10cc: Sheet Music

1. POMP: COULD the band who sing “We’re the Worst Band in The World” possibly be pompous?

2. Tech: Not so much virtuosos as master craftsmen.

3. Orig; 10cc continues to shine as the most creative new group in English pop. Lyrically, 10cc have established themselves as the greatest pun-rock (not punk-rock) band since the days of the Bonzo Dogs.

4. Emot: 10cc seem to include one serious emotional song on each album. On their first, it was ‘Fresh Air for My Momma’. Here, ‘Old Wild Men’ tells the sad story of aging rock and rollers: “Where are they now?/They are over the hills and far away/But they’re still gonna play guitars”.

5. Smarts: “A” students.

6. Hum: It grows with each listening.

7. Taste: Musically, always. Lyrical irreverence sometimes gets out of hand.

8. Cover: A pun, naturally.

9. Life: And many reincarnations.

10. Value: Cynicism like this has no price, it is too rare.

After long hours of arguing with myself as to how to describe Sheet Music, it finally dawned on me that I had been listening to the Who Sell Out of the seventies; a bona fide Pop Art LP which, although not as clearly conceptualized or musically advanced as Sell Out, manages to capture and satirize the sacred cows of pop culture in much the same way.

On Sheet Music, 10cc has managed to retail the cinematic quality that made their first album so interesting and different from the run-of-the-mill pop effort. On that LP, each song (save the two throwbacks to the early sixties, ‘Donna’ and ‘Johnny Don’t Do It’) conjured up images which suggested different “stock” cinematic plots. Sheet Music picks up where the first album left off, in the process broadening its scope to comment upon our entire culture.

The striking thing about Sheet Music is how totally unstriking it seems on first listening. There is so much under the surface here that only after ten listenings or more does one begin to notice how brilliantly crafted the songs are. Each successive listening seems to uncover a pun, a line, or a riff that you never noticed there before. The only thing I could compare Sheet Music to is Robert Downey’s Putney Swope, a film which left me totally bewildered on first viewing, but which I have now seen 15 times, getting something different out of each viewing.

An album this irreverent has just got to be good (that’s what made Putney a classic). 10cc don’t seem to care who or what they stick pins into, as long as it stings. Strangely enough, for a group from Manchester (England, that is), they seem to deal strictly with American culture. Like a band of twentieth century de Tocquevilles they take on such American institutions as big business, Hollywood, carnival side shows, Caribbean hotels run by Americans, Norman Mailer, Howard Hughes, arid skyjacking to name but a few. I guess we’re just fascinating!

Can you afford to pass up an album that laments the dying art of conversation “when a romance depends on clichés, and toupees, and threepes?” I think not!

© Dave SchulpsTrans-Oceanic Trouser Press, October 1974

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