Monday, 21 September 2015
10cc "...Meanwhile..." (1992)
Woman In Love/Wonderland/Fill Her Up/Something Special/Welcome To Paradise/The Stars Didn't Show/Green-Eyed Monster/Charity Begins At Home/Shine A Light In The Dark/Don't Break The Promises
"A band should stand upon its own two feet because the taste of bitter is bittersweet"
There are several reasons to make an album: a desire to tell the world something it doesn't already know, to speak out for a suppressed minority that doesn't have its own voice, to educate and inform and rally against injustice, to move people with your own emotional experience and hope that they can understand and identify with your own experiences and learn something about themselves, to put out a series of crafted songs full of beautiful melodies that you know will bring fulfilment and enjoyment to your fans, to work through a problem in a way to help you understand it or simply to create an album your fans can dance to. All the AAA bands have done all of these and more (often more than one). 10cc are a great example of a band who released music that appealed to them and which they felt they had to release even when their audiences didn't understand them (often gleefully confusing them in the case of Godley and Creme'). 'Meanwhile', meanwhile, was made because the record company said so.
The conversation would have running something the lines of this: 'Hey Eric and Graham it's the big boss at Polydor here. How you doin'? No sorry we haven't spoken since 1983 but, hey, you guys weren't shifting vinyl back then were you? I mean, all those deep and powerful songs about what life really means - not #1 material is it?! Anyway I've had a look at the sales figures for the past year and you remember that cheapo compilation 'Changing Faces' we put out a whole back? Yeah you know the one - it looked like the front cover was drawn by a five-year-old with the shakes and the title that had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with your band at all. Anyway, it's sold like hot cakes or minestrone soup tins or rubber bullets or whatever weird stuff you guys are into these days! So I was thinking - gets your guys together with my guys and we'll make another record! No, not like that emotionally integral stuff you were doing at the end - I can't sell that now can I? This is the empty 1990s for crying out loud where everything's recycled and nobody cares about integrity anymore (I know the Spice Girls aren't around quite yet, but I can feel them just around the corner). And don't use that distinctive layers 70s sound you used to use on all your old albums, even though its the first thing that your fans will associate with you. I want a modern yet strangely old fashioned sound - dated somewhere around the late 1980s I should say. I've even lined up a new producer to work with you guys: Gary Katz! No, no I said 'Katz'. You must know him: his work with Steely Dan is exactly what I want you guys to sound like, even though you have absolutely nothing whatsoever in common with Steely Dan. Nah, don't worry, it'll be great. Oh and how about Giving Kev and Lol a call? Not speaking? Tough - this is a business, right, I want them involved or else - nut not fully, yeah, just so I can put their names on the cover and the marketing work. Yeah and guys don't bother bringing your instruments to the studio ok? I've lined up a power group of sessions musicians to help you give that special distinctive edge - yeah you'll know the names, they play with absolutely everybody (that's why the top 40 always sounds the same!) We're gonna shift millions!!!! Unless of course we decide to shift round everybody in the company just on the eve of release so that the three-quarters of a million we spent making this album won't make a penny because the advertising budget can be done on a shoe-string. What can possibly go wrong?'
'Meanwhile' is one of those AAA albums that should have been so good, but fails in nearly every single way. Nine years after 'Windows In The Jungle' - one of the band's greatest albums of all however much it was ignored at the time - had promised much and interim stints with Wax (Graham Gouldmann) and Paul McCartney (Eric Stewart) should have brought a wiser yet hungrier duo back into contact with each other. The long awaited reunion with Godley and Creme was a cause for celebration amongst fans who never though their four heroes would ever work together again (they'd met up during promotion for 'Changing Faces' and laid a few demons to rest), but it was wasted by the curious decision to have Lol sing near-inaudible backing vocals on the lesser half of the album and to have Kevin appear on just the one song, 'The Stars Didn't Show', which was way out of his usual range and style (Eric sang it much better in concert; almost any other track would have suited him more). The producer was entirely the wrong choice for the group: Katz didn't understand them, didn't like them and couldn't understand the slight hint of bitterness still underlying all four band members who still had so much emotion against each other they'd never expressed, made worse not better by relative years in the wilderness for all of them. The performances and production are impeccable (even if they sounded curiously old-fashioned even in 1992 and sound all but unlistenable now; all squeaky clean synths and wide open spaces) but they don't belong on a 10cc record, which fails to recall the quirky genius of the early years or the emotional outpouring of the later ones. 'Meanwhile' sounds like 10cc might have done without the humour or the courage or the production values or even the ideas (only one of the songs comes close to old classic days). What should have been a major hit and the long awaited return for a band that would so have enjoyed matching the 1990s craze for nostalgia and humour becomes an unfunny one-off that could have been made by any generic band with half a talent. Though not the worst AAA album by any means (sequel 'Mirror Mirror' might even be worse than this), 'Meanwhile' is one of the biggest shames we'll cover on this site, because it's a reunion that had so much potential and so many good ideas that got lost. Ironically for an album that contains songs titled both 'Wonderland' and 'Welcome To Paradise', this album is more like being trapped in a hell where the Spice Girls are always on the radio and George Bush and David Cameron are in power for all eternity.
My biggest problem with the album isn't what everyone else always says: that the production ruined what might have been a promising record (although it did - the demos from this era that have seen the light of day have much more life about them than this sorry shambles) or that the album seems to have re-opened all the old wounds from the 1980s that had been healing nicely in absence (although it did that too - Eric actually left the record near the end, leaving Graham to finish off on his own). Production is the 'clothes' an album wears and while it has an impact on how the album is treated I'm much more interested in the songs underneath; similarly 10cc had been going their separate ways since the day they met - and sometimes creative friction makes for a good album, even if it doesn't in this instance. No, my problem is the songs. Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldmann wrote some of the best songs of the 1970s together and some of the best songs of the 1980s apart. Putting them back together again ought to be like combining the best of 'Wax' with the best of 'Press To Play' - the album Eric co-write with Paul McCartney which is one of the most severely under-rated AAA albums of them all (the two found a lot of common interests and brought out sides in each other's writing they'd never heard before - before the collaboration ended on a sour note when Eric thought he'd be able to engineer the album the way he always had with 10cc and Paul did things 'his' way; this album's closer 'Don't Break The Promises' is an outtake from those sessions). Instead we get the sort of thing fans would be insulted to hear a tribute band come up with: bland cod reggae that sounds a little (but not too much) like 'Dreadlock Holiday', aching ballads that sound loosely (but nowhere near as good as 'I'm Not In Love') and lots of middling mid-paced pop songs that are too slow to be interesting and too fast to be pretty. There are times on this album when you check the album in vain, wondering if the band have brought in session writers to go with the session musicians, but no - all songs contain credits to Stewart and Gouldmann.
Worse yet, many of the lyrics are a little...shall we say...means-spirited. While 10cc don't tend to be the AAA artists I turn to first when I want a warm aural hug, it's also fair to say that their early years of comedic brilliance wouldn't have been anything like as funny if we hadn't have invested our emotions in the characters in these songs. Much as we laugh at 'The Dean and I', 'The Hospital Song' or 'Une Nuit In Paris' (while getting cross on 'Wall Street Shuffle' and melancholy on 'Ten Out Of Ten' and 'Windows In The Jungle') we know that somewhere deep down the writers care about their imaginary worlds and what happens to the people in them, which is often so close to what happens to them or their fans. 'Meanwhile', though, just sounds like moaning. Though there's a serious point hidden away in 'Charity Begins At Home' (not all money given to charity goes to good causes - a lot of it is just admin and they're run as a business) the message gets garbled so that we end up with a song that tells us to keep our hands in our pockets and not care about anyone else. 'Something Special' opens with a man 'robbing coins from the poor box' in order to pay for his materialistic 'baby' who should know better (in the past 10cc bandits would have got a comeuppance, but not here - an admission that it's a 'risky business' is the closest the narrator comes to guilt). 'The Night That The Stars Didn't Show' tries hard to be a tribute song to fallen comrades who died too young - but at times it sounds like Elvis and co are being ticked off for not taking care of themselves properly, carrying a 'curse' to which the narrator's emotional response is not to turn up to rehearsal that day. Which is a shame because most fallen musicians would probably want you to carry on anyway. Even the seemingly innocent songs aren't quite as clean-cut as they appear: 'Woman In Love' eyes up a sexy and calls her 'the dish of the day' - nowhere does the narrator care once for her feelings or ask her if she's single; 'Wonderland' is about being famous enough to 'get a smile just for turning up', which may be truthful but its no very inspirational; 'Fill Her Up' makes putting petrol in a car while standing next to another sexy young thing sound like an outtake from a 'Carry On Petrol Pump' film that never got made (because it would have been too risque even for them) and a million miles away from the generally more sophisticated 10cc humour; 'Welcome To Paradise' is set during a coup in an island nation, an uprising by the poor against their masters, but that's not what the song is 'about' - the narrators are oblivious to the people around them as they bill and coo and enjoy a 'paradise' that for the locals is anything but; 'Green Eyed Monster' is the most paranoid 10cc song ever, a jealous narrator who interrogates every innocent party who calls round to see his girl and who, unlike past 10cc characters, doesn't get his comeuppance either; only 'Shine A Light In The Dark' offers any kindness or sign of friendship or 'hope' - so no surprise it's the only song here that really 'works' the way a great 10cc song should. I'm all for darkness in 10cc material - this album's precursor (before a nine year gap) 'Windows In The Jungle' is a glorious example of what the band should have been doing, with the comedy now darker and used as a covering for a vulnerable heart trapped in a world of darkness and bitterness, allowing the characters to get through any weary stupefying day whilst taking pot-shots at those who deserved it. But on 'Meanwhile' no justice is meted out, the narrators are more often than not the cause of the problems and never seem to quite realise the fact, while there's very little 'heart' on this record. Keep your hands in your pockets and leave this 10cc album alone!
There are, however, small positives dotted across this album which might not quite make up for the one big negative of the petty-mindedness of many of the songs but does at least rise this album above true AAA nadirs (albums like Paul McCartney's 'Chaos and Creation In The Back Yard', The Hollies' 'Staying Power', Neil Young's 'Greendale' and The Moody Blues' 'Keys To The Kingdom' about which there are very little positives to take at all). I love the fact that Kevin and Lol are here to join the party, as under-used as they are. The offer by the pair's writers to give Godley the song 'The Stars Didn't Show' (one of the better songs on the album, perfectly suited to Eric's golden voice) is a sweet gesture: it is, after all, a song about how so few bands get the chance to patch things up and become friends again, so their heart is in the right place even if the lyrics aren't. Lol too sounds mighty good the few times you can actually hear him: his wicked acerbic falsetto on 'Welcome To Paradise' is what's been missing from every other cheap 10cc remake of 'Dreadlock Holiday' and goes surprisingly well with reggae. Eric's stinging guitar on 'Woman In Love' which has lost none of it's power or pizzazz. The opening tease on 'Woman In Love' that the band have been playing ever since the last album ended and that we're only now interrupting them, before the band go back to being 'normal' and the song goes back to being 'bland'. The moody menace and sultry sneer of 'Wonderland' which is anything but. The catchy melody of 'Welcome To Paradise', which might have made for a great rock song if sadly it makes for a patchy reggae one. The slight sense of fear in 'Green Eyed Monster' where Graham at last gets something to do and starts shouting past Eric's more laidback lead, as if the narrator is turning schizophrenic in front of our ears, driven to madness by jealousy and fear of his girl leaving him (though a lyric that even vaguely wonders what she must be feeling would have made for a much more powerful song). 'Don't Break The Promises' has the best lyric on the album, struggling to find a way back into a relationship after a stormy period (a highly apt one, even if it was written with an entirely different record in mind and the song lacks the playfulness or beauty of Eric's other McCartney collaborations on 'Press To Play'). And finally 'Shine A Light In The Dark' is the one moment where everything comes together, a lost and lonely Eric actually singing as he means it as he reaches out a hand in the darkness and promises to always do the same. There isn't enough worth here to make this album good or even average by 10cc standards, but there's enough to make you wish that a different production had been used so that we could have heard the better parts of this record live and breathe instead of being smothered.
Ultimately, though, 'Meanwhile' turned out to be a price not worth paying. Though on paper the album didn't appear to do that much harm to the band - they'll be back with another reunion album in three years later - actually the effect was catastrophic ('Mirror Mirror' was recorded purely for money and to see out the end of a contract, with Eric and Graham recording in entirely different sessions). Eric and Graham were never as close again, and while meetings with Kevin and Lol were welcomed, the fact that these two former bosom buddies weren't getting on either and had to appear on separate tracks made life that much harder. Those who there at the sessions (with Graham talking at the most length) remember that this wasn't a hideous album to make, with lots of fiery rows and temper tantrums, but it was a very difficult and stressful album, with the pair of them finding their usual creative control kept being taken away from them and given to people who just didn't understand them and how they worked. Polite and 'English' to the end, everyone was too upset to say anything, though everyone accepted that the album 'hadn't worked' by the time it was in the shops. Had the core pair come up with better songs, or been allowed to re-hire old friends like Rick Fenn and Paul Burgess, or been given a producer more in line with their thinking, or just come to this record in a slightly better mood it might have reminded the world just what a great and talented and unique band 10cc were and how much they deserved to be back in our lives in a modern culture that relied more than ever on their fast-cutting energy and quirky satirical ideas and complex hugeness. Instead we get an under-par writing partnership that still resents being made to work together, trapped inside a studio with people they didn't know and who didn't understand them, with a producer trying to make an entirely different album, accommodating old friends who'd never quite forgiven or been forgiven for a split fifteen years earlier. We've loved this band for better. We've sometimes loved this band for worse. But on this record, for the first time, the 10cc skyline was as black as night with very few stars twinkling in the sky (mirrored, strangely enough, by the moody back cover; the front is even more confusing and made up of 'mug shots' from French criminals from the early 20th century, the lad top left looking not unlike 10cc's own Graham Gouldmann in his youth, sticky-out hair and all; a fan rumour went round that the older chap top right was Hymas Gouldmann, Graham's Grandad credited as 'Hyme the Rhyme' in the sweet album dedication on the record's back sleeve, but actually it's another anonymous French mug shot. Not withstanding the fact that there's more than a few 'criminals' in these characters an actual 'clue' as to who these people were on the packaging would have been helpful - and why is the cameraman so keen on close ups of their ears?!)
'Woman In Love' sums up the problems with the album quite well. It's not that the track is bad, more that it seems to ignore the better elements of the song (the moody riff that hangs in the air like an executioner's sword, the massed harmonies and the epic drama of the opening thirty seconds sighing 'I don't know why but it's the way of the world') and instead switches into a generic 80s (even in the 90s) empty noisy song about the narrator having a night out on the town. Sadly there's no sense of irony or regret or unexpected twists about this the way there is on similar songs from 'Bloody Tourists' to 'Windows' - this is a girl being treated like a piece of meat, the 'dish of the day' in the narrator's daydreams. Eric's guitar adds a welcome crunch and a sense of life badly missing from the anonymous backing and Eric and Graham singing together in harmony still makes for a special harmony sound, but instead of doing the sensible thing and putting all this upfront the loudest aspect of this song is the booming soulless drum part (so unlike Jeff Porcoro's normal work) and a lazy synth part that doesn't anything except sit there as a great noise over the whole thing. The lyrics are similarly mixed; in typical 10cc style we get lines like 'this chemistry you'll never find in a book' and the word 'ectochrome' ('no ectochrome's gonna capture this look') that surely no other band would think to use (and isn't even a word that exists - Eric may have intended 'Ektochrome', which is a range of transparent film from photo experts Kodochrome, who as the AAA Paul Simon readers among you will know insist on including a copyright symbol whenever one of their products is used in something 'arty'). However we also get a lot of bland 'filler' - we 'get' the fact that the narrator is in love and obsessed by the first verse so by the fourth it's all a bit trying. There's also the curious statement in the curious that this is a 'woman in love' with no explanation given - is she in love with the narrator (even though they never seem to even speak during the course of the song, with him admiring her from a distance) or with someone the narrator knows which is making him feel jealous? What could have been a clever riff on 'I'm Not In Love' ('I tell you she's oh so deeply in love with me she's obsessed, but I couldn't care either way - I just stalk her because we happen to be going to the same places, honest!') ends up becoming a bit muddled and unclear. Sometimes that doesn't matter if the basic song is strong enough to be enjoyable in its own right, but as we've seen 'Woman In Love' is slightly stodgy in that area too, with a curious riff that sinks when it should soar and pulls in its talons at just the time is should pounce. Like much of the album, the ingredients are all here but it's simply not working.
'Wonderland' is a little better in that it does sound like 10cc from the vintage era of the late 1970s, with possibly the best use ever of the reggae shuffle, here used not to indiviate happiness or holidays or sunshine but a slight sense of encrouching darkness in a world that used to be perfect. It's great to hear Lol back on the harmonies and of his five contributions to the album this is the best place to hear him and he's perfect casting - a higher harmony that's so pure and yet still not quite 'right'. The name 'Wonderland' is clearly a misnomer - that's what everybody around Eric's innocent naive in the big city keeps telling him life is, but that 'special substance, so good for you' just feels here as if it's going to have a payback sooner or later. The mournful middle eight, with the narrator lying in the sun when he should be working and most of his talents is particularly mournful, with an older wiser Eric declaring that 'these are the golden years - and they won't be coming back round again'. 10cc often sounded at their best when they were playing with contrasts and the idea of a song telling us one thing at face value and quite another between the lines is especially well handled. I just wish that there was a little extra...something here, as the song sticks rigidly to it's opening life for almost the entire five minutes, with the middle eight only ever so slightly out of line with the rest. To be fair this also works quite well, with the sense that the narrator is slowly being moved down a conveyor belt into one of those silent movie threshing machines, powerless to help himself because nobody else even notices that anything is wrong. However 'Wonderland' still comes over as a slightly boring track when underneath it all it's anything but! A relative album highlight.
'Fill Her Up' is 'Shock On The Tube (Don't Want Love)' from 'Bloody Tourists' but with a more patronising lyric and a far more clichéd chorus. A retro 1950s song perfomed on suspiciously 80s sounding technology, it's a waste of the rather fine Eric Stewart lead vocal going on over the top. The lyric is...unfortunate. The hint of the first verse is that the narrator's loved one has an eating disorder and is obsessed with the gym in changing her body shape. Though Eric's narrator cares enough to call Jane Fonda - a symbol of how every woman thinks she needs to be - a 'silly bitch', he offers no word of comfort or re-assurance. Instead we get a nursery rhyme chorus where he tries to 'fill her up' with the calories she's burnt up/thrown up, which probably does less good than taking her to a doctor or telling her she's gorgeous in any shape. A second verse then makes things worse, with a boozy Eric stuffing a bottle of alcohol down her tee-total throat, 'knocking her off her soapbox' as he tries to make caring her more like careless him. To be fair 10cc songs are rarely what they seem like on the surface and this wouldn't be the first time the band have given us an unlikeable uncaring narrator who doesn't seem to understand he's the villain. However, perhaps because of the gormless backing, there's no wink here - no nod of the head to the listeners that the narrator is actually evil and that this isn't how we should all be acting towards our own spouses; indeed, this is one of the few times across the album when Eric sings like he really means it. 'Leave behind your scruples and I'll take you to the edge' he coos in his best rockstar voice - it all sounds a little too convincing for comfort. Together with the regrettably faceless music (which only comes alive on the sarcastic yet pure harmonies 'no more moaning minnies...') it's one of the lesser 10cc compositions and performances in their canon.
'Something Special' tries hard to be one of those golden 10cc ballads from yesteryear with Eric at his most romantic. However unfortunately this relationship comes with some unwelcome guests, such as an ugly tack piano and more noisy soulless drums. These lyrics too aren't as cosy as they seem on the first few hearings where all that sticks on your head is the narrator's promise to take his girl to 'heaven' tonight. For the girl is using him badly - she demands more and more in the ways of expensive trinkets and he's resorted to crime to pay for them. Similar to the Grateful Dead's 'Dupree Diamond Blues' from 1969, the narrator knows he's doing wrong and wants to stop but he's too in love to stop, the irony in both songs being that it's her who should be in prison for snaring him in her trap (you just know she's going to get a new boyfriend the second he gets caught; is that what happens at the end with the moody vocal harmonies coming into play?) The narrator ought to be a victm we can really empathise with, but he doesn't help himself - he steals not from clumsy millionaires who don't even count their fat pay-cheques but 'from the poor box'. 'It's risky business, but it makes her sing' sighs Eric, oblivious to the hurt his actions are causing. Graham is right there with him, softening the blows with some dreary 'bum bum' backing vocals straight out of 'Deceptive Bends'. A curious unlovable song that isn't quite different enough to make things work (it just sounds like another generic love ballad until you start paying attention), again only the middle eight ('She's got the power to knock your socks off') makes any imprint. Still it's better than simply copying past hits ad infinitum, erm I think, with a few points for bravery if not for delivery.
'Welcome To Paradise' suffers from the opposite problem: it all sounds great, with a terrific reggae-ish hook and a melody that at last see-saws and drifts in a wonderfully memorable way. The sudden switch from a slightly scared verse to a power-pop chorus that pits everything right is also clever and very 10cc. The 'problem' is that underneath it all there's very little going on and again the attempts to throw in a dangerous element the narrator doesn't even pick up on is a waste of a good idea. The narrator leaves his home slightly worried about his prospects only to find 'paradise' somewhere in the tropics. Alas what he sees as paradise - a beautiful place with friendly people - is actually a hotbed of civil unrest, with 'bad vibrations' and a 'smell of danger' blowing into a full blown 'coup coming on' when Graham interjects in the chorus. The narrator, though, remains oblivious to it all, unable to believe that a place that looks this good could possibly be run through with misery and injustice. Only at the end does the narrator finally get wise, a mournful middle eight reflecting 'I shouldn't have come - why did I come?' However the very end is as confusing and ambiguous as everything else, the narrator too far 'under the spell' of someone (a person or an island?) which sounds as if he still hasn't learnt anything. This song is clearly an attempt to re-write 'Dreadlock Holiday', particularly the last verse where the narrator is robbed in what had till then been a great holiday and there is definitely another song in here to be said about how the narrator is so wrapped in his own tiny world of minor troubles that he misses the outrage and poverty of the locals who would love to swap their lives of tragedy for his (rich tourists and poor locals is always a hotbed of trouble waiting to happen as the recent murders in Tunisia demonstrates). Only this isn't it - somebody somewhere has clearly thought this song should be 'more' like the band's comedy #1 hit rather than an eerie tragic version of it and along the way the core of the song has got lost. Still a great riff, though.
'The Stars Didn't Show' is a little more like it, a heartfelt tribute to 10cc's peers who didn't make it (Eric admitted in concert they were thinking of John Lennon when they wrote it and generally followed the song with a Beatles cover - either 'Across The Universe' or 'Slow Down', unusual selections both - but the lyrics hint more at someone that 'ruined' their own life through excess or suicide rather than a murder or illness). The big news is that Kevin has been enticed back to sing it and, well, he does about a good job as he can on a song that isn't in a range that's comfortable for him and which sounds nothing like the quirky/multi-layered songs he's more used to singing (Eric sounds great singing it on the live versions - Godley should have been given a different song). Still, it's nice to hear all four of the old team together one last time (though Lol's a bit quiet) and this is a song with it's heart in the right place, even if again something strange seems to have happened on its way from idea to final recording. The lyrics starts off sweetly enough, with people coming 'from miles around just to listen to the sound' of whoever this song is in tribute to. Their music 'blew away the darkness', they were 'loved for better or worse' and whose lives were a 'blessing' - so far so what you'd expect. However instead of simply mourning the fact that the show is over or that a great was taken from us too soon, the narrator offers a 'curse' that they're no longer there and seems to be more upset at having to cancel a rehearsal through their misery than that someone they respected and loved has gone too soon. There is a nice middle eight where the narrator makes it clear that music lives on long after the people who made it have gone ('Mountains may crumble and worlds fall apart, lovers and friends may desert me, the road may be long but I know in my heart that your spirit will always be with me'), but it's a bit too little too late. The song could yet have sounded fantastic - Eric turns in some spectacular guitarwork in the solo and on the fadeout and Kevin still sings as if he means it, even if the song isn't a natural fit. 'Stars' also has the clever metaphor of the stars in the sky not showing once a 'star' on earth has died (yes something similar has been used before, but not quite this take on it). The idea that the original band should get back together on this song out of all of them, about wasted opportunities and music outliving rifts is a good one too. But the lacklustre way this song is performed, with a tempo at just the wrong side of interesting both fast and slow, with a repetitive clunk every time we hit the chorus is just so off-putting it takes away from the better elements of the song. Sometimes it really is better to go at your natural time and not make careless reunion albums that hurt your reputation - the release of 'Meanwhile' was a night that the stars didn't show for the fans.
'Green Eyes Monster' is a curious track. It's a song about jealousy that oozes malicious intent, but there's no sense in the song that jealousy is 'wrong' or something to be avoided even though it must make the narrator a right pain to live with. He sees potential rivals everywhere - visitors at the door, strange trips out to places that can't possibly be innocent (like the landromat with a basket full of clothes that have the audacity to come back clean!) and random phone calls where no one ever speaks (I get those all the time - they're probably irate Spice Girls fans who wonder why I keep being rude about them). The narrator is beside himself with worry, which reveals itself in another of the album's delightful middle eights ('The more I get to know I find out how much I don't know') where we actually feel sorry for the narrator, reflecting on how his heart burns with so much passion but his wife is icy cold. However for the most part of the song he's just another of this album's unlikeable idiots, caught up in a world of needless espionage and paranoia of his own making. The best part of the song comes from the interaction between Eric and Graham, with Gouldmann acting as the sharpish green-eyed monster driving him on ('I...want...what you got! You got...what...I need!'), the two bouncing off each other just like the good ol' days. Alas there isn't much else of interest here, with a song that runs out of ideas as early as the first chorus and ends with no resolution, good or bad, for the jealous narrator who is clearly having a psychological breakdown or his put-upon girlfriend (it would have made perfect sense for her to leave him because of his jealousy and only then go out with someone else, for example, thus giving him something to really be jealous of!)
However the single biggest misfire on this album is surely 'Charity Begins At Home'. Eric's latest narrator is besieged by requests for money from charities. There is of course an element of truth to this song - the 1980s had been charity central in the wake of 'live aid' and a period of relative boom in the Western World turning more and more people into helping out lesser fortunate people - utterly the way it should be as all of you except one or two Daily Mail readers will surely agree. But I do remember during the early 90s recession - the time when this album was released - that charities got more desperate as people had less money to give, playing not so much on what good a bit of spare change you wouldn't even notice might do to demands with menaces if you were mean enough not to give it. You can just imagine a seething Eric trying to write a song while being interrupted by knocks at the door and calls on the phone asking him for just that and thinking 'right I'll get you', scribbling down the chorus 'Keep your hands out your pockets - charity begins at home!' However releasing a song rather than writing it to get it out of your system is a different matter and much of this song sounds like one long whinge. Eric tries to be playful - he imagines the people with the collecting tins walking past the posh car in his driveway and knocking on the door of his giant mansion up a hill, making out that the narrator can well afford it and is just a minor. But that just makes things worse - this is someone who can afford to pay more than 'we' can and if he isn't giving why should we? This is a heartless, mean-spirited song that lumps all charities (even the polite and deserving ones) together and the giant slap in the face to those who do support others with the idea that 'it's a little sacrifice to sweeten the pill' of making money. Though I'd rather not have to sit through another charity song like 'Do They Know It's Christmas' in a hurry, we look to our musicians and 'heroes' to set the tone and to do in their lives what they do in their songs - help make the world that slightly better a place, with a touch more love towards our fellow man. Kicking out some of the few crutches some people have left and by osmosis making fans think this is the 'right' thing to do is just cruel, however much in jest it was intended and however true it is that charities (especially around this album's release) were getting a little greedy and a little desperate. A final verse where the narrator is in need of the charity tin himself (which would, surely, be more in keeping with the twists of old in the 10cc songbook) or the narrator falling in love with the charity collector and going on honeymoon saving the world together would have made this song a lot more palatable. A shame, because the riff is a lot more 'wide awake' than most others on this album and there are some great harmonies on the chorus, if you can ignore what they're singing.
Just as you're reaching the point of despair, along comes 'Shine A Light In The Dark' to put it all right. The only song from the two 10cc reunion albums worth owning, this is a great song with all the warmth and humanity missing from the rest of the album and while the production still gets in the way it has the best hook of the album and the strongest bands performance too. Eric is in trouble and doesn't know where to turn in a world where everything looks black, leaving him sobbing in the corner crying 'Lord I've had enough!' But other people hear the cry and rush to his aid, leaving Eric's narrator to discover who his real friends are: they're the people who show me mercy when I'm helpless, hold me back when I get reckless, stand me up when I get legless!' Most of all they're the people who 'shine a light in the dark' and show that the world isn't as bad as it sometimes seems. The revelation injects new life to the song which decides that 'there's no harmony in a one-man band' and which grows, but by hit into an enjoyable singalong that overcomes the sanitised backing to become warm and joyous. The song's movement from timid tragedy to bouncy brotherhood is very well controlled and this was a song born for the stage (the live version from the period album '10cc Live In Concert' is far better than this studio take by the way). Even a middle eight which mourns all the people who don't come to the narrator's aid ('Where on Earth do I look for heaven's sake?!) and takes the song back down to a state of depression, can't stand in the way: this is a song of celebration not of commiseration and the silver lining in the cloud (sympathy) is exquisitely set out here. The moment's pause of doubt and hesitation between the verse and chorus ('Got to show me mercy when I'm helpless...show me mercy when I'm helpless!') is a particular masterstroke as the narrator wonders if anyone will come to his aid before discovering that the people who really care for him all do. 'Light' is easily the album highlight, shining a light in the 'darker' areas of this album full of unsavoury characters, and is the direction the rest of the album should have taken, a much more palatable update of the original 10cc sound. My only regret is that this song about brotherhood should feature no appearance from Godley and an inaudible part from Creme, though Stewart and Gouldmann together sound utterly fantastic.
The album ends with 'Don't Break The Promises'. The song was recorded, as 'Don't Break The Promise', by Paul McCartney and intended for the 1986 album 'Press To Play' although it sounded like much more of a 10-cc song even back then, with its reggae beat and words and music doing two separate things (McCartney's version sadly hasn't come out officially yet, although a snatch was played on his 'Oobu Joobu' radio series); a second far superior outtake from the sessions 'Yvonne's The One' will kick off next 10cc album 'Mirror Mirror'. Ironically, Eric re-works the song in the style more traditionally linked to Paul's: this version is a silly love song, a torch ballad played slowly and sadly. The narrator has 'so much I want to say' and tries to address a partner after a relationship that once was so full of promise seems to be drifting apart. It's the sort of thing Eric used to do so well on songs like 'Survivor' and 'Don't Turn Me Away' and the McCartney-Stewart collaborations are usually so solid: 'Footprints', the pair's other ballad, is the best McCartney song of the 1980s and would have made for a fab 10cc song. This song however is nearly unlistenable, an overlong pop ballad that sounds frustratingly insincere and overblown (which of course makes it the mist 'contemporary' song on the album given the era we're in). To be fair, Eric's not the problem this time around and his gutsy guitar solo is again the highlight - it is again the anonymous backing and the slow tempo that makes sitting through six minutes of treacle a drag. The band have broken their 'promise', of always offering fans something they can't get elsewhere and doing it with a care and attention to detail that would make lesser band's head spin. This song in particular but this album as a whole is just a whole lot of nothing, with clichéd lyrics over an unmemorable tune and a performance that's the epitome of ugly. Even the McCartney version, revved up into the reggae pop song it should never have been, is better than this.
Overall, then, '...Meanwhile...' is a reunion album that should never have been attempted. The band weren't ready to get back together again just yet, the lingering tensions that had been eased by a decade of absence start up all over again and to make matters worse Graham and Eric were given a producer and a band completely alien to their styles. This could yet have been a great reunion album - with Kevin and Lol back on board for the first time in a full sixteen years and a record company ready to spend money (in the recording of this record, if not the promotion). 'Shine A Light' and to some extent 'Wonderland ' and 'Welcome To Paradise' prove how much the band still had to offer and how much music they could offer that no other band could possibly have given us, neatly updated for a modern age without sacrificing too much of what made the band stand out. The rest of the album, though, is one long list of missed opportunities, with an insipid backing not making the most out of songs that ended up going in so many wrong directions from their promising beginnings and which barely feature Godley, Creme or even Gouldmann (who doesn't get a single lead vocal the whole album - a far cry from the days of true partnership on 'Bloody Tourists' and 'Ten Out Of Ten'). Recording albums because the record company ask you to is all very well and it's easy to sit here having seen how the album turned out and without the promise of a cheque dangling over my head to turn round and say they shouldn't have done it. But, even so, they shouldn't have done it: this is an album where the songs were put into the oven before they were ready to start cooking and yet still came out burnt through too much studio tinkering, a far cry from where we last left the band when everything nearly turned to gold (however low the band's record sales had fallen in the early 1980s - that's a whole other consideration aside from a record's quality). Few fans from the band's mid-70s heyday would even recognise this album as '10cc', sharing as it does so few similarities with albums from their past - and yet it doesn't sound anything like a classic pop album from the 1990s either, with the band's sound updated only to what Eric had been doing with Paul McCartney and Graham with Andrew Gold in Wax a full five years earlier. Both of those extra-curricular projects had far more 'heart' and 'soul' than this album, which seemed doomed from the start. However, to shine a little light in the darkness, the band are simply too talented to record a truly duff album and there are little nuggets that work well, in addition to a single classic over-looked song. Whether that's enough to buy an album that doesn't work 90% of the time in order to honour respect for the band and to hear a good band having a bad day is another matter. Meanwhile, 'Meanwhile' is an album out of time that made any last great 10cc reunion unlikely - though there is one more studio album to come under the band's name that really is just two solo albums for the price of one and while better than this album in so many ways (there are less bad songs, there's a better production and a slightly stronger sense of direction) 'Mirror' also loses out on the few strengths this album has (a song as powerful as 'Shine A Light', occasional harmonies and Eric's fiery guitar solos). Not exactly 'Ten Out Of Ten' then, in all meanings of the words.