Friday, 4 July 2008
Review 73) 10cc "Bloody Tourists" (1978)
On which 10cc threaten to collapse the tourism industry with songs about touring, travelling and the underlying message that there’s ‘no place like home’…
Track Listing: Dreadlock Holiday/ You And I/ Take These Chains/ Shock On The Tube(Don’t Want Love)/ Last Night/ The Anonymous Alcoholic// Reds In My Bed/ Lifeline/
Tokyo/ Old Mister Time/ From Rochdale To Ocho Rios/ Everything You Always Wanted To Know About (Exclamation Marks!!!) ( UK and tracklisting) US
'The world is full of other people - take a look around'
‘Write about what you know best’, most artists will tell you, ‘and you’ll be all right because nobody will ever find out how little you know.’ Well 10CC were the exception to that rule for most of the 70s, churning out inventive, wacky and completely unique songs that somehow managed to turn weird and wonderful subject matters into singalong pop-songs, ones that in truth bore nothing to their ‘real’ lives After several years spent telling us that Life Is A Minestrone and made-up stories about jail riots and 19th century nights in Paris, it comes as something of a shock to hear the streak of realism running through much of 10cc’s later work (well, as far as we know these songs don’t relate to any first-hand experience anyway. The band could, after all, have got a time machine and travelled back to see The Last Supper and spent the night with French ladies of the night before zooming ahead a couple of thousand years to star in a horror movie with Vincent Price and then spend the night in a 1970s jail where a breakout involved rubber bullets, but that does seem a tad unlikely even for this band. If any band perfected the art of time travel, though, it was 10cc—there’s something just not quite human about this band and hearing their entire run of albums in one go, its possible to believe that they really do come from the future to teach us some hidden insight into our lives as they are now. Then again, perhaps I’ve just heard Life Is A Minestrone too many times for comfort and its begun to affect my brain—10cc songs can do that, you know). 'Bloody Tourists' is when the shift starts from made-up dramas about movie stars and neanderthal men to songs that are from the heart more than the funny-bone and which finally reveal the depth of emotion only hinted at until now on songs like 'The Things We Do For Love' and 'I'm Not In Love'. 'Tourists' is an album that takes place in the 'real' world for the first time - all of it in fact.
You see 10cc had never really 'stayed' in our world for very long. Their major complaint of their early years was that whenever they toured they never saw anything more than hotels and cars and stadiums and that they never felt they 'connected' with their audience - they were, in essence, tourists passing through these exotic lands ('En Nuit In Paris' is partly a response to this, wondering what the 'real' Paris the band didn't get to see might be like). For this album the band explored that idea a lot more, writing the majority of the album on tour and wondering what life was like for the different people they saw - and for themselves feeling homesick. 'Tourists' isn't strictly a concept album (it's a half-concept the way that all the other 10cc albums are and there are lots of songs that don't fit) but there are a lot of running threads through songs - the different experiences of the Russians ('Reds In My Bed'), Japanese ('Tokyo'), The Caribbean ('Dreadlock Holiday') and, erm, Rochdale ('To Ocho Rios'). In between the band meet colourful characters perhaps spotted from the front rows of the audience: the recovering alcoholic whose fallen off the wagon and ended up dating the bosses' daughter, the local mystic Old Mr Time and a dream about a cute girl met on the subway in some exotic land. Elsewhere we get more 'real' than 10cc have ever been before, with 'Lifeline' and 'For You and I' sweet sentimental songs about everything the band are missing back home during their time on tour. Many of them are also pretty brave and autobiographical compared to traditional 10cc songs (Gouldman’s telephone calls home in 'Lifeline' or Stewart’s hymn to a city he had never seen before in 'Tokyo' – Japan remains 10cc’s biggest market today sop the love affair in the song seems to be mutual). For the first time, too, the band sound a little 'lost' (well, they have lost their 'map' on the front cover after all), the first hint of the undercurrent of shyness and frustration that are going to play a far bigger role in the 10cc story now that those Godley-Creme extroverts have left the band and the Stewart-Gouldman pair has 'proved' they can still make 10cc music with their most aggressive album 'Deceptive Bends'. Like many tourists, 10cc fill these songs full of excitement and wonder at the new sights they see before them and the chance to explore cultures very different to their own – and yet the songs about being cut off from the normal and everyday also makes them sound uncharacteristically weary and tired on occasion. It's an interesting mix, with 'Tourists' every bit as wild as past 10cc albums, but also rather more honest and heartfelt too. 'Bloody Tourists' is a much quieter, humbler album ('For You and I' effectively sticks up for bullies introverts everywhere) which might not be to everyone's tastes but is to mine (most fans don't seem like to this album or the next three at all - without meaning to be rude if you're one of them, you're wrong!)
That's the celebrated theme 'everyone' knows about anyway, but the subtler one is perhaps even more interesting. Until now most 10cc narrators have been loud-mouths who know what they're doing, from Headline Hustlers to Wall Street Shufflers, the joke coming because the people involved actually don't know what they're doing. On 'Bloody Tourists' and to a lesser extent 'Look Hear' 'Ten Out of Ten' and 'Jungle' too we are now getting narrators who quite clearly don't know what they're doing, with a theme of naiveté and bullying that fits in with the idea of innocents abroad (well, partly innocent, sex is another major theme of this record). 'Dreadlock Holiday' is that theme already as the narrator nearly gets mugged on an actually slightly dodgy racist lyric that only comes good when the narrator admits 'don't like Jamaica...I love it-a!' 'For You and I' celebrates a quiet kind of introverted love that other people might laugh at but works out pretty darn well for the couple concerned. 'Break These Chains' wants to be set free. 'Shock On The Tube' is a daydream about the blonde in the seat next door that gets out of control as the narrator falls asleep - this is a man whose only ever a winner in his dreams. 'Last Night' has Graham being shown a good time by a local lass who 'really gave me something to write about' but admits 'I didn't stand a chance'. 'The Anonymous Alcoholic' tries so so very hard to be a winner, being finally goaded into betraying his introvert teetotal self by some so-called mates and who ends up losing his job, his reputation and his self-respect all at once. 'Reds In My Bed' has the whole of Mother Russia lying to and bullying its citizens, the band crying 'let me go home' after their peak behind the iron curtain reveals profound discontent and injustices. 'Old Mr Time' is the ultimate victim of the bullies, who 'looked funny' and dressed worse - but he has the answers to life, the universe and everything if only people could be bothered to listen to him. 'From Rochdale To Ocho Rios' tells the weary story of a singer whose always on tour and just wants to be at home. Finally 'Exclamation Marks' finds Eric's narrator with possibly the same groupie as 'Last Night' getting paranoid as things go wrong and he ends up out of his depth ('Let's go to bed...'cause that's what you want!') 'Shocked' is a word that doesn't turn up in many pop songs (it doesn't rhyme with much except 'rocked' and 'locked' for starters) but it crops up on several of these songs as the 10cc characters, usually so solid and confident in their own worlds, feel out of place and a little insecure. 'Bloody Tourists' may in many ways be the runt of the band's litter, but it knows it and turns that fact into a plus with a sweet, reflective humble tone that you sense is actually much closer to both Eric and Graham's natural styles before the whole 10cc thing took off.
There are other big changes in store on this record than the songs though, including the musician and writing credits. After one of the most unexpected and confusing break-ups in music (Godley and Crème upped sticks in 1975 on the basis that single I’m Mandy, Fly Me was not the direction they wanted to go in – despite the song sharing a Godley co-write and sounding much like the material the pair will go on to do together post-10cc), the band were down to ‘just’ Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman in 1976. I say ‘just’ because these two musicians between them were already a multi-person orchestra, capable of playing any instrument except the drums and they'd already brought in a drummer named Paul Burgess to help them out with that quite successfully on 'Deceptive Bends'. The problem was, two multi-instrumentalists and a drummer do not a band make, especially when you're eager to go out and tour and cement your reputation as one of the top acts of the day. The band could have simply brought in a 'new' Godley-Creme arty set to do the bits people were already saying Eric and Graham couldn't do, but instead went in a very different direction, hiring a bunch of unknown session musicians and local Manchester band members like extra drummer Stuart Tosh, keyboardist Duncan O'Malley and guitarist Rick Fenn. This makes a big difference to the band sound as you can hear on this album's 'sister set' 'Live and Let Live' (recorded on the tour 'Tourists' was written on) which is much tighter and disciplined than the 'old' band sound, but also lacks something of the raw charisma of the original band, as if the original sound has been diluted somewhere too. This is both the making and un-making of this record: the arrangements get ever more technical now the band have the capacity to go out on a limb that bit more and you can tell that this is a band who are all in the same room rather than adding bits like a big jigsaw puzzle ('The Anonymous Alcoholic' and 'Exclamation Marks!!!' especially sport elaborate arrangements even the Godley-Creme era would find difficult). At other times, though, you can't help but feel that the 'original' 10cc would have found a little something extra to go alongside the five minutes of 'For You and I' or the 'Old Mr Time' (which sounds like a song born for the sound effects of old). Still, no 10cc album was ever perfect (though 'Windows In The Jungle' comes close) and knowing 10cc they probably designed 'Tourists' to come long periods of hanging around with nothing much better happening to make the record sound even more like an extended holiday.
The band are even as democratic as any second-line up of a band can ever be and the new voices (especially Rick's and Stuart's) adds new dimension to the 10cc sound. The band get uncharacteristically critical on the anti-Russia-in-the-70s-song 'Reds In My Bed' – courtesy of new percussionist Stuart Tosh, who gives many of these later, sometimes frivolous 10cc albums their moral backbone. Rick contributes 'The Anonymous Alcoholic', which is the most Godley-Creme song on a 10cc album after the pair left the band, with its mixture of boozy revelry, head-hanging guilt and sudden manic switches of gear (if not perhaps the disco solo in the middle). As for the long-term members, Graham Gouldman gets far more vocal cameos than he’s been allowed as late (four compared to his usual two) and workaholic Eric Stewart is on cracking form, providing his most outré rockers and most sensitive ballads in between some of the greatest guitar breaks this under-rated player ever put on record. The new members work well into the new band, too, and indeed 10cc really do sound like a ‘band’ again on these albums, all travelling in roughly the same direction and working to roughly the same ends – arguably 10cc hadn’t been like this since the release of Sheet Music in 1972. The six-piece cover several parts between them (even the brass and violin parts are played by Tony O’Malley or Rick Fenn on impressively accurate-sounding synthesizers) and each instrumental part is meticulously detailed in the comprehensive sleeve-notes, whose sheer scale show just how much effort was pumped into this carefully crafted LP.
The end result is an interesting mixture: an album where not much seems to happen (lots of long slow ballads, lengthy instrumental sections, muted words and characters and longer than average running times) and yet the more you listen and concentrate the more does seem to be happening on this album, with an extra arrangement twist here, instrument there and an intriguing lyrical theme everywhere. 'Bloody Tourists' is by and large a sweet album (when it isn't trying hard to be a raunchy album), heavier on the love songs and the emotion than your average 10cc long-player and perhaps a step back from the comedy. One good sign that an album is bursting with ideas is when it runs overlong and the band just can't decide what to cut out: at 47 minutes 'Tourists' is by some margin the longest 10cc studio record and there’s such little filler on this record that it can easily fit into your hand-luggage. More than anything else, 'Bloody Tourists' might well be 10cc's most 'complete' LP: 'Lifeline' and 'For You And I' are two of the band's strongest ballads, 'Shock On The Tube' and 'Exclamation Marks' fascinating attempts to add a bit of sex into one of the most unsexy bands of the 1970s that largely work, 'Reds In My Bed' adds politics, 'Dreadlock Holiday' and 'Ocho Rios' add the comedy, 'The Anonymous Alcoholic' is this record's art installation, 'Take These Chains' and 'Last Night' appeal to the rockabilly side of the fanbase and 'Tokyo' and 'Old Mr Time' are the band's prog rock soundscapes.
This album doesn't exactly ignore punk (parts of this album are as stripped-down and funky as the band will ever be), but it doesn't exactly worship it either, with a couple of the band's most prog-rock-ish moments on here too. The end result is a lot more natural than 'Deceptive Bends' sounds all these years on, a little bit less desperate and a little happier in its own skin, despite the humble and understated tales of the narrators making mistakes and getting things wrong. A big seller at the time, now unfairly relegated to second-hand bargain bins and charity shops, Bloody Tourists is one of the 10cc’s more rewarding albums; great fun but undeniably deep, catchy yet adventurous and autobiographical without getting too sulky. It's a valuable travelling companion and a reminder that the real world can be every bit as wacky and outrageous as anyone's imagination. Sadly it's also the last hurrah for 10cc as a 'mainstream' band rather than a cult with a loyal fanbase, as Eric Stewart is about to find out in the worst possible way how crazy real life can be, suffering a major car crash early in 1979 that nearly kills him and makes him re-think his life. Suddenly this album's chants of 'don't want love' will get turned on their head and - after a false start with 'Look Hear', which tries a little too hard to act as a sequel to this album with no real understanding of just why it was different to the 10cc records that came before it - 10cc will pretty much pack away the jokebooks for good and get out the hanky-boxes instead. But then, that's the sign of a really good holiday: 'Bloody Tourists' isn't just a collection of holiday photo snaps but the realisation that the world back home will never be seen through the same eyes again after experiences of muggings, sight-seeing, loneliness, one-night stands and homesickness. 'Tourists' isn't just a better album than it's all too often given credit for, it's a better one too.
For You and I is more of a natural successor to 10cc’s work throughout the 70s. This song cleverly shows off the two sides of the band, starting off as a dreamy ballad swamped by synthesizer strings and turning into an all-out guitar-bass-drums pop-rocker on the chorus. Stewart’s tune is winningly inventive and moving, switching naturally between the minor and major keys of the two parts, but it’s his and Gouldmann’s lyrics that bring the song near classic status. An unusual philosophical discourse about the differences between people and how we judge others based on our own criteria, rather than judging them by theirs, the pop structure prevents this rather wordy song getting too clever for itself (and nicely fits this album’s themes of different countries and different cultures). Listen out too for some typically clever 10cc wordplay in amongst all this angst, which is easy to miss first time around: ‘She may not be beautiful but don’t make it plain’ sings Stewart in the second verse, urging his narrator to understand his girlfriend’s fears and insecurities, which seem silly to him when he knows how real his love is for her. The best bit of the song is probably the moog solo which suddenly appears out of nowhere in the song’s second half, which taps into the song’s hidden melancholy and does its best to sound like the tears welling up in the girlfriend’s eyes. A forgotten highlight of the record, For You And I is a good example of how 10cc – long dismissed by critics as being poppy and frivolous – were perhaps the most moving and quietly serious of Britain’s ‘comedy’ bands.
Take These Chains, meanwhile, is far more simple. Many Eric Stewart songs of this period enjoy something of a 1950s rockabilly revival flavour – and sadly a lot of them are feebly derivative, it has to be said, but not here. From its classy distorted guitar opening, to it’s catchy riff and its effortless sweep through more traditional rock chord sequences than a Chuck Berry compilation, this song is perfectly in the spirit of classic rock and roll, while adding some typically 10cc twists. The ‘silly backing vocals’ (Gouldmann and Fenn at their deepest ‘mr bassman’ style) make it clear that Take These Chains is meant to be taken as a comedy record and yet like many a 10cc comedy record there’s something deeper going on in these lyrics too. The middle eight, which seems to sweep in from a different song altogether, tells us ‘Then I fell in love with you, you found me when no one wanted me” and adds a touch of poignancy to the narrator’s cries that he wants to love again. Coming in at just a little over two minutes, Take These Chains is a classy display of all the good bits of rock and roll diluted to their essence.
Shock On The Tube is the first of this album’s truly 10cc-like off-the-wall songs that could never have been recorded by any other band and one of their best efforts in this wacky style. Like many of the other songs on this album, it starts off innocently enough with dreamy synthesizer vocals (the band’s only true return to this device post-I’m Not In Love) as the narrator day-dreams on a train about the pretty girl sitting opposite him. Dispensing with this arrangement for the rest of the song, the band revert to their loudest and rockiest setting, as the narrator’s imagination works overtime and he imagines himself being seduced in a train tunnel. Stewart’s barking vocal is delicious – I bet his tonsils hurt after recording it, so deliciously OTT does he go in places – as his narrator gets more and more outlandish in what is, as the song’s denouement tells us, only his imagination getting the better of him. The song is taken at such a fast clip that it passes through more key changes than a Virgin Rail train stops for repairs and Stewart’s wild and decidedly out-of-control guitar solo is the perfect accompaniment. The song also fits this album’s underused transportation theme and might change the way you see railway journeys forever.
Last Night is the third rocky song in a row, but this time it’s Gouldmann’s turn to add his slant on 50s rock and roll. Initially less intense than either of the last two tracks, this song somehow manages to be light and fluffy and dark and brooding all at the same time. The narrator is definitely having fun – just check out the lovely, gulping riff that drives the song – but as the lyrics make clear, this is a casual fling quickly forgotten and the narrator would rather be enjoying the same intimacy with his life-long partner. The ‘feeling’ in this song changes subtly halfway through, as the narrator weighs up whether to tell his wife or not, admitting that the pair live on automatic pilot in and have trapped themselves, ‘inmates in a human zoo’ keeping up appearances for the sake of friends. The depth of this song is easy to pass you by, however, so dramatic and bouncy is the backing track which finds the new-look 10cc at their ‘band’ inter-playing best.
Anonymous Alcoholic rounds off side one and it’s probably the most off-the-wall track here, sounding more like one of Godley and Crème’s duo albums than late-period 10cc. Rick Fenn’s deep-soul voice ushers in a tale of a drunken office worker seducing the bosses’ wife at a party and losing his job along with his inhibitions. The narrator rather fails to earns our sympathies (he joined in the party simply because everyone else was and he didn’t want to be left out - despite knowing his problems with drink in the past ) and despite his witty observations this track rather falls apart because the audience simple doesn’t have any reason to care about the narrator all that much. The rather contrived bookending verses grate a bit (10cc sound rather unsuited to this slow blues dirge, however well it reflects the narrator’s throbbing hangover at the end of the song), but the frenetic middle part (representing the firm’s ‘disco’ party) is - ironically perhaps, given the faux music that fills up most dance-floors - the hardest-rocking that 10cc ever got. Criss-crossing guitar parts dancing through your speakers, Stewart is back at his rocking vocal best and the surprise appearance of the ‘Rick Fenn Dorking Horns’ (actually a strangely-accurate sounding synthesizer) make for one hell of a party, never mind what’s happening in the corner with the worker and the boss’ wife. A great advert for bringing back prohibition, it’s rather a shame to see the narrator of this track failing to learn from his mistakes and reaching out for the bottle to drown his sorrows at the end of the song. This is also one of the few songs on this album not related to the general ‘touring/traveling/cultures’ theme, unless of course you count drinking as an integral part of Western culture. Alas, most people do these days despite the warnings of songs like this one.
Side two gets a lot more serious with Reds In My Bed, a catchy, hummable song from percussionist Stuart Tosh about the cold war which - depending how you read it - could either be criticising or extending a hand of friendship to Russia by showing how both West and East have similar faults. Its probably a bit of both but, whichever way you hear it, this song’s simple yearning chorus is one of the band’s prettier moments and the counter-melody from Eric listing the oppressiveness of Russia whilst Tosh’s lead vocal pleads for escape is a touch of class. The song also successfully returns us to the ‘touring’ theme, with the narrator only too pleased to be going back home at the end of the song, having had his eyes opened to a completely new way of living – he just wishes that he could take all of his new friends back with him too. The song is not actually about communism as such, despite the title – the ‘reds’ in the narrator’s ‘bed’ are poverty stricken and have nowhere else to go, but this is as damning as the song gets and is obviously going for the humanity aspects of soviet Russia than a political argument. Tosh’s vocal, while not as technically adept as Gouldmann’s or Stewart’s, is still mighty impressive, sharing something of his fellow band-mates’ sunny-smile-through-gritted teeth styles and it’s nice to have a new vocal sound breaking up the album. This song also features one of the better group performances on the record, especially the military-style drumming which makes the song sound all the more sinister given the lyrics about ‘wanting to be free’ - although some musical touches are curious at best: why is there an electronic ‘ping’ midway through the instrumental, which sounds like a Dr Who alien’s alarm clock going off? (Or is this morse code for ‘there’s reds in my bed – get me out of here?!)
Lifeline is Graham’s turn to shine on a surprisingly heartfelt song about being away from home and cut off from loved ones. The narrator of this song can only contact with his family by telephone and spends his days waiting for his next opportunity to call home – indeed, so universal is this song that it could serve as the national anthem of touring band members! A lovely acoustic opening soon gives way to an irritating cod-reggae middle and you think the band have ruined the song but no – in comes Graham with a screaming middle eight that makes the song beautiful all over again. The middle section’s lyrics are confusing too – what would the narrator’s ‘talking in his sleep’ let on that he doesn’t want to be heard? Or is he ashamed to be to be so homesick in front of his colleagues? Odd. It’s nice to hear Gouldmann’s vocals solo for once (he’s usually double-tracked or singing in partnership with Stewart) and his fragile voice is well suited to this wistful track. Tightly poised between frivolous fun and uncomfortable honesty, Lifeline is another typically brilliant 10cc song of the period and another highlight of this LP.
Old Mister Time is similar in style and form, but inverted – this time it’s an angry song not about the unity of mankind but his divisiveness. The song centres around the title character, an eccentric who is shunned by the masses for his appearance and personality, but who was really sent to save us and find the answer to life’s problems – only no one was listening. Ah, shame, I could have done with hearing what he had to say, he sounded like a nice fella. Stewart builds up to a rare froth of anger on this plodding song and his fiery guitar solo is another of his best, but this song struggles to become the epic it tries so hard to be. Several touches of arranging genius still lift it out of the doldrums, however – the cymbals sounding like a ticking clock at the end of Mr Time’s furious rebuttals and Fenn’s returning synthesizer horns are clever stuff indeed.
From Rochdale To Ocho Rios comes next and it lightens the mood a bit too much for comfort, although like Lifeline the song is salvaged by an honest, heartfelt middle section which debates the merits of telling the truth and burying your head in the sand (there’s even a broken telephone lying in the corner of the hotel room, signifying how cut off the narrator is from loved ones once again). Graham gets the chance to introduce himself on stage for a rocking interjection towards the end of the song, emphasising that the band really are singing about themselves here. Thanks to Stewart’s barnstorming vocal and guitar-work, this brief middle section is by far the best part of the song, showing all of the inspiration of the band members on stage – sadly, the rest of the song is all too successful at summing up the heavy boredom of band members hanging around between shows. Not many songs get to flow from pop to heavy rock to a Caribbean lilting solo like this song does – but nor, you think to yourself after finally getting to the end of this interminable song, would you want them to. Odd, even for 10cc, this track is by far the weakest on the album.
Exclamation Marks makes for a thrilling end, though, another of Eric’s rocking, slightly edgy songs concerning a burgeoning romance. The naïve innocent dragged under by a knowing woman makes for an extremely dramatic conclusion to the LP (even if it is strangely the second side-closer to make no reference to the album’s other themes which run throughout the rest of the album) and the band pull out all the stops on this one; synthesizers, band choruses, squealing guitar solos, I swear I heard a kitchen sink in there somewhere too. The stop-start rhythms of the songs are driven on by O’Malley’s boogie woogie piano lick and Stewart’s own squealing guitar and make Exclamation Marks sound like a great song to perform. There’s also a moral in there somewhere, in true 10cc style (like Shock On The Tube the narrator dreams of a certain girl falling in love with him – but doesn’t know what to do when she says yes and is rather embarrassed by his lack of experience compared to hers). Like much of this album, the narrator does his best to hide his feelings of growing panic but lets down his guard on the glorious middle eight where his romantic side comes out and –second time around – allows him to ride out the song on a blissful wave of tenderness. A clever, multi-layered song by a multi-layered band, the ground covered by this one song alone is ridiculous!
So, fully deserving its license to travel, Bloody Tourists is a terrific journey even if it seems to have found a one-way ticket to obscurity these days. More than any other 10cc record, this one finds a great balance between the band’s frivolous but funny early albums and the deep but moody later ones (more on those coming up soon on the list…). Well worth tracking down in secondhand shops from
Rochdale to Ocho Rios and beyond, this is 10cc at their catchy, colourful best. Wish you were here? You bet!