In the future, Mardi Gras may be known as Fogerty’s Revenge. After all the carping about his egotism, and after the published complaints from his co-workers about his hogging the show, he has done what I never thought he would: allowed his cohorts to expose themselves in public. Ceding six of the new album’s ten selections to drummer Doug Clifford and bassist Stu Cook may have been an invitation to artistic suicide for them, but it sure proves that John was right all along. Commercially, it leaves him trying to answer the new $64 Creedence Clearwater Revival question: will the group be able to survive the catastrophe? And who will really care?
Bassist Stu Cook’s three selections are bad enough to qualify as offensive. Ringo Starr may not have much of a voice, but when he sang a song on a Beatle album, it had its own special charm. Cook, on the other hand, offers us his humorless tunes and painful voice as if they are able to stand on their own, self-sufficient as interesting music. Coasting on the name of the group, he is now able to force onto a sure-selling album music that wouldn’t qualify him for a good local high school band. That a musician of Fogerty’s stature is backing him up is depressing; that we are forced to listen to Cook instead of Fogerty, insulting.
Drummer Doug Clifford fares substantially better. He has been influenced by Fogerty himself, and at his best we can recognize something approaching Creedence’s style. His “What Are You Gonna Do” is a listenable enough song, and one is left wondering how good it might have been if someone with a really good voice and a distinctive approach sang it — someone like Fogerty himself.
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Usually, when a group is a mixture of talent and mediocrity — as Creedence has generally been recognized to be — the talent tries to elevate the mediocrity. And, happily, at their best, that has been Creedence’s history. On Mardi Gras we find the process reversed and the artist brought down to the level of the hacks that surround him. Fogerty’s four songs are regrettably almost completely marginal to the body of fine work he has created in the past.
“Sweet Hitch Hiker” is marred by the stiffness so characteristic of later Creedence, from Willy and the Poor Boys onward. The cover version of “Hello Mary Lou” is one of the silliest he has attempted; his try at copying James Burton’s superb guitar ride on the Ricky Nelson original was a hopeless botch. As for his two new songs, “Looking for A Reason” is a nice, light bit of fluff and “Someday Never Comes” is the album’s one reasonably satisfying song, a good tune marred by a boring, unimaginative arrangement.
The album’s desired level of submediocrity extends not just to the songs and vocals but the arranging, performance and sound as well. The mix is part of the new democratic spirit; much of it sounds like it was done by a computer to insure that no one instrument would be louder than any other. The rhythm instruments (mainly Fogerty overdubs) are generally down so low they are only semi-audible, a further indication that the band has not successfully converted from quartet to trio.
If the group’s music ever tended to colorlessness in the past, Mardi Gras completes that tendency altogether — nothing fresh, imaginative, different, or pleasantly unexpected occurs from beginning till end. And if Fogerty’s music ever tended to be schizophrenic in the past, it is sad to realize that the struggle is over and that all of his negative tendencies — especially his musical stiffness, masquerading as professionalism — has won out.
Mardi Gras is from the same people (minus one) who gave us “Suzy Q,” “Proud Mary,” “Born on the Bayou,” “Green River,” “Commotion,” “Wrote a Song for Everyone,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Lodi,” “Down on the Corner,” “Fortunate Son,” “Up Around the Bend,” “Travelin’ Band,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” and “Long As I Can See the Light.” There is not a single song or performance on it that deserves to stand in that list. Pendulum was a disappointment but it was honest and it was useful — just because it showed Fogerty reaching for new directions. On this album he seems to have just given up. The result is, relative to a group’s established level of performance, the worst album I have ever heard from a major rock band.