As the piano kicked in on ‘Something New’ at the same time as one of the most distinctive voices in rock, Traffic were back in the American album chart on 28 September 1974 with When The Eagle Flies. With Steve Winwood’s vocals and keyboards augmented by the work of Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood and now Rosko Gee (plus the uncredited Rebop Kwaku Baah), they would once again strike gold in the States — but this would be their last chart showing with a new studio record for very nearly 20 years.
This ninth album by the British rock pacemakers gathered half a dozen new compositions by Winwood and Capaldi, and another, the equally impressive ‘Dream Gerrard,’ that Steve wrote with inimitable performer-humorist Vivian Stanshall, late of the Bonzo Dog Band. It arrived just over a year and a half after the band’s 1973 entry Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory, after which they had released the On The Road memento of their concert in Germany that year.
Whereas Traffic’s recent studio endeavours had been produced by Winwood, When The Eagle Flies was overseen, like the live disc, by their Island label boss and confidant, Chris Blackwell. There was a subtle update to their sound, too, with the use of Moog and Mellotron keyboards, and an ever greater advance into a sophisticated jazz-rock style. But, with their status as FM album rock radio staples intact, there was no sign of any reduction in their American popularity.
While their British audience showed less enthusiasm for the new album, granting it only a fleeting top 40 place, Eagle entered the US chart at No. 52 and became the group’s fourth top ten LP in a row there. Billboard called the album “a superb return.”
It reached No. 9 in a 27-week run, going gold by November, but after a promotional tour in the US in the autumn, Traffic called it a day. They were commemorated by two compilations in 1975 but the name was not revived by Winwood and Capaldi until 1994’s Far From Home.
When The Eagle Flies can be bought here.
Follow the official Traffic Best Of playlist.