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Rock - Released January 1, 2014 | Polydor Records

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Rock - Released January 1, 1968 | Polydor Records

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Rock - Released March 6, 2020 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

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Rock - Released January 1, 2014 | Polydor Records

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Fresh Cream represents so many different firsts, it's difficult to keep count. Cream, of course, was the first supergroup, but their first album not only gave birth to the power trio, it also was instrumental in the birth of heavy metal and the birth of jam rock. That's a lot of weight for one record and, like a lot of pioneering records, Fresh Cream doesn't seem quite as mighty as what would come later, both from the group and its acolytes. In retrospect, the moments on the LP that are a bit unformed -- in particular, the halting waltz of "Dreaming" never achieves the sweet ethereal atmosphere it aspires to -- stand out more than the innovations, which have been so thoroughly assimilated into the vocabulary of rock & roll, but Fresh Cream was a remarkable shift forward in rock upon its 1966 release and it remains quite potent. Certainly at this early stage the trio was still grounded heavily in blues, only fitting given guitarist Eric Clapton's stint in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, which is where he first played with bassist Jack Bruce, but Cream never had the purist bent of Mayall, and not just because they dabbled heavily in psychedelia. The rhythm section of Bruce and Ginger Baker had a distinct jazzy bent to their beat; this isn't hard and pure, it's spongy and elastic, giving the musicians plenty of room to roam. This fluidity is most apparent on the blues covers that take up nearly half the record, especially on "Spoonful," where the swirling instrumental interplay, echo, fuzz tones, and overwhelming volume constitute true psychedelic music, and also points strongly toward the guitar worship of heavy metal. Almost all the second side of Fresh Cream is devoted to this, closing with Baker's showcase "Toad," but for as hard and restless as this half of the album is, there is some lightness on the first portion of the record where Bruce reveals himself as an inventive psychedelic pop songwriter with the tense, colorful "N.S.U." and the hook- and harmony-laden "I Feel Free." Cream shows as much force and mastery on these tighter, poppier tunes as they do on the free-flowing jams, yet they show a clear bias toward the long-form blues numbers, which makes sense: they formed to be able to pursue this freedom, which they do so without restraint. If at times that does make the album indulgent or lopsided, this is nevertheless where Cream was feeling their way forward, creating their heavy psychedelic jazz-blues and, in the process, opening the door to all kinds of serious rock music that may have happened without Fresh Cream, but it just would not have happened in the same fashion as it did with this record as precedent. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1995 | Polydor Records

There've been numerous one-disc Cream retrospectives over the years, but this is probably the best. Of course, Cream's official recorded output was only four albums during the group's brief two-year run, with very little chaff amongst the wheat, so one might be excused for wondering if you'd be better off with those still-in-print albums, or with Those Were the Days, the four-CD box set that collects more or less every note Cream ever recorded. In any case, at 20 songs, this is the most comprehensive one-CD Cream best-of extant, and conceptually, it's certainly the most interesting. Despite the fact the group was mostly esteemed as (and occasionally dismissed as) a live, blues-based extended-jam outfit that sometimes didn't know when to quit, most of the songs here are tuneful, concise studio tracks with Beatlesque touches in the arrangements; it's hard to imagine how anybody could dismiss gems like "Anyone for Tennis" or "Badge" as excessive. © TiVo
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Rock - Released September 30, 2005 | Reprise

For one reason or another, Cream reunited in the spring of 2005, setting aside nearly 40 years of acrimony for a series of gigs at the Royal Albert Hall in May, which was later followed by a few shows at Madison Square Garden about a month after souvenirs of the London shows -- a double-CD set and a double-DVD set -- were released. By that time, tickets for the New York concerts were long gone, which was understandable, since Cream had not only remained a legendary band, but it seemed extremely unlikely that they would ever play live again, so the chance to see the original power trio in the flesh was tempting. Fans who anxiously awaited this reunion might find the record of the event, bearing the unwieldy title Royal Albert Hall: London 2-3-5-6 2005, a bit anticlimactic, or a mixed blessing at the very least. The chemistry between guitarist/vocalist Eric Clapton, bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce, and drummer Ginger Baker is still palpable on this compilation of highlights from the four Royal Albert Hall shows -- it's just quite a bit more subdued than it was the last time they played together, which, discounting a one-off reunion at their 1993 induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, was 36 years ago. That's a long time ago and the guys are no longer restless young psychedelic bluesmen -- at time of the concerts, Eric Clapton had just turned 60, Jack Bruce was a couple weeks shy of his 62nd birthday, Ginger Baker was 65. Of course, they're hardly the only group of '60s veterans who have remained active -- the Rolling Stones released a new album of material a month before this live album, and they're all in their sixties, but there's a big difference between the two bands, and that's that the Stones kept playing together throughout the past four decades. While all three members of Cream remained relatively active (Baker recently had retired to his ranch, but kept playing professionally into the '90s, even teaming up with Bruce on occasion), they never played a unit, so they're a little rusty in terms of inter-bandmember relations, which winds up making them sound their age. Not only do they never rock as hard as the Stones do on A Bigger Bang, but Cream never approximate the furious rush of energy that the band did at its prime and there's never a sense of the push-and-pull dynamics between the three members that made the best of their lengthy jams sound alive and at times unpredictable. Part of this is down to age, not just in the sense that they're a little bit older and a little bit slower, but because those four decades have changed their style a little. Baker is a tighter drummer, lacking the reckless, volatile energy that wound up either as thrilling or turgid. Bruce can't hit the high notes anymore and doesn't roam as much on the bass, but he still manages to dominate with his fluid instrumental and vocal phrasing; plus, his bass just sounds enormous, as if it could conquer the earth. Clapton plays like a millionaire with impeccable taste, yet in this stripped-down setting, he's forced to play more than he has in years; at times, he's too refined and relies on familiar licks -- plus, his reliance on a Strat over the Gibsons that fueled his Cream sound does give this a noticeable lack of heft, even if he gets a good approximation of his classic warm tone -- but there are times, like when he holds a single note longer than Neil Young on "Cinammon Girl," that he takes greater risks than he has in years. So, this winds up being not necessarily exciting, but it's far from embarrassing, either, and there's a certain sense of admiration in hearing the trio pull it together for a respectable performance. In no way does this replace the group's original studio albums -- or the excellent BBC Sessions or even the patchwork live albums they released just after their breakup -- but this does act as a nice coda to their brief career. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1969 | Polydor Records

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After a mere three albums in just under three years, Cream called it quits in 1969. Being proper gentlemen, they said their formal goodbyes with a tour and a farewell album called -- what else? -- Goodbye. As a slim, six-song single LP, it's far shorter than the rambling, out-of-control Wheels of Fire, but it boasts the same structure, evenly dividing its time between tracks cut on-stage and in the studio. While the live side contains nothing as indelible as "Crossroads," the live music on the whole is better than that on Wheels of Fire, capturing the trio at an empathetic peak as a band. It's hard, heavy rock, with Cream digging deep into their original "Politician" with the same intensity as they do on "Sitting on Top of the World," but it's the rampaging "I'm So Glad" that illustrates how far they've come; compare it to the original studio version on Fresh Cream and it's easy to see just how much further they're stretching their improvisation. The studio side also finds them at something of a peak. Boasting a song apiece from each member, it opens with the majestic classic "Badge," co-written by Eric Clapton and George Harrison and ranking among both of their best work. It's followed by Jack Bruce's "Doing That Scrapyard Thing," an overstuffed near-masterpiece filled with wonderful, imaginative eccentricities, and finally, there's Ginger Baker's tense, dramatic "What a Bringdown," easily the best original he contributed to the group. Like all of Cream's albums outside Disraeli Gears, Goodbye is an album of moments, not a tight cohesive work, but those moments are all quite strong on their own terms, making this a good and appropriate final bow. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo

Rock - Released January 1, 2003 | Polydor Records

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This compilation of 22 Cream BBC tracks from 1966-1968 marked a major addition to the group's discography, particularly as they released relatively little product during their actual lifetime. All of but two of these cuts ("Lawdy Mama" and the 1968 version of "Steppin' Out," which had appeared on Eric Clapton's Crossroads box) were previously unreleased, and although many of these had made the round on bootlegs, the sound and presentation here is unsurprisingly preferable. As for actual surprises, there aren't many. It's a good cross section of songs from their studio records, though a couple, "Steppin' Out" and "Traintime," only appeared on live releases, and some of these BBC takes actually predate the release and recording of the album versions, which makes them of historical interest for intense Cream fans. (There are also four brief interviews with Eric Clapton from the original broadcasts.) There's a mild surprise in the absence of a version of "White Room," but otherwise many of the group's better compositions and covers are here, including "I Feel Free," "N.S.U.," "Strange Brew," "Tales of Brave Ulysses," "Sunshine of Your Love," "Born Under a Bad Sign," "Outside Woman Blues," "Crossroads," "We're Going Wrong," "I'm So Glad," "SWLABR," and "Politician." Cream took better advantage of the live-in-the-studio BBC format than some groups of similar stature. There's a lean urgency to most of the performances that, while not necessarily superior to the more fully realized and polished studio renditions, do vary notably in ambience from the more familiar versions. The sound quality is good but not perfect, and variable; sometimes it's excellent, yet at other times there seem to be imperfections in the tapes sourced, with "Sunshine of Your Love" suffering from a (not grievously) hollow, muffled quality. If there's any other slight criticism of this set, it's that a handful of BBC tracks don't appear, including some that don't make it onto this CD in any version, like "Sleepy Time Time," "Toad," and "Sitting on Top of the World." Given Cream's tendency to over-improvise on the band's live concert recordings, however, the concise nature of these BBC tracks (none of which exceed five minutes) makes them preferable listening in some respects. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1972 | Polydor Records

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Rock - Released January 1, 1966 | Polydor Records

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Rock - Released January 1, 1968 | Polydor Records

If Disraeli Gears was the album where Cream came into their own, its successor, Wheels of Fire, finds the trio in full fight, capturing every side of their multi-faceted personality, even hinting at the internal pressures that soon would tear the band asunder. A dense, unwieldy double album split into an LP of new studio material and an LP of live material, it's sprawling and scattered, at once awesome in its achievement and maddening in how it falls just short of greatness. It misses its goal not because one LP works and the other doesn't, but because both the live and studio sets suffer from strikingly similar flaws, deriving from the constant power struggle between the trio. Of the three, Ginger Baker comes up short, contributing the passable "Passing the Time" and "Those Were the Days," which are overshadowed by how he extends his solo drum showcase "Toad" to a numbing quarter of an hour and trips upon the Wind & the Willows whimsy of "Pressed Rat and Warthog," whose studied eccentricity pales next to Eric Clapton's nimble, eerily cheerful "Anyone for Tennis." In almost every regard, Wheels of Fire is a terrific showcase for Clapton as a guitarist, especially on the first side of the live album with "Crossroads," a mighty encapsulation of all of his strengths. Some of that is studio trickery, as producer Felix Pappalardi cut together the best bits of a winding improvisation to a tight four minutes, giving this track a relentless momentum that's exceptionally exciting, but there's no denying that Clapton is at a peak here, whether he's tearing off solos on a 17-minute "Spoonful" or goosing "White Room" toward the heights of madness. But it's the architect of "White Room," bassist Jack Bruce, who, along with his collaborator Peter Brown, reaches a peak as a songwriter. Aside from the monumental "White Room," he has the lovely, wistful "As You Said," the cinematic "Deserted Cities of the Heart," and the slow, cynical blues "Politician," all among Cream's very best work. And in many ways Wheels of Fire is indeed filled with Cream's very best work, since it also captures the fury and invention (and indulgence) of the band at its peak on the stage and in the studio, but as it tries to find a delicate balance between these three titanic egos, it doesn't quite add up to something greater than the sum of its parts. But taken alone, those individual parts are often quite tremendous. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2005 | Polydor

There has been no shortage of Cream compilations over the years -- as a matter of fact, they far outnumber the group's actual albums, of which there were merely four (true, they were recorded during an insanely productive two-year lifespan) -- but 2005's Gold is arguably the best of the lot. Released as part of Universal's ongoing Gold series, Cream's installment spans 29 tracks over the course of two discs, with the first CD being devoted to their studio work (it weighs in at 21 tracks) and the second devoted to live recordings (it runs only eight songs, which illustrates how much they improvised in concert). Not only are all of the usual suspects here -- the hits "I Feel Free," "Strange Brew," "Sunshine of Your Love," "Tales of Brave Ulysses," "Badge," "Swlabr," "Crossroads," and "Politician" -- but this includes such gems as "World of Pain," "Passing the Time," "Doing That Scrapyard Thing," and "What a Bringdown." While there are a handful of cuts that might have deserved inclusion -- chief among them "Four Until Late," "Take It Back," and "As You Said" -- everything essential is here, and each disc draws a near-definitive portrait of what the group achieved on-stage and in the studio. As a (relatively) concise overview, Gold can't be beat -- it tells you everything you need to know about this legendary supergroup. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1966 | Polydor Records

Fresh Cream represents so many different firsts, it's difficult to keep count. Cream, of course, was the first supergroup, but their first album not only gave birth to the power trio, it also was instrumental in the birth of heavy metal and the birth of jam rock. That's a lot of weight for one record and, like a lot of pioneering records, Fresh Cream doesn't seem quite as mighty as what would come later, both from the group and its acolytes. In retrospect, the moments on the LP that are a bit unformed -- in particular, the halting waltz of "Dreaming" never achieves the sweet ethereal atmosphere it aspires to -- stand out more than the innovations, which have been so thoroughly assimilated into the vocabulary of rock & roll, but Fresh Cream was a remarkable shift forward in rock upon its 1966 release and it remains quite potent. Certainly at this early stage the trio was still grounded heavily in blues, only fitting given guitarist Eric Clapton's stint in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, which is where he first played with bassist Jack Bruce, but Cream never had the purist bent of Mayall, and not just because they dabbled heavily in psychedelia. The rhythm section of Bruce and Ginger Baker had a distinct jazzy bent to their beat; this isn't hard and pure, it's spongy and elastic, giving the musicians plenty of room to roam. This fluidity is most apparent on the blues covers that take up nearly half the record, especially on "Spoonful," where the swirling instrumental interplay, echo, fuzz tones, and overwhelming volume constitute true psychedelic music, and also points strongly toward the guitar worship of heavy metal. Almost all the second side of Fresh Cream is devoted to this, closing with Baker's showcase "Toad," but for as hard and restless as this half of the album is, there is some lightness on the first portion of the record where Bruce reveals himself as an inventive psychedelic pop songwriter with the tense, colorful "N.S.U." and the hook- and harmony-laden "I Feel Free." Cream shows as much force and mastery on these tighter, poppier tunes as they do on the free-flowing jams, yet they show a clear bias toward the long-form blues numbers, which makes sense: they formed to be able to pursue this freedom, which they do so without restraint. If at times that does make the album indulgent or lopsided, this is nevertheless where Cream was feeling their way forward, creating their heavy psychedelic jazz-blues and, in the process, opening the door to all kinds of serious rock music that may have happened without Fresh Cream, but it just would not have happened in the same fashion as it did with this record as precedent. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2014 | Polydor Records

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Cream teamed up with producer Felix Pappalardi for their second album, Disraeli Gears, a move that helped push the power trio toward psychedelia and also helped give the album a thematic coherence missing from the debut. This, of course, means that Cream get further away from the pure blues improvisatory troupe they were intended to be, but it does get them to be who they truly are: a massive, innovative power trio. The blues still courses throughout Disraeli Gears -- the swirling kaleidoscopic "Strange Brew" is built upon a riff lifted from Albert King -- but it's filtered into saturated colors, as it is on "Sunshine of Your Love," or it's slowed down and blurred out, as it is on the ominous murk of "Tales of Brave Ulysses." It's a pure psychedelic move that's spurred along by Jack Bruce's flourishing collaboration with Pete Brown. Together, this pair steers the album away from recycled blues-rock and toward its eccentric British core, for with the fuzzy freakout "Swlabr," the music hall flourishes of "Dance the Night Away," the swinging "Take It Back," and of course, the old music hall song "Mother's Lament," this is a very British record. Even so, this crossed the ocean and also became a major hit in America, because regardless of how whimsical certain segments are, Cream are still a heavy rock trio and Disraeli Gears is a quintessential heavy rock album of the '60s. Yes, its psychedelic trappings tie it forever to 1967, but the imagination of the arrangements, the strength of the compositions, and especially the force of the musicianship make this album transcend its time as well. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1968 | Polydor Records

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Rock - Released January 1, 1969 | Polydor Records

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Rock - Released September 28, 2004 | Universal Records

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Hard Rock - Released March 28, 2019 | Play Music

Pop - Released January 1, 1967 | Universal International Music B.V.

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Cream teamed up with producer Felix Pappalardi for their second album, Disraeli Gears, a move that helped push the power trio toward psychedelia and also helped give the album a thematic coherence missing from the debut. This, of course, means that Cream get further away from the pure blues improvisatory troupe they were intended to be, but it does get them to be who they truly are: a massive, innovative power trio. The blues still courses throughout Disraeli Gears -- the swirling kaleidoscopic "Strange Brew" is built upon a riff lifted from Albert King -- but it's filtered into saturated colors, as it is on "Sunshine of Your Love," or it's slowed down and blurred out, as it is on the ominous murk of "Tales of Brave Ulysses." It's a pure psychedelic move that's spurred along by Jack Bruce's flourishing collaboration with Pete Brown. Together, this pair steers the album away from recycled blues-rock and toward its eccentric British core, for with the fuzzy freakout "Swlabr," the music hall flourishes of "Dance the Night Away," the swinging "Take It Back," and of course, the old music hall song "Mother's Lament," this is a very British record. Even so, this crossed the ocean and also became a major hit in America, because regardless of how whimsical certain segments are, Cream are still a heavy rock trio and Disraeli Gears is a quintessential heavy rock album of the '60s. Yes, its psychedelic trappings tie it forever to 1967, but the imagination of the arrangements, the strength of the compositions, and especially the force of the musicianship make this album transcend its time as well. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released January 1, 1972 | Polydor Records