There are Deluxe Editions, and then there are Super Deluxe Editions. This 4-disc box (3 CDs, 1 Blu-ray audio disc) of Cream’s 1966 debut certainly falls into the latter category. Even if the set hadn’t proclaimed itself as super, surely the content would’ve warranted the description. This is as complete an overview as possible of a record that in its original vinyl incarnation contained a mere 38 minutes of music.
The first two CDs present the album as it was sequenced, in mono and stereo formats, respectively. Then, each offers the singles issued to coincide with the LP, as well as the French EP version sourced from vinyl, and new stereo mixes. Disc three contains early sessions, outtakes, and alternate mixes, plus BBC sessions that include an interview with guitarist Eric Clapton. The Blu-ray audio holds the mono and stereo versions of the album and singles in 24/96 Hi Resolution.
It’s a collection that cannot avoid repetition of titles among the 72 cuts on the CDs, given that the sum total of songs on the original album was ten. But, with sets like this, the appeal is the both the quality and the quantity. The record, itself, turned many heads (and turned on some heads) when it was first released, with a magic carpet of psychedelic blues floating in on the voice of bassist Jack Bruce, the jazz-touched, tribal beats of Ginger Baker’s drumming, and Clapton’s esteemed guitar, recently drafted from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers during which he was proclaimed as God. Maybe to some Clapton was God, but his eminence did not prevent a brief period sporting an unfortunate perm, as one of the photos in the terrific companion book illustrates.
Fresh Cream was, for sure, fresh, but not without peers. There were some, including The Beatles, that were beginning to experiment lyrically with artful and suggestive imagery, and there were others, like the Rolling Stones, co-opting American blues. And, there was, of course, Jimi Hendrix and his Experience, whose May ’67 debut did both with tectonic -shifting effect, but that was, at the time, still five months away. (Even so, Hendrix was very well-known in musical circles. Clapton’s answer in a press questionnaire of the band included in the book lists Jimi as his best friend. Baker answers “No friends” to the same question, and “None,” to both personal and professional ambition.)
Cream, and its distinct British slant in both words and music, was very much a radical synthesis of simple de rigueur anthems (“I Feel Free”, “I’m So Glad”) and untamed, electric freak-outs (“Cat’s Squirrel”, “Toad”) that exposed a darker, heavier sensibility to the flower children of Carnaby Street and their U.S. counterparts in the Village and the Haight. In his comprehensive essay, acclaimed rock writer David Fricke provides an in-depth and illuminating account of both the sessions that produced the inventive music and the changing culture taking their new cues from the resulting sound.
All in all, it would be hard to imagine that anything is left to hear or say about this revolutionary debut record. Everything is here that a fan could want or need, sounding as innovative and influential now as it did 50 years ago. Fresh Cream is certainly super, and, definitively, deluxe.