Awesome music from the archives – ‘When the Eagle Flies’ by Traffic
It’s easy see why Traffic’s eight and final album had its detractors. The mood is relentlessly downbeat. There are no attempts to contrive the kind of joyous abandon they had on previous outings. Signs that the final curtain was imminent are woven into its fabric. Percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah was fired during recording. Saxophonist Chris Wood was feeling the effects of his ongoing battles in the chemical warzone and Stevie Winwood was suffering from recurring problems from peritonitis.
Despite all this a strangely beautiful sound emerges. The band’s tendency to compose their songs on top of shuffling rhythms decorated with jazzy improvisations was always evident but here it finds its true expression and it’s an oddly compelling delight.
The warmth in new recruit Rosko Gee’s bass playing is an antidote to the inescapable gloom of the recurring minor keys. His slow burning grooves and Jim Capaldi’s brushed drum beats are solid foundations. Winwood embellishes the sadness with many different kinds of blue. His interweaving keyboard sounds are flush with innovation. The combination of moog and mellotron with new fangled synthesizer washes are examples of early light from the oncoming dawn of electronic music.
And then there’s Dream Gerrard. This epic centerpiece is a free verse lyrical collaboration with Viv Stanshall based on the 19th-century French poet Gerard de Nerval’s speculations on the relationship between dreams and reality. Winwood’s soul-stirring voice is transcendent as the melody soars on waves of graceful instrumentation. The reverie reaches a crescendo before slowly dissipating into an extended epilogue of distended strings and darkness.
Rarely do dreams so eloquently die.