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POP MUSIC | RECORD RACK

Slowhand Lays Down His Slick Side Again

ERIC CLAPTON "Pilgrim" Duck/Reprise * *

March 08, 1998|Natalie Nichols

With his first new album of original material since 1989, Eric Clapton turns away from both the tradition of 1994's blues collection "From the Cradle" and the simplicity of 1992's celebrated "Unplugged," taking a more modern approach that recalls his '80s experiments with producer Phil Collins.

Clapton and co-producer Simon Climie layer his polished vocals and smooth slide guitar with slick hip-hop beats, soaring background choruses and loads of gratuitous strings, giving this collection the feel of contemporary soul-pop. Most of the 14 tracks (all but two written or co-written by Clapton) lament lost love, but the songwriting rarely rises above cliche--a flaw no amount of production can hide.

Still, the handful of more thoughtful numbers, such as "My Father's Eyes," Clapton's rumination on maturity, hold their own against the wall of sound. While his guitar playing is kept on its usual leash here, he lets loose occasional bursts of staccato blues licks, as on the funky "She's Gone," which musters up some sass to offset all the heartbreak. Would that there were a bit more such attitude, and fewer schmaltzy ballads like the wince-inducing "Needs His Woman."

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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