10CC: ...MEANWHILE (1992)
1) Woman In Love; 2) Wonderland; 3) Fill Her Up; 4) Something Special; 5) Welcome To Paradise; 6) The Stars Didn't Show; 7) Green Eyed Monster; 8) Charity Begins At Home; 9) Shine A Light In The Dark; 10) Don't Break The Promises.
A ten-year long break can sometimes work wonders... not in this case, though. After spending a decade working on their individual projects, Stewart and Gouldman have come back to pick up from the exact same place where they left us with Windows In The Jungle, as if neither the Eighties, with their tackiness and their perverse charms, nor the early Nineties with their drastic shift in musical values have ever happened. Well — you don't have to love this judgement, but maybe you have to respect it.
A long-term tactical blunder hailed this as a "Reunion" album of the original 10cc — under the pretext that Godley & Creme were mesmerized into appearing in the studio for the sessions to add backing vocals for some of the tracks (Godley also sings lead on 'The Stars Didn't Show'). But it doesn't take a genius to figure out that neither of the two had even a pinch of creative impact on the proceedings; ...Meanwhile is, if possible, even more straightforward and simplistic a record than Windows.
It isn't worse, though; perhaps it's even a little better. About half of it is the same old boring adult contemporary refuse, but the other half at least cheers up the proceedings with some upbeat barroom rock, on which the band is assisted by the piano-playing talents of Dr. John. And the lead-off single, 'Woman In Love', is at least a good pop song: it somehow manages to tap-dance on the bottle top of retro-Seventies "cock-sentimentalism" (i. e. sentimental songs emanating from artists with a general cock rock attitude, by default one of music's greatest offenses against both good taste in general and the feminine sex in particular) without getting stuck in the bottleneck, maybe because of exquisite guitar work from Stewart.
One bothersome thing is a striking number of déjà vus I am getting — consciously or subconsciously, Gouldman and Stewart seem to be so strung up on creative songwriting that they keep yielding either atmospheric or melodic bits that belong not to 10cc, but rather to someone else. 'Wonderland', for instance, for the most part sounds like the Police circa Synchronicity; 'Something Special' keeps reminding me of some McCartney song I can't recall the name of; 'Shine A Light In The Dark' borrows a line from the Hollies' 'Long Cool Woman In A Red Dress', etc. Not that it's necessarily bad: if your own sack of ideas is depleted, a little borrowing can be a big help, and if this helps make ...Meanwhile more listenable — why not? Except that it doesn't make it all that much more listenable, certainly not to the point where we could count it as a minor latter day masterpiece. The best songs here, like 'Woman In Love', or the flat rocker 'Charity Begins At Home', would still be forgettable filler on any of 10cc's major albums.
Nor do I understand why Godley agreed to sing lead on 'The Stars Didn't Show', a tepid synth ballad every inch of which is so square they should make it an anthem of McDonalds' or something. They didn't even manage to squeeze out any money of this effort, because the old fans had been washed away and who'd want to be a new fan? Part of the blame can perhaps be laid at the feet of producer Gary Katz of Steely Dan fame — what may have been good for Steely Dan, namely, extreme cleanliness and "stiffness" of the sound, compatible with the Dan's exquisite taste in arrangements, only augments the suffocation one experiences from Gouldman and Stewart's late-period musical values. On the other hand, maybe the tables should be turned and perhaps it was actually Katz who saved the album from becoming a complete snoozer. But complete or incomplete, it still hurts my brain so bad that it temporarily shuts down my heart — guaranteeing the usual thumbs down rating.