By 1972, you’d be hard-pressed to find a group as dysfunctional and internally fractured as Creedence Clearwater Revival. Once at the forefront of popular music, Creedence were now splintered beyond repair. Guitarist Tom Fogerty had quit the year before, the band’s rhythm section, bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford, were sick of lead singer John Fogerty’s dictator-like hold on the group and issues were spiralling out of control. What happened next is up for debate, depending on which side you ask, but the result was an unequivocal disaster.
If you ask the question to Fogerty, then Cook and Clifford demanded that they be allowed to write and sing on an equal share of the band’s next album, something that they had never done or requested on any previous LP by the band. According to Cook and Clifford, all they wanted was more say in the overall decisions, and they simply wanted the opportunity to contribute more before Fogerty forced them to step into roles they weren’t prepared for, all in a blatant attempt to torpedo the good ship known as Creedence Clearwater Revival. There seem to be elements of truth in both sides, but whatever really went down, what the public got was Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras is ten songs, four of which were sung by Fogerty, with the remaining six being split evenly between Cook and Clifford. Fogerty’s songs are solid, if relatively unmemorable. ‘Someday Never Comes’ is a wonderful late period CCR song, and ‘Sweet Hitch Hiker’ is fun and rowdy in their signature style, but the uninspired Everly Brothers cover of ‘Hello Mary Lou’ and plodding album opener ‘Looking For a Reason’ are abysmal additions to the band’s catalogue. Fogerty was clearly checked out by this point, and most of his playing on the album reflects that.
What’s more baffling is the addition of the other members’ material. Cook has a voice that could peel paint off a wall, while Clifford affects a bumpkin-esque drawl that almost breaks your brain. To call these songs slogs is an insult to slogs. They each trudge along with a weird country shuffle that speeds up and slows down but never actually does anything. I’m sure Cook and Clifford believed in their material, but they couldn’t have been delusional enough to hear these results and feel as though they had put out something worthy of the Creedence moniker.
There’s not much fun to be had on Mardi Gras, but there is one aspect that’s interesting: the fact that the band members openly talk shit about each other in the lyrics. Or rather, that Cook openly talks shit about Fogerty in a few of his songs. ‘Take It Like a Friend’ and ‘Sail Away’ are thinly-veiled swipes at Fogerty, and they play as the pettiest and bitter writings from somebody whose side you can’t take because the songs are so bad. If Cook had interesting melodies to carry those critiques, it would have been excusable, but the fact that he nearly coughs up a lung trying to get his words out is not a good sign.
Mardi Gras just might be the most poorly performed, bizarrely sequenced, self-sabotaging record ever put out by a professional rock band. It’s enough to make you think Cook and Clifford were telling the truth when they say the whole situation was forced upon them so that Fogerty could find a way out of the band. Fogerty did, of course, find his way out, but not before a lawsuit from his former label head put a hold on his solo career for nearly a decade. Cook and Clifford went on to form Creedence Clearwater Revisited, and the band happily tour third rate casinos these days.
The surviving members of the band (Tom Fogerty died in 1990) maintain a strong antagonism towards each other that hasn’t dulled in the slightest over the course of 50 years. Next April, Mardi Gras will celebrate its 50th anniversary, but you won’t be hearing any deluxe reissues. Mardi Gras was a desperate and fool headed attempt to save a band that was already beyond saving. The results are an embarrassment to the Creedence Clearwater Revival name, and everyone involved, no matter their level of singing or songwriting talent, should be ashamed of it.