ONE PROBLEM with 10cc’s first album was that it hit you hard on first listening, but often failed to hold up to repeated playings. Perhaps it was the feeling that 10cc was a contrived studio group; a gimmicky entity of pop pundits who conceived something new simply for newness’ sake. But with Sheet Music, 10cc emerge as a mature unit, sprouting a real depth of scope and performance which their debut LP lacked. Now they use their varied talents not to create a tasty dessert treat, but more importantly to provide us with a satisfying main course.
A significant improvement is in the songs themselves; most don’t have the immediate flashiness of ‘Rubber Bullets’ or ‘The Dean & I’, but their cohesiveness and warmth of feeling grows more meaningful with each listening. The opening ‘Wall Street Shuffle’ is a good example. There isn’t one particular item here that shines thru – the melody isn’t “infectious”; the vocals aren’t “brilliant Beach Boys harmonies”; the instrumentation is not “Totally new and different” – 10cc aren’t flaunting their wares this time around – I think they’ve really returned to the middle Beatles influence of Rubber Soul, Revolver, & Sergeant Pepper…there’s something intangible that makes a song like ‘Wall Street Shuffle’ a gem – a classic work of distinction – you can listen to it over and over again and there’s a magic there every time. Eric Stewart’s vocal has a depth of feeling (similar to early Gary Brooker), which is complemented perfectly by the music, lyric, and Stewart’s own vocal phrasing.
Sheet Music, is, so much more than 10cc’s first album, an indication of each member’s roots. The Beatles influence is most evident, and on ‘Worst Band in the World’ (a UK flop single), the ‘Neanderthal Man’ intro gives way to shimmering vocals interplayed against a wisp of a melody line. There is a subtlety and modesty that carries on throughout the album, which in the end supplies Sheet Music with the unified mood which its predecessor lacked.
‘Hotel’ is probably one of Godley & Crème’s most commercial melodies, but beyond that, the lyrics though seemingly humorous, are tinged with a sense of melancholy, leading beautifully into ‘Old Wild Men’, a soft song about pop stars of years gone. It is a solemn wistful ballad with glistening backing. Kevin Godley and Eric Stewart provide masterfully simple, but moving lead vocals.
‘Clockwork Creep’ is the closing track on this side, and showpiece of the album. In its brief length it capsules and surpasses all the various rock opera attempts. If Broadway had its head in the right place, 10cc would be quickly hired to write a musical show, which would probably eclipse all the Hairs, Godspells, and JC Superstars combined. The complicated musical changes in ‘Clockwork Creep’ are aided by a lack of gimmickry, and the striving for a total effect. Again the Beatles are recalled during a ‘Lady Madonna’-like middle, yet ‘Clockwork Creep’ sustains itself as an original, and total success.
It’s not hard to guess that I consider Side One of Sheet Music one of the most convincing and valuable pop efforts of the last decade. Unfortunately, side two is not as totally outstanding. The first sore spot is ‘Somewhere in Hollywood’, a high voiced ballad that doesn’t get far. It lacks the sincerity and meaningfulness of Sheet Music‘s other ballad, ‘Old Wild Men’. ‘Baron Samedi’ has its strong moments, but is too close for comfort to some things on 10 cc’s first album. The closing ‘Oh Effendi’ is a rather plain country rock tune which doesn’t hit too powerfully on any level.
Sandwiched between these three is Graham’s tasty vocal debut with 10cc, ‘The Sacro-iliac’. Here 10cc have invented a dance where, as Eric states: ‘you stand in the middle of the dance floor, and don’t move a muscle’. Lyrically and melodically the song is a fine energetic composition.
‘Silly Love’ is a takeoff of Bowie, Led Zeppelin, and love songs all at once. It shows that 10cc can “get heavy” without sacrificing any of their meticulous vocal, lyrical, and production standards.
In terms of mass acceptance, 10cc’s main problem seems to be that they don’t have a clear public image which caters to a distinct audience. By directing their talents into their vinyl product, they have transcended media image-making and consequently have suffered. Perhaps their artistry is just too eclectic and appreciated mainly by a group of discriminating partisans – but for 10cc to lower their sights would be a shame indeed, and one that the music world can ill afford.
© Alan Betrock, Phonograph Record, 1 July 1974