In its second manifestation, Traffic displayed an affection for jazz-like improvisation over shuffling rhythms, and that tendency was never more indulged than on When the Eagle Flies. Having dispensed with the trio of session musicians who had accompanied them on tour, the remaining band members, led by Steve Winwood, jammed over long-lined musical structures. Still, this was nominally a rock album, with lyrics and vocals, and Winwood often seemed to be improvising his melodies over the music, paying little heed to the meaning of the words, especially on the title track. Jim Capaldi's lyrics touched on the ups and downs of romance and the vicissitudes of capitalism and politics, and warning of apocalypse. But he sounded most assured reflecting on his past and future in "Memories of a Rock 'n Rolla." The most intriguing lyric was a blank-verse effort from the Bonzo Dog Band's Vivian Stanshall, "Dream Gerrard," which took off from 19th-century French poet Gérard de Nerval's speculations about the relationship between dreams and reality. But Winwood treated the words and his singing as another musical element rather than fashioning the songs to emphasize them, so that When the Eagle Flies, not unlike previous Traffic albums, was really a mostly instrumental collection that happened to have vocals. That wouldn't have mattered if the music had been more compelling and effectively played, but rather than seeming like a fresh start for the band, the album was listless and remote. Although it became Traffic's fourth consecutive studio album to reach the Top Ten and go gold in the U.S., the group broke up following the American promotional tour in the fall of 1974.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann