10CC: HOW DARE YOU! (1976)
With How Dare You!, 10cc have comfortably and gracefully settled into middle age — an age which might have lasted forever, had the very fact of it not been grating heavily against the restless souls of Godley and Creme. Usually it is the more "commercially-oriented" members of the band that tend to carry the blame for a great unit's falling apart, but in this case the situation is reversed — Godley and Creme left the band entirely of their own will, unsatisfied with its creative stagnation (at least, that seems to have been the pretext).
Ironically, the creatively stagnant How Dare You! turned out to be a far more greater record than anything that either the experimental unit of Godley & Creme or the "commercial" unit of Stewart & Gouldman's 10cc managed to produce since 1976. In a way, it is the band's
There is no return here to either the dazzling energy level or the diversity of Sheet Music; the songs are generally more quiet and relaxed, the amount of melodies per song more limited. But that's merely a sign of maturity. The melodic hooks remain stronger than ever, the lyrical wit and the unique story-telling ability undamaged, and the arrangements, if possible, have become even more polished, refined, and complex than on The Original Soundtrack. The flow is wonderful, with a few weaker tracks carefully dispersed among the stronger material and the lazier material only better attenuating the energetic stuff. And if there is no one or two songs that are particularly jaw-dropping, like 'Silly Love' or 'I'm Not In Love', that's only due to the quality of the rest.
Much of the album is sweet and sentimental — Sir Paul might have loved this — like the lead off single, 'I'm Mandy, Fly Me', sort of a fantasy sequel to 'Clockwork Creep' off Sheet Music, with a totally off-the-cuff story of how the protagonist is saved by his lovely stewardess in the midst of an airplane crash. Taking a stupid airline slogan ('I'm Cindy, fly me'), the jokers make it into the basis for a love confession which, as is usual with 10cc, is stuck somewhere in between sincere and sarcastic — as confusing for some as it is exciting for others. 'Lazy Ways' and 'Rock'n'Roll Lullaby' have sweet vocal hooks that will send spinning the head of anyone with a thing for sweet vocal hooks; and the album closer 'Don't Hang Up' is the band's most realistic ode to quiet desperation, culminating in... hanging up, of course!
The harder side of the album is illustrated by the blistering 'Art For Art's Sake' (the opening riff is one of the most memorable moments in the catalog) which takes several evil punches at The Artist ('give me your love, give me it all, give me in the kitchen, give me in the hall'), and the equally biting and hilarious 'I Wanna Rule The World' ('I wanna be a boss I wanna be a big boss I wanna boss the world around I wanna be the biggest boss that ever bossed the world around'). And finally, the 'sonically creative' side is featured on the title track — a (possibly) Zappa-inspired instrumental that isn't so much enjoyable per se as per trying to figure out where exactly it will be heading off in the next ten seconds. Good luck hunting!
All said, How Dare You! requires a little time (say, a decade or so) to properly sink in, as do all such lazy, mature, deep, flash-less (but certainly not flesh-less) albums. Once it does, though, there's nothing preventing one from even thinking of it as 10cc's finest hour — at least, that's one possibility that's worth exploring. Naturally, with the brain harboring respect for it from the very first minute and the heart gradually accumulating love for it over the years, this is a thumbs up all the way. Don't hang up on it.