10CC: SHEET MUSIC (1974)
1) Wall Street Shuffle; 2) The Worst Band In The World; 3) Hotel; 4) Old Wild Men; 5) Clockwork Creep; 6) Silly Love; 7) Somewhere In Hollywood; 8) Baron Samedi; 9) The Sacro-Liliac; 10) Oh Effendi; 11) Waterfall.
The jump from 10cc's first album to their second one is, in all fairness, enormous. 10cc was basically a set of weird pop songs. Sheet Music is, on the contrary, a set of pop-tinged weirdnesses. Not that it's atonal or anything — it is easily their most melodic album ever, simply because there's an average total of five or six different melodies per song... sometimes per twenty seconds of it, too. "Never A Dull Moment" — what is this title doing on a Rod Stewart record?
I have heard criticism that tended to basically just write off 10cc from this moment as a pack of goofballs. However, if anything, Sheet Music is even more lyrically focused and biting than 10cc. No matter how "goofy" the actual songs might be, most of them carry a message: tearing apart the capitalist world on 'Wall Street Shuffle', acidly self-ironizing on 'The Worst Band In The World', ridiculing lyrical cliches of popular music on 'Silly Love', butt-kicking oil-pumping sheiks on 'Oh Effendi', and even stopping on the way to take the time for a tender lovin' tribute to the silver screen — 'Somewhere In Hollywood' is almost like a more sophisticated response to the Kinks' 'Celluloid Heroes', released two years earlier. All of this makes perfect sense, regardless of the oddness of the form it has been presented in.
Predictably, my own favourites are those where the melodies go on just a little bit longer, or at least have a memorable central theme to them. For instance, the wall-rattling opening riff on 'Wall Street Shuffle' that is even more of a threat to Wall Street than the lyrics themselves ('Bet you'd sell your mother/You can buy another') — this is instantly classic. So is the mock-metallic thump of 'Silly Love' that, of course, dissolves fairly quickly into attractive pop fare ('hey toots, you put the life into living, you brought the sigh out of sight') and ends up formulating the band's main principle: 'take up your own time, make up your own rhyme, don't rely on mine — 'cause it's SILLY!'
These two songs that bookmark Side A are the obvious highlights, but the whole record brims with such boundless, boiling energy that it never lets go even when it doesn't let you memorize it too easily. Only once do they take a short breather, on the Gizmo-dominated soft ballad 'Old Wild Men', but it turns out to be the album's lowlight, because their incessant shuffle of patterns really only works when it's backed up with plenty of adrenaline; otherwise, it's just boring.
Of course, it goes without saying that the amount of genre territory covered is quite spectacular. Completely dropping their penchant for doo-wop, they instead proceed to deconstruct calypso ('Hotel'), Haitian tribal-voodoo stuff ('Baron Samedi'), prog rock ('Somewhere In Hollywood'), folk balladry ('Waterfall') and... uh, whatever 'Sacro-Liliac' is supposed to deconstruct. And if these songs won't struck you as magnificently planned compositions, most of them are at least guaranteed to give you a good laugh (except 'Waterfall', which seems to take itself rather seriously — but I don't mind, given how pretty the guitar and the singing are).
Not only that, but they really master all these genres: the pompous, ominous introduction to 'Somewhere In Hollywood' could easily fit on any second generation prog band record, and the percussion on 'Baron Samedi' could make you swear Kevin Godley must have spent his childhood drifting around the Caribbean instead of around the boroughs of Great Manchester. It's only when they start combining the uncombinable — for instance, bringing in a lumbering hard rock middle eight for 'Baron Samedi' — that you feel you're living in a post-authentic world after all.
Needless to say, the brain wins the race here with a solid gold thumbs up, praising the record for its phenomenal inventiveness. But it should be known that, after several listens, the heart is well on the way to catch up with the brain, and if you haven't grooved along to 'Silly Love' at least once in your life, you've all but missed out on the art of intellectual headbanging, and I feel great overwhelming pity for you.
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