SINCE THE Beatles re-created the album market with Sergeant Pepper we’ve become used to the idea that the best of rock’n’roll is invariably found in the LP chart, created by what were once called “underground” bands and are now all-embracingly referred to as “album groups”.
So when I try to tell you that a “singles band”, one of that breed of combo which supplies the supposedly trivial constituents of the Top Twenty once every mandatory three months, a “pop group” even – when I tell you that such a unit has put together one of the best rock albums I’ve heard for several years, you’re going to laugh in my face.
Okay, laugh your head off – it’ll be your loss. 10cc is the group and 10cc is the album and Jonathan King’s U.K. is the label and very, very impressive is the end result.
Though I distrust the word, I have to use it: 10cc is a triumph of rock professionalism. But it’s the professionalism of experience, intelligence, humour and restraint, all of which qualities have been slowly eroded over the past five years by the simple mindedness of heavy music and the indulgence of non-songs extended across the width of an album side.
10cc, by approaching every track as though it were a single, return to rock its original cheek, urgency, and precision, a readjustment of focus that was long overdue and probably vital to the survival of the music as a whole.
But let’s not get too heavy about it, because the most salient feature of this album is its wit.
Tracks as deftly hilarious as ‘Sand In My Face’ and ‘The Hospital Song’ have been absent from the scene since the demise of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, but musical satires as shrewd and carefully detailed as ‘The Dean And I’ and ‘Johnny Don’t Do It’ are entirely new.
From their vantage-point in Stockport, Messrs. Godley, Creme, Gouldman, and Stewart seem to survey the rock business and its foibles with an understanding at once awe-inspiringly comprehensive and particular.
Thus a track like ‘Fresh Air For My Mama’ encompasses minute pastiches of The Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder, and George Harrison on the one hand, and a lyric which can simultaneously send itself up and be perfectly serious – a balance I’d thought long lost in the mists of time with mid-period Beatles and the early Who sides.
Lyrically and musically dazzling satires like ‘Donna’, ‘Ships Don’t Disappear In The Night (Do They?)’, and the great ‘Rubber Bullets’ notwithstanding, the finest track on 10cc is ‘Speed Kills’ which opens Side Two at spanking pace.
For sheer good taste and control it leaves everything I can remember from this year completely dead, the lyrics making their point with feeling and allusive brevity before the guitars and drums take over for a remarkably adroit two minutes that says it all. Quite astonishing.
To be truly in the spirit of 10cc I should have made this review a parody of itself – but my respect for their achievement might easily have got lost among the jokes.
So: no messing about. 10cc is a minor masterpiece of composition, performance, and production that serves the timely dual purpose of reminding us where it was once at and where, if we use our loafs, it could be at in the future.
Laugh your head off if you like – but with ’em, not at ’em. 10cc are a gas.
© Ian MacDonald, New Musical Express, 28 July 1973