Eric Clapton – Unplugged

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  • The sound of this superb import is rich, full-bodied, lively, and warm, with solid bass and breathy, clear vocals
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Unplugged is the concert and album that established the MTV program as a classy, tony showcase for artists eager to redefine themselves via reexamination of their catalogs, which is what Clapton cannily did here.”

This vintage import Reprise pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the Best Sides of Unplugged Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1992
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We’re Listening For on Unplugged

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

A Must Own Record, from 1992 No Less

We consider this Eric Clapton album a latter day Masterpiece. It’s a recording that should be part of any serious popular Music Collection.

Others that belong in that category can be found here.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Signe
Before You Accuse Me
Hey Hey
Tears In Heaven
Lonely Stranger
Nobody Knows You When You’re Down & Out
Layla

Side Two

Running On Faith
Walkin’ Blues
Alberta
San Francisco Bay Blues
Malted Milk
Old Love

AMG 4 1/2 Star Review

Its massive success — it is one of the rare albums to be certified as diamond in the U.S. and it went platinum all over the world; it also won the Album of the Year Grammy for 1992 — makes it difficult to place Eric Clapton’s 1992 MTV Unplugged in context, but it’s important to do so. It arrived three years into MTV Unplugged’s run — 1989 also being the year Clapton stirred artistically with the assured AOR of Journeyman — and a year after Paul McCartney established the practice of an official album release of an Unplugged session with his own Unplugged (The Official Bootleg).

The album’s hit was a slow crawl through Derek & the Dominos’ “Layla,” turning that anguished howl of pain into a cozy shuffle and the whole album proceeds at a similar amiable gait, taking its time and enjoying detours into old blues standards. Clapton is embracing his middle age and the pleasure of Unplugged is to hear him opt out of the pop star game as he plays songs he’s always loved. Tellingly, it’s these blues and folk covers — Jesse Fuller’s “San Francisco Bay Blues,” Big Bill Broonzy’s “Hey Hey,” the standard “Alberta,” Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” two songs from Robert Johnson (“Walkin’ Blues,” “Malted Milk”) — that are the best performances here; they’re alternately lively and relaxed, Clapton happily conforming to the contours of the compositions. These capture a moment in time, when EC was settling into his age by reconnecting with the past, whereas the originals — whether it’s the revised versions of “Layla” and “Old Love,” “Tears in Heaven,” or the debut of “My Father’s Eyes,” originally heard here (and on the 2013 expanded anniversary edition) but released as a single much later in the decade — point forward to the sharply tailored adult contemporary crooner of the ’90s, one who turned out to be very comfortable existing in a world of high thread counts and designer duds.

These are the tunes that belong to the ’90s — and several of these also appear on the 2013 expansion, which contains songs that didn’t appear on the album, almost all of which are originals apart from an alternate “Walkin’ Blues” and “Worried Life Blues” — but the rest of MTV Unplugged manages to transcend its time because it does cut to the quick of Clapton’s musical DNA.

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