This was the last of Rock giants Creedence Clearwater Revival’s four top-level masterpieces, and it certainly produced more hit songs than the other three combined. But somehow, the album is the first since their debut to seem like less than the sum of its parts. Maybe it was their more singles-oriented approach this time around…Creedence usually put some effort into creating coherent albums, but here they just took their last six singles and B-sides and crammed them onto a disc with four covers and only one additional original song.
Maybe it was the greater proportion of covers that kept the album from really establishing it own identity…after all, none of their mature albums had featured so many of them. While Creedence was certainly exceptionally good at putting their own stamp on other people’s songs, this album’s high proportion of other people’s material serves to dilute Creedence’s normally unmistakable trademark style. For example, while Creedence had released outright Blues songs before this (such as “Penthouse Pauper”), those usually had more creative and distinctive lyrics than Ellas McDaniel’s “Before You Accuse Me”, which, for all its musical merits, uses the same generic topics and vernacular as virtually every other Blues standard out there.
Or maybe it was the amount of time spent on the extended jam sessions of “Ramble Tamble” and the cover of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”…Creedence actually turned out to be a damned fine jam band, but these two songs (which add up to a full eighteen minutes, nearly half the album’s running time) took up time that could have been devoted to more substantial content.
Or maybe it was that their more generic songwriting approach…apart from the magically imaginative “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”, the songs, fine as they are, rely more on familiar clichés than Creedence’s earlier stuff. Certainly, “Travelin’ Band”, as much fun as it undeniably is, isn’t going to win any awards for its creativity, and the inspirational “Up Around the Bend” doesn’t do anything particularly new with its time-honored ‘Excelsior’ metaphor.
But whatever the reason, all these factors seem to add up to an “album” that is exactly what Creedence had been unfairly accused of making on their last three records…a random collection of individual songs with little to no real cohesion. True, the sequencing is capable—“Ramble Tamble” makes for an exceptionally striking opener, and they were smart enough to put another original after the “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” jam session as a coda—but after the band’s last three albums, it came as something of a mild disappointment.
Despite all this, the album still qualifies as a Rock masterpiece because the songs themselves are nearly all wonderful. For all their lapses in creativity, this might just be the catchiest collection of songs Creedence ever released…it’s basically one big concentration of flat-out hit singles, a kind of Greatest Hits album made out of original material. There’s a reason the band’s Diamond-certified compilation album Chronicle drew more than twice as many songs from this record than from any of their other albums.
Still, it shows the first hints of the problems that would wind up being the band’s downfall on their next two albums. Like Sinatra’s Nice ‘N’ Easy, this is a record that clearly points to the end of a classic run of great albums even as it largely continues their quality. Still, it has to be treasured as the last truly great album that Creedence would produce, either as a group or in their primary contributor John Fogarty’s solo career, and in spite of any minor lapses in cohesion, that certainly gives it a special place in the pantheon of great Classic Rock albums.