Unplugged thankfully steers clear of Clapton’s seventies AOR hits, and sticks to mostly traditional blues songs. He also avoids his early career; the big exception is a reworking of ‘Layla’, which lacks the power of the original in this format. There’s a classy and restrained performance from his backing band, with dual acoustic guitars and classy bluesy keyboard noodling. But with Eric Clapton, who is just about the least charismatic lead vocalist in existence, fronting Unplugged, it’s difficult to get excited about this popular live album.
Of course, the famous song from Unplugged is ‘Tears in Heaven’, a tribute to Clapton’s infant son who fell from his apartment. Despite its overplay and inherent sappiness it’s not as terrible as its reputation warrants, even if it does reinforce the album’s adult contemporary flavour. Conversely the highlight of Unplugged is ‘Running on Faith’, the other song with the least blues influence, which has a touching gospel feel.
Elsewhere Unplugged works when there’s a sense of fun; ‘Alberta’ is a light-hearted Huddie Ledbetter piece filled with rollicking piano, while ‘San Francisco Bay Blues’ pulls out a showstopping kazoo solo. And ‘Old Love’ is the album’s centre-piece, with an epic feel. Most of these highlights are clustered in the second half of the album, and it’s a test of endurance getting to them through boring blues songs like ‘Hey Hey’ and the watered down version of ‘Layla’.
Unplugged isn’t without its good qualities, but I just don’t find Clapton interesting enough to be able to sit through it.