When you've been listening to somebody's music for close to 40 years it's only natural to think you've got a handle on what type of thing he or she is going to do on a new album. While that might be the case for the majority, who are content to rest on the laurels they earned in younger days, a small minority will periodically reinvent themselves.
Some do it throughout their careers, in progressions that have a pattern and make sense to the listeners. Others do something outlandish that nobody understands ("Born Again" Bob Dylan for example), while others tinker with their sound on a continual basis. Once in a while there's an artist whose particular performance and composition styles keep managing to sound fresh and exciting to the audience, and there is the temptation to remind them, "If it ain't broke don't fix it."
For four years, from 1968 until 1972, Creedence Clearwater Revival was home to John Fogerty and three band mates (including his brother Tom). It was through this band's hits, "Proud Mary," "Bad Moon Rising," "Have You Ever Seen The Rain," and "Down In The Bayou" among others, that Fogerty's unique swamp-rock sound came to the world's attention.
Over the years the sound recognition factor has grown to the point where all a lot of people need is to hear the opening chords of a song to know it's one of John's. It can even be a brand new song; the way he plays just makes him sound so distinctive. Having that kind of instant recognition isn't something you'd want to mess with too much, but sometimes circumstances and mood dictate change whether you like it or not.
On Fogerty's newest release, Revival, you can still hear the old familiar sound on occasion driving a song. But there's also something different happening that I haven't heard from him before. It's not so much a change of music; it’s that he's now letting the music be a much more direct reflection of the emotions he's feeling.
Right from the first song of the disc there is something new happening. "Don't You Wish It Was True" is a wistful song, with lyrics that describe an ideal world. The music has a light pop sound with an almost Hawaiian quality. But John's voice provides an echo of his older songs, with his particular cadences and distinctive tone putting his indelible stamp on the new one.
But it's a trio of songs in the middle of the album that really show the differences from his earlier work. "River Is Waiting," "Long Dark Night," and "Summer Of Love" each carry a new and distinctive sound and make John Fogerty much better for it. Hard as it may be to believe, "River Is Waiting" almost has a reggae feel. With a beautiful, haunting melody, it’s about getting on with your life and finding reasons to keep on living. Listening to it makes you wonder if John has recently started to lose people he's loved.
"Long Dark Night" on the other hand is a hard rock song, more reminiscent of Neil Young and Crazy Horse than anything that came out of the swamp. It's all about Georgie who wants your children so he can have a war, with all his little buddies taking what they can while the taking is good.
But if you thought that was a surprise, with its hard edge and genuine anger, "Summer Of Love" will blow your mind. It's a great acid rock song with a mixture of Jimi Hendrix and Cream guitar work, blasting with anger about the hope that was never realized from the late ’60s. In fact, 40 years later, America is again bogged down in a war that the public want less and less, and that the government has continually lied about.
Listen to the way he sings the song’s beautiful chorus. "Reach Out your arms / Touch the moon touch the sky / Face to the wind / To be Free." There's bitterness in his voice that belies the meaning of the words and communicates his anger about the way things have turned out. He sounds like he doesn't believe a word of it.
And if you really want anger, and want to hear what John Fogerty would sound like auditioning for the Ramones, give a listen to "I Can't Take It No More." It's your basic scream of rage at George Bush, telling him that he (the singer) can't take any more of his lies, and calling him on how his daddy bought him his deferment from the Vietnam war and he’s just another spoiled brat.
Creedence Clearwater Revival was one of the great pure rock and roll bands of the late ’60s and early ’70s, with a unique and instantly identifiable sound. When John Fogerty went off on his solo career, it turned out that sound was his. (He even went to court to prove it when a former record company accused him of plagiarizing from one of his songs that they owned). But on his new recording, not only has he proven that at 62 he's still a mighty force to be reckoned with, he also has some new tricks up his sleeve musically.
John Fogerty's Revival disc is an amazing release. There's enough of his old sound for people to recognize him, but they'll sure do some double takes at some of the songs. No matter how you look at it (or listen to it, I suppose), it's the best rock and roll release I've heard in years.