Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Blind Faith - Blind Faith

Blind Faith

Released 1969 on Polydor
Reviewed by Fitter Stoke, 25/09/2002ce

You've all read about this one. How Blind Faith never equalled the sum of their very considerable parts. How their collective egos were doomed to self-destruct from the outset. Blah blah blah. Actually, I cannot disagree with these oft-voiced opinions. But I reckon that, whatever its shortcomings, Blind Faith's sole vinyl excursion has endured as a highly-listenable rock album. And I'd like to take you through a record that I believe deserves more than the critical panning it has traditionally received.

For one thing, it has Steve Winwood on top-notch form throughout. In fact Winwood is the album's dominant creative force, composing three of the album's six tunes, and, unusually for him, penning their lyrics as well. The longest of these, 'Had To Cry Today', is a great opening workout for the album, built around an initially unremarkable unison guitar riff that gradually achieves irresistibility over the song's near-nine minute length. It's punctuated by a cool key change into the choruses that, intentionally or otherwise, take you straight into the mood and sound of the contemporaneous 'Abbey Road'. Clapton's solo two and half minutes in is a masterstroke of reserved dexterity, a world away from the histrionic genius of his then idol (and rival) Hendrix, but every bit as enthralling in its subtle power. Winwood's vocal reaches previously unheard heights with choir boy purity contrasted with mile-high notes of real gutsy soul, and his own guitar work, featured here in place of his usual keyboard, also impresses in its very Hari-esque manner. But the astral influence of Hendrix could never be wholly absent in a rock album made in 1969, and sure enough, around 6'50" comes some wild stereo panning straight out of 'Axis Bold As Love' that pushes Clapton and Winwood into a long, intense jam that takes the track right up its almost accidental-sounding close. It's a well-impressive start.

Next up is another Winwood song that has since become something of a rock standard, 'Can't Find My Way Home'. It's first outing on record bears a latin-influenced, acoustic vibe that has sustained Carlos Santana ever since. It's a magnificent song with a strong melody that manages to sound bluesy without any obvious blues chord changes. And, needless to say, its composer sings like an angel. The Crickets' staple 'Well All Right' follows: an unnecessary cover perhaps, but here given plenty of life with Grech and Baker, hitherto little more than backing musicians, pushed well upfront in the mix. Winwood's piano work, also absent until now, combines gospel and country elements and provides a great alternative focus to the rough vocal 'harmonies' of Clapton and himself. (Point to note: when Santana covered this self same song almost a decade later, their arrangement was almost a straight lift of this version. Ain't nothing new in this world.)

'Presence Of The Lord' is Clapton's only composition on 'Blind Faith', but my, it's a belter. In fact I'm still waiting for him to match it, never mind better it (and I don't doubt I've got a long wait yet). A descending four chord motif that manages to sound simultaneously resigned and inspired forms the backbone of the song, which its creator unselfishly and wisely gives Winwood to sing. And sing it he does, with even more heart and soul than before, atop more heavenly, gospel-tinged piano playing. The feel is laid back and duly reverent, until half way through when, ending the chorus on a distant and alien chord, Clapton decides he's let Stevie have more than enough of the limelight. His guitar, hitherto held back, suddenly bursts through the speakers in wah-wah overdrive while the band rocks like a bitch behind him. For almost a full minute this amazing and powerful freak out fills the room until, almost as suddenly as it started, it winds back into its slow and soulful main verse. It's a shame it doesn't hit that level of intensity for longer, but then understatement has always been Clapton's trademark. Keep 'em wanting more.

Winwood's final contribution is 'Sea Of Joy'. A tense, opening riff leads into a dreamy, melodic verse of great beauty with the ever-awesome vocal acrobatics of its composer well to the fore. Grech adds a charming, romany-sounding violin solo that brings a whole new sound picture to the album, while Baker comes into his own with impressive tom-tom work in the song's powerful linking and closing passages. The drummer then gets his own elongated spotlight with his own 'Do What You Like', a fifteen minute, five-to-the-bar rhythmic epic with a surprisingly catchy main verse presaging solo workouts by the whole band. Winwood starts proceedings with his very Jimmy Smith-inspired Hammond extemporisation, giving way to Clapton's unusually jazzy feature. The volume falls dramatically for Grech's bass workout, although the quiet, repeated "Do what you like" cries in the background add a uneasy and slightly manic edge. Then comes the inevitable drum solo, starting identically to Brubeck's 'Take Five' but building in complexity and intensity while Jimmy Miller adds some marvellous stereo effects (listen on headphones for full benefit). Amazingly, Baker sustains interest for four minutes, not least because of the sheer power he unleashes, and I'd defy anyone not to respond to the massive wall of sound he creates just before the return of the main verse when he manages to sound like ten drummers at once. Believe me, this is good. In fact, alongside Clive Bunker's equally superb 'Dharma For One' spotlight (on Jethro Tull's 'This Was') it's the best rock drum solo on record. 'Do What You Like' is a gas, and a real surprise from a percussionist, only
let down at the end by a needless fake-avant garde piss-about that is indicative of the rushed nature of the recording. But so what.

'Blind Faith' is no classic, but it's nowhere near as bad as some critics have held it out to be, and it has many, many terrific moments. Like so many significant records of the period, it places feel and soul above absolute precision, and the far from occasional moments of roughness make it all the more interesting and enduring. It's rushed, it's indulgent, and as has been said before, it does indeed amount to less than the sum of its parts. But ultimately, I think it's a better album for that. And 'Blind Faith' has enjoyed far more plays on my stereo than Clapton's note-perfect and soulless subsequent output. Give it a go.

(Now available in an expanded 2 CD format with outtakes and alternative mixes. Stick with the original, still in the shops for £10 max.)

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