Not long after the 2004 release of his fifth solo album, Deja Vu All Over Again, John Fogerty parted ways with DreamWorks -- but perhaps a more important label development for the singer/songwriter was that his old home Fantasy Records, the place where he cut all his classic Creedence Clearwater Revival albums, was sold to Concord Records. He had a longstanding feud with Fantasy and its head, Saul Zaentz, but Concord sought to make amends with Fogerty, quickly signing him to the label. Just as rapidly, Fogerty finally embraced his CCR material, beginning to play it in concert and releasing a compilation called The Long Road Home, which blended his Creedence hits with solo cuts, a welcome return for all involved -- so welcome that Fogerty continued to push this re-acceptance of Creedence on his 2007 follow-up to Deja Vu, Revival. Its very title, of course, echoes CCR -- while its cover echoes Blue Ridge Rangers and his eponymous debut -- and Fogerty goes out of his way to stoke those comparisons by writing "Creedence Song," but it's possible to oversell this return to the fold as a massive shift in sound and aesthetic, when it's really an imperceptible change, at least in terms of pure sound. Fogerty may have shunned Creedence, but that is only in terms of songs: he never ran away from the sound. After all, this is a guy who was sued for plagiarizing himself -- sure, it was a frivolous suit, but it's a pretty good indication that his solo work sounded a lot like his classic stuff. So, anybody expecting Revival to be a big shift in direction will be disappointed, because it has a similar feel to any of his other records, along with a very relaxed vibe, not dissimilar to anything he's done after Eye of the Zombie.
Even if the acceptance of Creedence hasn't made much of a difference in terms of sound, it does have an effect on Fogerty as a writer, as he attempts to recapture the vibe of his '60s stuff, tapping into the charged political vibe of "Fortunate Son" and "Who'll Stop the Rain" in particular. Revival spills over with topical songs, both metaphorical ("Gunslinger") and thuddingly literal ("Long Dark Night," where George W., Rummy, and Dick Cheney are all called out by name). Sometimes Fogerty's missives lack grace -- impassioned though it is, the name-calling in "Long Dark Night" is clumsy -- but there's a real fire to his writing here, turning Revival into a missive as immediate, effective, and telling as Neil Young's Living with War. Like that album, it does feel like the work of an old pro, in how the music is lived-in and simple. Sometimes, this can veer into something that's just this side of stodgy -- "Don't You Wish It Was True" sounds like something to be played while swinging on the front porch -- and there's a crankiness that runs through this record that's kind of ingratiating. Fogerty is longing for the past here -- crooning like Merle Haggard when he wondered if the good times were really over -- but this isn't a new wrinkle; Fogerty has always been nostalgic. When he was a young man, he romanticized America's past, creating a world that likely didn't exist, but his visions were all the more alluring because of their fantasy. Perhaps it was inevitable that as he aged, he'd turn to romanticizing his own past, yet it's still odd to hear him embracing the "Summer of Love" when he never, ever was part of the scene in San Francisco; knowing this, it kind of gives away the artifice behind his creation. Still, artifice can be a crucial part of art, and Fogerty is an uncannily sharp musician in how he can mold the past to fit his own world, which he does with "Summer of Love," turning it into a fuzz-toned choogle with a sly paraphrase of "Sunshine of Your Love." This is also true on "Creedence Song," which is far from self-aggrandizing -- it's wryly funny and crackling with musical allusions to CCR songs, some so sly they pass by without notice. This is Revival at its most fun, but even if the world-weariness drags down some of the rest of the album, this is nevertheless his strongest album in years, standing proudly against Centerfield as one of his best. Which may be the reason that Fogerty and Fantasy are playing the Creedence card so hard: it will hook listeners into an album that they know won't disappoint.