Eric Clapton – Behind the Sun (1985; 2014 Audio Fidelity Remaster)

Often overlooked, widely misunderstood and generally derided, Behind the Sun might not be the first album you’d picture for a deluxe Steve Hoffman mastering to Audio Fidelity SACD. But, really, that’s the magic of this particular reissue — the way it challenges your expectations, even your memory.

First, Hoffman’s canny use of dynamics tends to minimize the processed drum tracks — this 1985 album’s hallmark/calling card/millstone. And in so doing, blow apart the commonly held misconception: That producer Phil Collins sent Eric Clapton hurtling toward a plasticine MTV sound. Actually, the album’s most overtly glossy items were tacked on later, after Warner Bros. rejected an early edition of Behind the Sun as not being commercial enough.

That led to the addition of a trio of Ted Templeton/Lenny Waronker-produced tracks, including the reggaefied soft rock of “See What Love Can Do,” the rather generic “Something’s Happening and the middling hit “Forever Man.” They are typically the least of this album’s new-found intrigues — despite, or perhaps because, they feature some very big stars (including several members, past and present, of Toto; Lindsey Buckingham and Lenny Castro, among others). Ultimately, they tend to sound over-processed, and too on-the-nose for the times — even within this striking new aural environment.

So, focus elsewhere, as Clapton is joined by several familiar collaborative voices, including Donald “Duck” Dunn (whose bass simply leaps to the foreground), Marcy Levy, Jamie Oldaker and Chris Stainton. If anything, Collins is actually underused on Behind the Sun. Other than the charming opener “She’s Waiting,” which finds the ex-Genesis frontman on both snare and Simmons, there’s little of the omnipresent big-drum sound so closely associated with his work in this period. Put simply, Collins has for too long been getting the blame for overcooked items that were served via Templeton and Waronker’s respective kitchens.

On the Collins-helmed tracks, the then-new addition of keyboards is far more tastefully applied, the musical camaraderie more apparent, the singing more nuanced — and, thus, the songs (save for the slightly unfocused “It All Depends,” and a pointless take on “Knock On Wood”) are far stronger. “Tangled In Love” couldn’t have come from any other decade, to be sure, but listen to the way Clapton’s voice interwines with Levy in this new setting. “Never Make You Cry” makes similar good use of the new technology, and then there’s the album-closing title track: Recorded in a duo setting with Collins, it is almost impossibly gorgeous.

Hoffman’s work here reveals something that’s else that been sadly lost: The fact that Clapton was engaging again with his instrument for the first time in years — something hinted at during contemporary sessions work on Roger Waters’ The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking. Clapton’s turn on “Tangled in Love” is a vista-revealing wonder. He’s by turns titanic (on the eight-minute “Same Old Blues”) and raw (on “Just Like A Prisoner,” a desperate cry for his failing marriage to Patti Boyd), as Behind the Sun turns into this unlikeliest of things: A showcase for some of the most complete soloing Clapton had done to date.

Ironically, considering how often this project is torn apart for its 1980s-curio production values, Clapton hadn’t played this much, this forcefully, or this consistently on a studio effort in forever — no matter who was in the producer’s chair. That makes this SACD reissue all the more important, whatever you thought you knew about Behind the Sun. Chances are, you’ve had it wrong all along. Audio Fidelity has helped set the record straight.

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.