AIN’T NO GETTING round it: 10cc make brilliant records.
Unfortunately, they suffer from the crippling delusion that cutesy lighting and pain-threshold volume constitute an acceptable substitute for stage presence, but once they scuttle into Strawberry Studios and get stuck into their composing, arranging, producing, engineering, overdubbing, compressing, mixing and so on and so forth, they mess your mind around a treat.
Like its predecessors 10cc and Sheet Music, The Original Soundtrack is a triumph for technique, not simply playing technique (which is what is usually referred to when slinging the term around), but applied technique exemplified in every single aspect of the record. The playing is superb throughout, but the production and engineering are exemplary, (except that ‘The Second Sitting Of The Last Supper’, which is ‘eavy, has to be played extremely loud before it begins to sound as dynamic as it should. Jimmy Page’s production secrets are still secret), the melodies are exquisite, the lyrics are absolutely the sharpest, wittiest and most adroitly constructed that I’ve heard since… since 10cc’s last album.
In addition, unlike most other bands blessed with a superabundance of technique, 10cc demonstrate an unparallelled ability to utilise said technique instead of simply falling in love with their own abilities and remaining content to demonstrate them until the proverbial cows come home to roost or do whatever cows do after work.
This being said, allow me to lay on you a theoretical proposition closely followed by a value judgement, on condition that I wander through the album immediately afterwards and justify both proposition and judgement on route.
Proposition; 10cc are not, as has been claimed, the new Beatles. (Anybody who demonstrates an ability to write songs gets saddled with that particular tag, which is by now hopelessly devalued, especially since Pilot are obviously the new Badfinger).
What they really are is the new Mothers of Invention.
Value judgement: I hate this record, a hatred which escalates in direct proportion to my admiration for it, which in turn escalates every time I hear it.
If we start on the outside edge of the first side and set off in the general direction of the label, the first thing we encounter is 8 minutes and 39 seconds of something entitled ‘Une Nuit In Paris’.
It’s a very Mothers-ish piece set in some hell which a mischievous set designer has disguised as a caricature of music-hall Paris complete with people dropping glasses and muttering “Sacre bleu!”, whores, bent coppers, street hustlers, con men, comic landladies and a demonically insistent refrain which sneers, One night in Paris is like a year in any other place/one night in Paris will wipe the smile off your pretty face/One girl in Paris is like loving every woman/One night in Paris may be your last!
Song with almost comic viciousness, the mock-French accent and the heavy-on-the-loud pedal rumba beat gives it teeth-on-edge air of menace which leaves the listener thoroughly shook up and totally unprepared for 10cc’s next little assault on his sense of calm and spiritual well-being.
‘I’m Not In Love’ is superficially sweet and innocent, something like a Philly studio band performing a Lennon song with a McCartney vocal.
The trouble with 10cc is that their sweet songs are all booby-trapped. You pick up what looks like a new-born kitten and find that it’s a transistorised sabre-toothed tiger with vampiric tendencies.
The protagonist of this one insists that he’s not in love despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary and that he only keeps his lady’s pic on the wall because “it hides a nasty, stain that’s lying there”. Halfway through, it’s split by a horrific dream sequence in which a girl’s voice repeats mechanically “Be quiet – big boys don’t cry.”
Well, there’s two ways you can take that. Either the singer is really in love and doesn’t have the courage to admit it – which is incredibly sad when you think about it – or else he really is faking it, which is even sadder.
Either way, it shows a considerable lack of faith in humanity.
The next song, by comparison, is pure comic relief, being about a black-mailing papparozzo who shoots doity pictures of a lady only to have her husband order a dozen prints, send them to Playboy and boost her into a-movie star.
Over on the second side, we find the band slipping effortlessly into another musical style – Intelligent Heavy Metal – for the heaviest song en the album, ‘The Second Sitting For The Last Supper’, which is a cry of rage and pan against the way we’ve all been betrayed by Christianity.
Lyrics please, maestro:
Another nigger on the woodpile, another honky on the dole/another trip from off the 15th floor, the greatest story ever told was wrong, so wrong…another Guru in the money, another mantra in the mail/An easy way from rags to riches, God’s little acre Up for sale.
Got it? One more time, please.“The second coming of the Holy Ghost, we need a pocketful of miracles/two thousand years and he ain’t come yet, we kept his seat warm and the table set/the second sitting for the last supper.
Okay, George Harrison – back on your head.
(Parenthetical note for technique freaks: 10cc’s principal lyrical and musical technique is the juxtaposition of incongruous cliches to provide a whole that is infinitely greater than the sum of the parts – which is basically Uncle Frank’s turf. But just as Zappa is probably the outstanding example in rock of the old riff about the cynic simply being a frustrated romantic, 10cc come on like kamikaze kids dedicated to trashing for trashing’s sake – rock and roll nihilism run intellectual riot, working on the basic governing principle that one devastating lyric is worth half an hour of power chords and blood-enriched peanut butter any day of the goddam week).
The angelic voice of Kevin Godley is next unleashed upon a defenceless little song entitled ‘Brand New Day’ which is so crushingly banal that if it was anybody but 10cc you’d write it off as being simply dumb.
As it is 10cc you haveta check out the lyrics and do a double-take when you finally suss what Godley’s actually singing, which is: You work all day, you sweat and strain/It’s getting late, them pearly gates might close before you reach them/Here boy there boy, the devil got you running everywhere boy/I smell cooking and it might be you…
I’m not sure I like this. I mean, there are negative world-views and negative world-views but this she is bloody ridiculous.
Next up is the best song about a dealer since Mayfield’s ‘Superfly’ song-cycle.
Again, a quick flashenheimer of the lyrics: He’s never got the stuff if you come to him without money/he hasn’t got the time for the people who are down on their knees/but if the price is right you won’t be asking him where it came from, which is really telling it the way it unfortunately is.
Again that’s pure comic relief compared to the next one, unbelievably entitled ;Life Is A Minestrone’. The corollary, you’ll be glad to know, is that “death is a cold lasagne.”
This one moves like a ‘Lady Madonna’ dancing on a red-hot floor and contains more gorgeous lyrical flashes, one of which does in M. Ferrari by observing “love is the fire of flaming brandy upon a crepe suzette”. The others I’ll leave you to dig out for yourselves.
Finally, ‘The Film Of My Love’ utilises every single verbal and musical cliche about movies.
Voici: A clapper board kiss, there’s an Oscar in this, a hit or a miss, whatever/a box office wedding, a premiere for two, we’ll be on location forever. It’s so close to the real thing that it’s damn near as intolerable as the songs in Marx Brothers movies (apart from Groucho’s, that is).
Okay, that’s the album. As you may have gathered, I find The Original Soundtrack an awesome achievement on all levels, but it’s unrelenting hatred for anything outside of Strawberry Studios is ultimately as loathesome as the mindless complacency that it so brilliantly seeks to subvert.
I mean, what kinda childhoods did these guys have?
In the final analysis, Uncle Frank has the most apposite line, Which goeth like this: Your whole attitude stinks, I say, and the life you lead is completely empty. Zappa always made it clear, at least by inference, where he stood socially and politically.
All 10cc show us is where they don’t stand, and by doing so, they’ve painted themselves into a social, if not artistic, corner.
The Original Soundtrack is brilliant. And I hate it.
© Charles Shaar Murray, New Musical Express, 1 March 1975