Because Creedence Clearwater Revival first rose to prominence with hits like "Suzy Q," and achieved such immense popularity with a teenybopper audience, many people (myself among them) have until now refused to take them very seriously. But "Proud Mary" should have clued us in. It was more than simply a fine song by Top-40 standards; it was a superb song by any standards. Creedence's new album, Green River, demonstrates convincingly that "Proud Mary" was no fluke. Make no mistake about it; Creedence Clearwater Revival, despite some rather clear limitations, is one of the most exciting and satisfying bands around.
When I first heard "Green River," the initial cut on the album, I thought, "Oh, shit, another Creedence bayou song!" But John Fogerty's raw guitar quickly drew me in. The throbbing riff which introduces the song signals that Creedence's return to the bayou will be a complete delight. And it is. Fogerty's tough, gritty voice infuses the lyrics ("walkin' along the river road at night/barefoot girls dancin' in the moonlight") with a marvelously evocative feeling.
"Wrote a Song for Everyone," the only cut on the album in a slow tempo, creates a haunting mood somewhat akin to that of "The Weight." It features a graceful, tantalizing brief country guitar solo by Fogerty. The lyrics are really weird; as far as I can tell, their central message is the failure of message songs.
"Bad Moon Rising" was the follow-up single to "Proud Mary"; unlike most follow-ups, this song generates as much excitement as its predecessor. Like the Beatles' "Daytripper," it is marked by a curious ambivalence. The music is joyously kinetic; it is hard to listen to it without feeling like getting up and dancing. The words are something else again. Here is paranoia, 1969 styleâ€""hope you got your things together/hope you are quite prepared to die." "Bad Moon Rising" accurately measures the distance we've travelled since the Sunset Strip riots of "For What It's Worth."
But the true highlight of the album is "Lodi." This mournful tale of a musician stuck in a nowhere town has everything it takes to become a real classic. John Fogerty's masterful vocal makes "Lodi" one of the most convincing hard-luck stories I've heard in a long time. He never makes the mistake of straining to be "poetic"; he selects ordinary words and images which always manage to be incisive. With a fine sense of economy, he depicts an American landscape that is somehow both older and newer than Chuck Berry's classic rock description of Americaâ€"older in its nostalgic visions, and newer in its nightmarish perils and traps. From "Proud Mary" and "Green River" to "Bad Moon Rising" and "Lodi," this heartbreaking American circle of beauty and ugliness is drawn. I wish John Fogerty could have written the score for Easy Rider.
Creedence's deficiencies are readily apparent. Their music tends to lack variety (sometimes giving the feeling that you can predict the next guitar lick) and occasionally to lack finesse. But their distinctive driving sound, when fused with Fogerty's vocals, results in something so fine that it makes such criticisms seem irrelevant. Green River, whatever its flaws, is a great album. Creedence Clearwater Revival have come a long way since "Suzy Q"; they are now creating the most vivid American rock since Music from Big Pink.