MGM VETERAN rocker Richard Clapton is one of those Australian institutions who actually deserves the overused epithet icon. The man who brought us hits such as Girls in the Avenue,
Capricorn Dancer and I am an Island still takes the stage on a regular basis and his first album in eight years shows he hasn’t lost his touch as a songwriter. Described as the bookend to the critically acclaimed 1977 album Goodbye Tiger,
Harlequin Nights veers between the heady optimism of opening track Sunny Side Up and the poignant autumnal reflection of the beautiful
Blue Skies. ‘‘ A fortune teller down in the beach says she’ll read my palm for free but I don’t dare,’’ Clapton tells us. ‘‘ Don’t want to go there.’’ Clapton, who famously took his name from heroes Keith Richards and Eric Clapton, and has never had an easy life, divorced during the album but says this helped boost him creatively, as did his song writing collaboration with guitarist Danny Spencer. The result is a rich soundscape of classic Clapton: a troubadour buffeted by uncertain winds and still searching for answers in songs such as the epic Vapour Trails but pushing on regardless in the folksy
Run Like a River. An up-tempo homage to hard partying, Dancing with the Vampires, is the first single. It’s not as strong melodically as some of the earlier tracks but there’s some nice guitar work and a reference to Charlie Sheen. Clapton keeps a few nuggets, the jazzy Shady Love and a powerful ballad, Keep Your Blue Eyes Open
Wide, to round off the album. There are no great surprises in Harlequin Nights. Clapton has not tried to reinvent himself or take a detour into some strange musical genre. Rather, it is a solid evolution by one of the nation’s premier artists.