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Traffic - When The Eagle Flies CD (album) cover

WHEN THE EAGLE FLIES

Traffic

 

Eclectic Prog

3.22 | 121 ratings

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patrickq
Prog Reviewer
2 stars Released in September 1974, When the Eagle Flies is an improvement, however slight, over Traffic's prior effort, Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory (1973), but it doesn't approach the quality of their best albums, John Barleycorn Must Die (1970) and The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (1971). By 1972, the band had established its own sound, and they'd done it via high-quality compositions and performances. But by the time they returned in 1973 after a hiatus marked by health and drug-abuse issues among the core members, most of their new music fell into one of two categories: it either rambled, Ó la the Grateful Dead, or sounded like spot-on knock-offs of mediocre Traffic songs.

To a large extent, When the Eagle Flies is more of the same, a situation encapsulated in its final two songs. Either of the closing tunes - - 'Love' and 'When the Eagle Flies' - - might possibly have been the basis of a solid song. But as it stands, each is rudimentary; compared to Traffic's better work, these songs are linear: the rough idea is stretched in one dimension only. This is the case with the music as well as the lyrics. For example, throughout the album I get the sense that lyricist Jim Capaldi and/or vocalist Steve Winwood is talking to the wall; as the album closes, it's made clear: 'do you hear me, mother nature, do you hear me? do you hear me? / do you hear me, mother nature?'' A cursory reading of 'When the Eagle Flies' makes it clear: no, she doesn't hear you.

It's tough to argue with the basic premise of 'When the Eagle Flies:' humans haven't been terribly kind to their natural habitat. It's the Noah's-ark story with an important twist: a great bird signals the beginning of the wrath. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, producing songs about human impacts on the environment was acceptable for rock artists (e.g., Spirit ('Nature's Way'), Jefferson Airplane ('Eskimo Blue Day')) as well as popular artists (e.g., Marvin Gaye ('Mercy Mercy Me') and Cat Stevens ('Where Do the Children Play?')). I'm also reminded of the judgement-day song 'In the Year 2525,' by Zager and Evans, which spent six weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969.

By 1974, the nature's-vengeance schtick was passÚ, but Capaldi and company soldiered on: 'wrapped up in your mink coat / you will be stepping from your Cadillac and in a microflash / gonna feel the lash of big eagle's wing across your back.' I guess one of the stumbling blocks for me is the question of audience: who exactly is the singer addressing when he says, for example, 'don't you start to cry when you're about to die / you gotta stand and take it like a man 'cause you've been taking instead of giving / and all the while you've been living lies'? At least 'Love' is transparent on that score: 'I need somebody or else I'm gonna die / oh love, if you need me, just call...' And while 'When the Eagle Flies' finds the group in an indeterminate jam reminiscent of the Dead or the Band, 'Love' is an exemplar of Traffic trying to recapture the magic, so to speak, by at least sounding like Traffic.

To be fair, there is some magic on When the Eagle Flies. The back-to-back tracks 'Dream Gerrard'* and 'Graveyard People' make for an enjoyable seventeen minutes, and it's fun to hear Winwood experimenting with an analog synthesizer on 'Graveyard People' and 'Walking in the Wind;' and the guitar solo with which he closes 'Memories of a Rock 'n' Rolla' is pretty good as well. But the glitter that had rubbed off after The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys was still gone; the mediocre Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory was no fluke. As I understand it, Winwood simply walked offstage in the middle of a show in 1974 and that was it until he and Capaldi reunited for a one-shot tour and album twenty years later. After five or six wilderness years, Winwood made an improbable and very successful comeback as a pop musician in the 1980s. Anyway, while When the Eagle Flies is no disaster, it bears little similarity in style or quality to Traffic's definitive albums or to Winwood's later solo hits. This one's for serious fans for whom a best-of collection is insufficient.

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*The one case on When the Eagle Flies where Capaldi is not the lyricist; Viv Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band wrote the words to "Dream Gerrard."

patrickq | 2/5 |

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