystical and feral brand of heavy blues, it’s sobering to contemplate that Cream had already been, sat on top of the world and said goodbye, leaving an indelible legacy that continues to live on. Let’s continue to bathe in the sunshine of the lovingly crafted music they left behind.