Pendulum is yet another promising but unsatisfying album from America's best singles band. The tunes are good, the lyrics adequate with a few exceptions, and the musicianship of everyone in the band has improved. The flaws lie not in the album's technical qualities but its stiffness.
There appears to be something about John Fogerty's approach that is ideally suited for the demands of a three-minute single and out of place in the context of a 40-minute album. His taste is too predictable, his mind too tight, and his hand too heavy. Over a three-minute span tightness and orderliness can be virtues: over 40 minutes they can be deadening.
Pendulum is Creedence's attempt to prove that the album can be their medium too. On it they introduce John Fogerty's piano and sax playing as regular features while the use of background voices is expanded, and the range of the lyrics widened. The album opens with a rather lame imitation of their own earlier work called "Pagan Woman." almost as if they didn't want to throw the new stuff at us too soon. "Sailor Man," the second cut, retains something of the "Proud Mary" beat but offers us both piano and sax and a Beatle-like backing chorus.
On "Sailor Man" some of the stylistic nuances of the album emerge. The recording is perfectly clean, with each track separate and distinct. The vocals move but in a studied way: Fogerty's voice has none of the sway of his masterpiece. "Proud Mary." It sounds like a great deal of overdubbing was used and that technical perfection was sought at the expense of everything else. There is a mechanical quality to the sound of "Sailor Man" and much of the rest of the album that is almost inhuman in its cleanliness.
That sterile perfection mars "Molina," which appears to have been intended as a rocker in the "Travelin' Band" genre. "Chameleon" sounds a bit raunchier but the words are embarrassing. "Born to Move" is fun with its Booker T. styled organ and interesting bass and drums—Stu Cook and Doug Clifford have improved enormously. The instrumental "Rude Awakening No. 2" closes the album with something as far from their earlier style as "Pagan Baby" is close to it. Creedence's attempt at a collage is not only not very good, but wholly unnecessary. Why do they feel the need to do things like this when they do other things so well?
Happily the creative core of the album almost makes up for some of the lesser moments. "It's Just A Thought." "Hideaway," and "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" all show Fogerty writing and the band performing in a slightly new way. "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" moves along evenly with a lovely bass piano figure while Fogerty's singing and lyrics offer an intense and personal statement heard effectively before only on "Wrote A Song For Everyone" (a very fine song from Green River) and "Long As I Can See The Light." "It's Just a Thought" has a cooled-out instrumental track again coupled with a more personalized statement, while "Hideaway" the best song on the album, maybe Creedence's first song that really deals with love. The singing, arrangement and extra nice fade-out here all work perfectly.
Finally, "Hey Tonight" doesn't sound that much like the Beatles to me, but it sure is a fine song, with everyone holding up their end and Fogerty in fine form.
Even at its best. Pendulum is marred by the overly precise arranging, performing, singing and mixing that seemed to have become Fogerty's trademark. All the elements of great rock and roll are present on some of this album and yet none of it ever becomes great rock and roll. It lacks the sense of humor that is the hallmark of all great rock and the loseness necessary for all the elements to gel into something that is consistently listenable.
It seems to me that somehow Creedence has gotten caught in the vicious cycle of trying too hard to please an audience that already buys more of their records than they do of anyone else's. On Pendulum they tried to prove they have got class. But they already proved that when they recorded "Proud Mary." Next time I hope they forget about what they think the audience wants and just do what they want to do. Who knows? Maybe it will turn out to be Green River with sex. I hope so.