"Centerfield," John Fogerty's first album in almost 10 years, shatters one of rock 'n' roll's most cherished myths: that a rocker's inspiration is a passing moment, and once it's gone, it never comes back. Until now, all the empirical evidence has been on the side of the myth -- witness Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and many more.
Fogerty, though, has done something no one has done before: He disappeared for 10 years and then returned with all his gifts intact -- even strengthened. "Centerfield" (Warner Bros. 9 250203-1) opens up with "The Old Man Down the Road," which could have come off any collection of Creedence Clearwater Revival's greatest hits. The album doesn't let up through nine strong songs, and it climaxes with "Zanz Kant Danz," a startingly modern track full of synths, electric percussion and vicious resentment toward the music biz.
Fogerty was Creedence's lead singer, lead guitarist, songwriter and producer, but he felt the band didn't always capture everything he wanted from his songs. So he disbanded the group in 1972, released two solo albums and then retreated to his home in Oregon to learn drums, bass, saxophone and keyboards well enough to satisfy his own high standards. Like a rockabilly Stevie Wonder or a swamp-boogaloo Prince, he plays every instrument, sings every vocal and twists every knob on the new album himself.
Yet there is nothing antiseptic about "Centerfield"; every song chugs and pops with the feel of a band with one mind, which of course it is. Most of the songs sound like vintage Creedence at first listen, but there is a new airiness within them that comes from the absence of all unnecessary notes. There is new room for the listener to enter the songs.
"Here in the darkness, I'm runnin' blind," Fogerty sings on "Searchlight." "Been stumblin' for all these years." Apparently he found what he was looking for during his layoff, because the album justifies his bubbling eagerness on the title song: "Put me in, Coach, I'm ready to play today; I can be centerfield."
In "I Saw It on TV," Fogerty provides an impressively succinct summary of the importance of television to anyone who grew up in the '50s and '60s. From the reassurance of Dwight Eisenhower and Howdy Doody to the provocation of Annette Funicello and Elvis Presley, he knew it was all true " 'cause I saw it on TV." In the last verse, though, he assumes the persona of a father who lost a son in Vietnam only to watch bitterly as Watergate felons got rich. The music, too, hardens from folkish optimism to disillusioned toughness.
"Mr. Greed" suffers from unrelieved overkill in its indictment of corporate voraciousness, but "Zanz Kant Danz" is devastatingly on target. Perhaps inspired by Saul Zaentz -- the former head of Fantasy Records, which Creedence sued over royalties -- the song describes Zanz as a pig trained to be a pickpocket. While people are dancing to their favorite musicians, the little porker robs everyone blind. This view of the music industry is heightened by pistol-shot electric drums and computer-buzz synthesizers. It's a remarkable mix of whimsy and vitriol.
"Big Train (From Memphis)" begins with an echoed guitar sound straight out of Memphis' Sun Studios in 1954. Fogerty's countryish vocal mythologizes the early Sun Records of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins as a train that rolled through the world, changed it forever and never came back. Yet Fogerty's own grand comeback proves that rock's inspiration doesn't have to fade with youth, that it can be as timeless and boundless as the excited look in the faces of young girls everywhere. On the album's most joyful, most melodic song, Fogerty asserts just that -- that in "a time out of time . . . all over the world" it can always find "Rock and Roll Girls."
Among Fogerty's countless heirs is John Hiatt, a favorite among other musicians if not the public at large. He has played with Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe and has written songs for the Neville Brothers, Rosanne Cash and Dave Edmunds. Hiatt's seventh album, "Warming Up to the Ice Age" (Geffen GHS 24055), was recorded with a rhythm and blues feel by Nashville country producer Norbert Putnam -- a combination Fogerty would approve of. Hiatt shows the rare ability to write new songs that sound like the roots-rock gems bar bands have been playing for years.
If Hiatt lacks the star charisma to make his versions classics, he has given them thoroughly enjoyable renditions that should convince many others to try the songs. "The Crush" jumps with a frat-rock primitivism; "When We Ran" is a moving memory ballad, supported by Randy McCormick's soulful organ. "I'm a Real Man" is as good a blues-bragging song as any of Willie Dixon's; "She Said the Same Things to Me" has a soul hook (supported by Tracy Nelson's answering vocals) as sharp as any Sam and Dave tune. The album's high point, though, is Hiatt's delightful duet with Elvis Costello -- another Fogerty debtor -- on the old Spinners' song "Living a Little, Laughing a Little"; Elvis II lends the front-man personality Hiatt lacks.