Monday, 7 August 2017

Neil Young "This Note's For You" (1988)




Neil Young “This Note’s For You” (1988)

Ten Men Workin’/This Note’s For You/Coupe De Ville/Life In The City/Twilight//Married Man/Sunny Inside/Can’t Believe You’re Lyin’/Hey Hey/One Thing

“Ain’t writing for attention, ain’t writing for love, ain’t writing for divine intervention, ain’t writing for Max The Singing Dog, Ain’t writing for Vimto, ain’t writing for glory, ain’t writing for them – hell no, ain’t writing to help you vote Tory, this review’s for you”

By 1988 the recording industry had gone from being a molehill to being a mountain. The age of Madonna, The Backstreet Boys and, umm, Milli Vanilli that put marketing over music (and which clearly spawned the Spice Girls) was in full swing and you had to be fully involved with marketing departments, make-up men, dance routines and hip contemporary music to be taken seriously. Now a quarter century after many of the AAA artists had found fame, their responses varied from being eaten up by the system and being spit out (CSN look especially uncomfortable as the decade drew to a close – CSNY too given what will happen with the release of ‘American Dream’ later that same year) or chasing it yelling ‘come back, I’m still young and trendy and down with the kids, honest!’ (take your pick from Paul McCartney, The Monkees and even – shock horror – The Grateful Dead, caving in at last with their first ever top ten hit ‘Touch Of Grey’ in 1987). If you weren’t doing what the youngsters did you were nobody. Unless you were doing what Young did, of course. Neil had spent the decade becoming increasingly distant from what everyone else was doing in the rock scene and increasingly reluctant to chase anybody to make music his way. When he wasn’t recording really weird genre experiment albums for record company Geffen, Neil could be found visiting relatives back home in Canada and performing in an anonymous local bar in Winnipeg named ‘The Bluenote Club’ (depicted on the front cover). Neil never appeared under his own name and mostly performed new bluesy songs for free to a bunch of random locals and maybe their dogs. It was, though, the way he liked it.

Inevitably these experiments were going to turn themselves into a full album sooner or later. In many ways it seems strange that it was later; blues is the sort of genre experiment that everyone seems to get round to eventually, even when they really really shouldn’t (what could possibly be worse than Robbie Williams’ ‘Sing When You’re Winning’? Ratpack ‘tribute’ album ‘Swing When You’re Winning’, that’s what. In that scenario everybody’s a loser!) Maybe Young felt that blues was Still’s territory and he just couldn’t compete? However this is a very different album to, say, ‘Stephen Stills II’ where the ‘Memphis Horns’ provide a new epic scale to Stills’ latest episodes in self-destruction and autobiography; by comparison Young uses the horns for escapism, to avoid going anywhere near his ‘real’ self (except for maybe two tracks). Neil too had often dabbled in the blues, going right back to his Squires days. Remember too that back in 1988 bluesy-jazz had probably never been less hip or trendy. While every other act on the planet was trying to sound the same, Neil was digging his heels in and sounding retro; when everyone else was trying to play it big he was trying to play it small, with this album recorded simply and quickly; whilst everyone everywhere else was trying to chase after the big bucks in order to attract a big-name sponsor, Neil was making music just for ‘you’ (well, ‘us’). So far so typical you could say. Neil’s career trajectory has always been like crazy-paving and what happened to be ‘in’ at any one moment is unlikely to bear any resemblance to what he’s up to. Even now fans can’t quite shake off the feeling that Neil is about to return to the genre experiment (although this is the last full album in one genre to date in his catalogue); even after the relatively ‘normal’ sound of ‘Life’ the year before fans heard that Neil was becoming a whole new persona as a bluesman and went ‘yep, makes total sense!’

What is odd about this album, even by Neil standards, is that Young seems to have taken all the usual conventions of the genre (sad songs, slow tempos and cosy intimate morning-after hangover feelings) and subverted them. Every other blues album I own is melancholy – that’s why they call it the ‘blues’ I guess. And yes, there are some sad songs here too. But for the most part this is an unusually upbeat album, where Neil celebrates the fact that he’s bursting with new ideas (‘Ten Men Workin’), that he’s escaped the rat race of his musician peers (the title track), that he’s a ‘Married Man’ and most unexpectedly of all that he feels ‘Sunny Inside’. When was the last time we even heard a happy Neil Young song? (‘Comes A Time’ in 1978?!) Trust it to appear on a ‘blues’ album...The last genre experiment of the 1980s doesn’t have much time to be sad: it’s too busy celebrating the end of a dark and difficult period and getting everything out of Neil’s system before the next chapter of his life. The record was very much created as the kiss-off to the Geffen period, with yet another genre the label couldn’t have been expecting, but in the end it became the first release on Reprise, Neil’s old home, where he’d spent thirteen generally happy years after signing to them post-Buffalo Springfield-split in 1968 and he’s been with them ever since. Manager Elliott Roberts seems to have chased the deal and gone in a bit too early, even for an artist of Neil’s speed and prolificness; as it happens one sorry failed court-case and the poor sales for ‘Life’ later (Neil’s worst selling studio album, even now) the label were only too happy to let him go early.

The Bluenotes are an interesting band, even for Neil. Formed out of old allies and new friends, Young lost interest in them when he realised that he was being sued. It’s a sign of how little interest he really had in the genre that he hadn’t even realised that there was another Bluenotes (Georgie Fame’s band) so for the last few months they were re-christened ‘Ten Men Workin’. At first the new band grew out of the old, with Crazy Horse the nucleus of the band. Only Billy hated the new music and Ralph wasn’t allegedly the right kind of performer to play it (the pair last precisely one song into the sessions, the B-side ‘I’m Goin’). Neil sacked both after the intervention of co-poducer Niko Bolas....and brought in his old Buffalo Springfield mates Bruce Palmer and Dewey Martin, who after twenty years of not doing a lot (interrupted mostly by the aborted ‘Trans’ sessions) fared even worse. The third pair did better. Chad Cromwell and Rick ‘The Bass Player’ Rosas were last heard of performing grunge on synthesisers on the noisy ‘Landing On Water’ and yet they sound far more authentic and plausible here, playing slow and funky. Frank Sampedro stayed in the line-up, but confined to synthesiser. The horn section features roadie Larry Cragg and old friend Ben Keith amongst one more sax player, two trumpeters and a trombonist. The biggest surprise though was George Whitsell, who played bass on the tracks that Rick doesn’t, and hasn’t been heard of in this book since a guest appearance on ‘Running Dry’ despite being a member of pre-Crazy Horse band ‘The Rockets’ who often jokes in interviews that he’s still waiting for Neil to return ‘his’ rhythm section after agreeing that he could borrow them for just the one album. The Bluenotes indeed first took to the stage during the end of the ‘Life’ tour where they annoyed Horses Billy and Ralph no end; to them playing around with the blues was inauthentic and staged and the complete opposite of what Neil is all about.

They have a point. The downside of this record is that, however good it is in parts, ‘This Note’s For You’ really isn’t a very important album. Yes some songs on it are deep, but this isn’t a heartfelt confessional album (which ‘Life’ was underneath all the production gloss) and it is low on autobiography whilst it spends precisely one rather disappointing song (‘Life In The City’) even acknowledging that the outside world exists at all (by contrast ‘Life’ spends the first six songs debating Vietnam Vets, unnecessary wars, the collapse of the American dream and even spends one song going ‘around the world’ before a closing duo of songs as honest and direct as any in the Young canon about love and loss). ‘This Note’s For You’ isn’t a record you go to in order to hear what Neil can do – because he’s not really trying to do much at all. There’s precious little guitar across the record (a stinging accompaniment to ‘Married Man’ aside) and Neil’s voice is really not built for jazz-blues crooning, Neil sounding as helpless and hopeless as he ever has as he grapples with a genre that demands he be by turns aggressive and sensual, rather than off-key and shrill. Following ‘Life’, a real turn-up for the Young fan who likes depth and intelligence, it is a disappointment and I can see why Crazy Horse scratched their heads over why people liked this album more than theirs, even on the stage (especially on the stage. We’re used to saying on this site that Neil’s tours were often better than the studio records that accompanied them but here the gulf is silly. ‘This Note’s For You’ sounds rushed and basic, with an odd production that makes everything sound as if it’s been tidied away in a neat little box – the antithesis of what a good Neil Young production does where it naturally spills out from the intuitive music; the live set finally released thirty years as ‘Bluenote Cafe’ in Neil’s ‘Archive’ series, though, is another story and sounds fabulous as a cracking band re-invent old songs in the blues genre and throw in some extras that really should have made the album – ‘Ordinary People’, which finally appeared on ‘Chrome Dreams II’ in 2007 for instance, ‘belongs’ on this album, eighteen verses and all).

You certainly get the impression that, like so many of the 1990 albums to come, most of this album has been ‘busked’ at the last minute before the band went into the studio, because most of the songs can be summed up in one line, sometimes not even that. Ten men have a job to do – make you dance! Hey hey – my woman looks good to me! I’m a married man – back off! I’m feeling sunny inside – because I’m in love! Life in the city – it’s ugly! I can’t believe you’re lyin’ – literally that’s it, for a whole song! Of these songs only ‘Sunny Inside’ is a song you’ll ever want to listen to again and that’s more because you go ‘woah, what’s that sound? Oh yeah, it’s happy Neil, I’d forgotten what sounded like’ rather than any merit in the song itself. Thankfully even this lesser part of the album has some life to it – the horns are a novelty, even if they’re slightly under-used and the gutsy performances (especially on ‘Life In The City’) almost make up for the emptiness of the material. Even so, in compositional terms it’s probably Neil’s least creative record so far, barring the deliberately shortened covers fest ‘Everybody’s Rockin’. Only the sheer bravado humour of the title track, the sense of loss and despair on ‘Twilight’ and the simple but effective ‘Coupe De Ville’ (the one song her to make great use of the horns the way they should be used, as an emotional tearjerker rather than a mass choir) really stand out on this bunch. Three strong songs out of ten seems like pretty good odds from Young records nowadays but back in context of what came before feels like a disaster.

Still, this record isn’t one of those total Geffen-era disappointments and surprised many when it came out by how good it was, after the groans that greeted the idea of Neil warbling the blues. The LP succeeds – just about – because it rarely takes itself seriously, without ever being completely disposable either. Some Neil Young albums really are out to change the world – but this one is so merrily drunk on happiness it can barely remember how to tie its shoes. The song kicks off with a song about having a ‘job to do’, but it’s interesting that Neil should choose not to save the planet or attack Monsanto or rage against an illegal world war (and God knows there were lots of those to choose from back in 1988) but to ‘keep you all from feeling the blues!’ The key theme of this album is escapism, as Neil hides behind his horn section and parties. Even so, this isn’t as dementedly empty an album as, say, ‘Everybody’s Rockin’ or ‘Re-Ac-Tor’, filling up time where the ideas should go because Neil doesn’t want to face them yet. You can feel parts of the ‘real world’ oozing through this album at times that offers just enough of a hint of depth to get you through the record’s rummer moments. ‘I try to tell you one thing but you don’t listen – I try to tell you one thing but you don’t care!’ sighs Neil before heading off to yet another party. ‘Can’t believe you’re lyin’ might well be a ‘real’ song hiding in plain sight, a typical bluesy song that’s actually the first sign of the cracks in the Neil-Pegi relationship. And was there ever a sadder Young song than ‘Twilight’? The highlight of the album by far, it’s a song that yearns for something that never could be over a sad slow relentless beat that’s clearly at one with the sadder songs from the end of ‘Life’. Is this album our first insight into the relationship with actress Darryl Hannah, a decade on from his marriage to Pegi? Neil spends this album trying not to listen to his conscience, trying to drown it out, occasionally lapsing into self-pity over what can never be while disappearing into endless parties and fun. ‘Married Man’, meanwhile, seems to be a coded message, turned into a comedy song so nobody got the ‘wrong’ idea (which wouldn’t be the first time Neil’s done that).

This odd mix of the serious message delivered in an inconsequential way is best summed up by the title track, a rare ‘hit’ for Neil (even if the music video is more popular than it is solely as a song) and a rare example of a typically Young song striking a chord with a mass public. The video is infamous: banned by MTV for parodying so many of the institutions they showed every night, it features a Michael Jackson lookalike getting their hair set alight (which really happened on a Pepsi commercial – Wacko Jacko’s autopsy later revealed that he was bald, almost certainly because of this event; in yet another legal battle he threatened to sue but was too busy collecting gold encrusted llamas for his Neverland ranch and dangling his children out of hotel windows so never got around to it). The video, shot by Julien Temple (who’d been ‘discovered’ by Ray Davies), it’s nicely in tune with the Young  ethic, especially the spoof of the beer commercial ‘This Bud’s For You’ where Neil stole his title. Banned by MTV (‘Does the ‘m’ stand for music or money?’ Neil fumed when he found out)., but the most requested video on Canada’a sister channel MuchTV, thankfully the video giants learnt from Geffen and backed down, first screening the video when it won an award for ‘best video of the year (Neil’s first award of any sort for a long long time) – ironic given that they hadn’t actually screened it till the award ceremony! The song marks an upturn for Neil’s fortunes and the start of a golden seven-year patch when he began to look cooler than what the big boys with bigger budgets were doing, staying true to his principles rather than chasing a distant desperate dream of stardom. Though it’s not his greatest song, it is one of his bravest songs and certainly one of his funniest and thankfully leads to the start of a whole trend of deeper, darker songs that pick up this same theme: that the world is a daft and dangerous place and you need to be true to your principles. It’s the start of a theme that, in more serious fashion, will end up being the backbone of future career highlights like ‘Crime In The City’ ‘F!#in’ Up’ ‘Peace and Love’ and most of the ‘Sleeps With Angels’ album.

In other words, like much of the record, it’s a stepping stone kind of a piece. Neil hasn’t yet built up enough bees in his bonnet to work to his best and this is kind of a forgettable record, but he’s not in a bad place and has enough inventiveness to get by. The kind of record that’s low on ideas but is so high on energy it makes up for it (although again I like this album much better after the ‘live’ versions of it). ‘This Note’s For You’ is less courageous than ‘Trans’, less funny than ‘Everybody’s Rockin’ and less eclectic than ‘Old Ways’, but what it does have going for it is a sense of style and fun, a title track that’s hilarious and an album track in ‘Twilight’ that’s deep enough to stop the whole album getting ridiculous. Neil never quite nails the blues-jazz technique, coming off like some stoned hippie tribute act and the Bluenotes are too disciplined to groove as much as they should (odd that for an artist who adores doing things in one take – or less, given how many ‘rehearsal’ performances have been released down the years). Many fans are probably deeply relieved that this is the last of the 1980s experimentations – with the exception of ‘Old Ways’ and perhaps ‘Landing On Water’ it’s probably the worst. But you can hear the upturn in Neil’s belief across the set after the melancholia-fest that was ‘Life’, the joy in his voice and the enthusiasm in the room for doing something that not even Neil Young has ever done before. That alone makes it worth hearing – if not always remembering.

‘Ten Men Workin’ is a particularly limp place to start. The track sounds to me like a re-write of B-side ‘I’m Goin’ made in a hurry to pad out the album. It’s one of those ‘introduction’ numbers designed to introduce the band ‘Sgt Peppers’ style and doesn’t really say a lot else except that the band are ready to rock and it’s their ‘job’ to entertain you. Which would be ok if they did, but this is a clumsy groove by Neil’s standards and as hard as Rick swings on the bass, everything else comes off as a plod. Neil seems to be testing his guitar for sounds during the solo in the middle rather than flying and the Bluenote horns get stuck on the same ‘ba-da-bahhhhhm!’ groove over and over for what feels like hours, with only one of them (Ben Keith?) getting the chance to actually ‘solo’. The whole construct of the song is that the band are playing so well we can’t help but ‘dig the groove’ or keep our feet still, but with so little going on across six painfully dragged out minutes even the good bits (the bass, the chaingang cries of ‘Ooh! Aah!’ later recycled on ‘Someday’, Neil’s increasingly histrionic vocal, the sudden pause before the horn section sweeps in again) get boring before the end. Neil revealed later that he did indeed write the tune for the song in a hurry and that it all arrived so quickly he didn’t even have time to find one of his own guitars – instead he borrowed wife Pegi’s that just happened to be lying around. He admitted too that the lyrics had been cobbled together in the studio when he spotted that the engineer had a t-shirt with the road-sign slogan ‘Man At Work’ on the front. Alas Neil’s ‘mission’ went unfulfilled – the groove is a good one, but here it goes on too long played by a band who clearly don’t ‘feel’ it yet. A disappointing start.

The album highlight by a country mile, title track ‘This Note’s For You’ takes the album’s weakest suit (unlike Neil’s other genre experiments, this album is clichéd and repetitive and sounds overly familiar) and turns them into a strength. You could imagine all sorts of other bands from Georgie Fame’s own Bluenotes to Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, playing this big funky groove, with a noodling horn part, massed spoken-sung cries and lots of spaces between the notes. But no other band would dare to perform this lyric which damns every other band of the era for selling out and getting sponsorship (Neil must be the last of the big names to stand against this trend in the music business; his only real rival is Paul McCartney who allows charities to ‘sponsor’ his tours for ‘free’ so they can the resulting publicity where a sponsors logo should go). Neil wrote this one in his tour bus where, after watching a video of Michael Jackson sponsoring Pepsi, he came up with the ‘ain’t singing for coke...makes me look like a joke!’ line. Fleshing out the song, he turned it into a ‘pact’ between himself and his audience that the upside of following a mercurial songwriter who never stood still or gave you what you wanted was that he would at least always be true to himself – and us. This song is surely Neil’s funniest, with some very witty lines in there: while other artists sing for ‘money’ or ‘cash’, Neil sings from the heart because he has to; this is his ‘real’ job, not the ‘get you dancing’ inanities of ‘Ten Men Workin’. He swaps beer sponsors ‘Bud’ around with the idea of being sponsored by potatoes (‘Ain’t singin’ for spuds!’) and throws in the idea that he won’t ‘sing for politicians’ (interesting that Neil should make this comment here, back when no politicians are using his work; however a year later both sides of the political spectrum will try and ‘borrow’ his song ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ for their campaigns, something that happens every so often since too). Instead Neil promises us ‘the real thing’, over a playful ‘this note this note...’ groove that sounded particularly fun on the ‘next’ tour, a solo acoustic one from 1989 and sounds so deeply seriously committed in his vocal that it just makes the whole thing even sillier. The only downside to all this is that the best groove on the album is the shortest, reduced to barely past two minutes when it could have gone on for much longer. As with so much of the album, the live version runs for much longer and is vastly superior, released on the Geffen ‘Lucky Thirteen’ compilation in 1992 (as strictly speaking Neil was still under contract on that tour) as well as ‘Bluenote Cafe’. The result is still the album’s triumph though. Neil proving that he can do what all the other bands of the day could do better and make money from it if he wanted to – but he didn’t, with bigger fish to fry during his career than caring what sponsors he got or what his fanbase thought of him. This song is Neil Young to a tee and is all the better for it.

The real meat of the album comes with the first of the slowies. ‘Coupe De Ville’ sounds like the ‘real’ Neil peeking out from underneath the genre experiment and filler material, a sad and lonely song imagining the future where he loses everything. My guess is that he’s playing out in his mind here what might happen to him if he runs off with Darryl and leaves Pegi – it certainly sounds as if it’s more than just acting and imagination here as Neil gets into the mindset of this song more than the others, singing with a trembling sigh that’s really effective. Another clue about how ‘real’ this is is the car mentioned in the title (Neil isn’t joking when it comes to his cars in song), one of those designs with an open-top for the driver and a canopy for the passengers, perhaps symbolising his being cut off from the missus he used to drive everywhere with. Neil’s narrator has paid a high price for a ‘few cheap thrills’ and he’s now a stranger in his own home, which is indeed no longer a ‘home’ but just where the bed is he sleeps in at night after a day of avoiding his former lover. ‘How long can I carry this monkey around?’ he pleads, bluesman style, a ‘monkey’ being usually a drug but in this case more of a weight on the narrator’s back that those around him can’t see. Neil, it seems, so in control across the rest of this album is in trouble. ‘Woke up this morning’ he sighs ‘and I hit the wall!’, longing to turn the clock back to a time when he felt part of a ‘couple’ – instead by chasing a second girl he’s been left with neither. He’s never sounded so sad or lonely and the horns are at their best across this song, floating across it in gentle sighs and whispers, hinting at the beauty and spectacle that could have been while humming sad minor key riffs of melancholy back to us, the very sound of devastation. Tom Bray’s trumpet part, especially, gives you the chills, openly mourning in colour what Neil can only hint to us at in black-and-white. What’s clever about this song, though, is that Neil still plays it ‘cool’, just about keeping things together: he doesn’t go OTT anywhere and every time the song threatens to fall into painful self-indulgence he ‘bats’ the depression away with a simple guitar riff that keeps coming throughout the song. Neil says he wrote this one while out on the road and staying in a hotel room, getting sick and dizzy as he tried to eat his breakfast before another busy day and realising that his poor tired body couldn’t take anymore, that he’d ‘hit the wall’ and that he felt better after an extended sleep. I put it to you, though, dear reader, that this is more about hitting the wall emotionally than physically – that there’s something in this uncomfortable song that hints for pretty much the first time that Neil’s marriage isn’t as concrete as it appears to be and that his heart is being torn in two different directions.

‘Life In The City’ is the ‘odd one out’ on this record (there’s always one song per Young album, occasionally two). It’s the most aggressive song on the album by far and the only one that doesn’t reference writer or audience. Instead it’s the first stirrings of Neil’s interest in what is happening in the outside world since son Ben got poorly, the first song since ‘Re-Ac-Tor’ to damn the growing inequality and discontent in the outside world, something that will lead to much better songs than this (‘Crime In The City’ ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ and ‘Ordinary Peo-le’ among them). Neil’s astonished at how little people care about the strangers around them, sleeping in the sidewalks ‘on a rainy day’, farmers ‘starving in the city’ as their livelihoods get taken away and ‘murder in the home and crime on the streets’. The 1980s saw a big rise in, if not the actions of violent crime then the reporting of them, with the introduction of 24 hour news reports. What with the end of the cold war too it seemed as if the world was going mad and Neil briefly returns to his ‘Landing On Water’ style screech here, confined by pressure and hemmed in by empathy. Chad Cromwell is much more at home on songs like this and his heavy thudding drumming works much better here against the horns than it ever did on that earlier album. Neil’s vocal too is superb, somehow both icily cool and detached and yet full of such wrath and anger that it soaks through into the song, though his guitar solo is a tad anonymous. Unfortunately the song, which starts out as promising, soon goes downhill, ending up another of those curiously empty Young rants (think ‘Motor City’) that has no answers, only attacks. ‘Doesn’t that trouble you sister, doesn’t that trouble you pal?’ sneers Neil. Well yes, of course it does, we’re only human – human enough to buy a Neil Young record because we want to reach out to people like this. But what do we do about it Uncle Neil? Are you going to hand over your royalties from this song or album to the homeless? Are you going to show us how to make America great again? And how did we get here so we can make sure we never ever get here again?! There are no answers here, just shouting, unlike the build-up of tension of future songs that at least try to offer comfort or direction or even sarcasm. Even the ‘life in the city’ chorus sounds unfinished, ending mid-sentence on a riff that sounds like ‘This Note’s For You’ again anyway. Still, a fiery performance and another excellent use of the horn section overcomes the disappointment of the material.

‘Twilight’ is the final album highlight to close out side one. It’s a tightly packed dense claustrophobic track that conjures up film noir and seedy nightclubs that pulls off the old Young trick of putting two different opposing elements against each other. Neil’s vocal and guitar and the horns (so similar to Otis Redding’s Bar-Keys horn section) are slow and sweet, oozing romanticism on a song that’s clearly written for Pegi, whatever was happening in this period. But against that Chad Cromwell’s tapped percussion sounds like the countdown of doom and he’s joined by an explosive Rosas bass part that’s waiting in the shadows to pounce whenever this song lets down its guard. The lyric sounds like Neil has just walked off stage for the last time in a while, his work done as the twilight falls and turns into daytime, ending his time of isolation out on the road and he can’t wait to run back to his wife. However, he’s also talking about the fall of dusk in bigger terms than these: he is, to quite a future album almost all based around this theme, at a ‘Fork In The Road’, a fog that has gripped his mind for too long slowly disappearing as the sunlight beckons to him and shows him his true path. He knows that his lover is as sad and lonely as he is and he yearns to be with her, ‘making love with you while time stands still’ in as graphic a line as any in the Young canon. However an extended ending brings out the inner spookiness in this song, as instead of going straight home Neil seems to end up in a scary world where the metronomic drums keep ticking and the horns keep blaring their worry and the bass keeps pouncing on him as he plays his greatest guitar burst on the album, like a slightly less troubled and intense version of ‘Like A Hurricane’. Suddenly all the comforting words he once gave his wife (‘You’re the best thing that I ever had’ ‘The sun is setting on the long road home’ ‘Don’t be sad’) get repeated in a new, scarier setting, suddenly sounding false and mocking. The song itself bounces between major and minor keys throughout, as if Neil is trying to live two different lives, but notably ends with two whole minutes in the sadder, scarier minor key before finally closing on a death-rattle. This might well be the album’s most emotional moment as well as one of the best, with for once the Bluenotes spot-on in their arrangement and performance and Neil’s vocal, one the edge but never going over, one of his very best too.

Alas side two just can’t compete. ‘Married Man’ is a noisy shouter with a funky sped-up twelve bar blues riff and a two-note horn riff played over and over on different chords. This lyric is a little bit too much of a parody, with Neil the hard-working bluesman who ‘works all day and takes my money back home’ beating off the groupies who want him to party. ‘I ain’t got time for you no more!’ he snarls, which could well be a coded message to Darryl to back off (if so she doesn’t listen). Neil sounds as if he wrote this one for laughs like so many of the period (check out ‘Doghouse’, his second funniest song, performed on the Bluenotes tour and which is on ‘Bluenote Cafe’) but somewhere along the line it became ‘real’ to him. The wedding ring on his finger isn’t something that Neil can just ignore. ‘Don’t tempt me baby!’ he yells as if repelling every woman within a thousand miles of his wife and with the passion reserved for his ‘real’ songs not his ‘jokey’ songs. And yet the song has it’s silly moments too, such as the Bluenote ‘finger-wagging’ riff that waggles after every temptation. Alas though this song needs something extra to really make it into a song rather than just an idea and the performance is one of the album’s weakest, with the horn section reduced to repeating themselves over and over and everyone else playing such a generic blues arrangement this might as well come from the ‘Blues Brothers’ film soundtrack.

‘Sunny Inside’ is an oddball. The riff is ‘stolen’ (I know it’s a traditional tune or a nursery rhyme or something but I can’t work out from what), the lyrics are clueless and stupid for the most part (‘Though we walk in the rain my heart feels sunny inside!’) and the song as a whole is as clichéd as they come (‘Long long hair, blue blue blue eyes, now c’mon honey, please don’t cry!’) and yet there’s something about this song that makes it more than just more mere filler. Written in the ‘Trans’ period of 1982 (perhaps for ‘Island In The Sun’, the aborted romantic album that got replaced by vocoders), it’s clearly written for Pegi and is a joyous return to the contentment and pleasure of much of the ‘Comes A Time’ album. We’re so used to Neil sounding sad even when he’s trying to sound happy (‘Can’t relate to joy, he tries to speak and can’t begin to say’ is how Neil described being too in love to get the words out on ‘Out On The Weekend’ sixteen years earlier) that it’s a shock to hear him singing about feeling ‘sunny inside’ all the time because he’s in love without a twist or a sting in the tail somewhere down the line. In an inversion of The Hollies’ 1974 hit ‘The Air That I Breathe’ Neil sings about how, since finding love, he can do without drugs or money and that the feeling of romance has shaken him to the core. There’s a fun playful rhyming couplet of how ‘with our love taken care of’ there’s so much stuff that he’s no longer ‘scared of’ and this song works well as a cute playful song about joy. It’s just a shame that the band don’t seem to have grasped this song as much as it’s writer has (with another great lead vocal), the lack of guitar and that horn riff which is so naggingly familiar it hurts and which slows the action right down, sounding as if it belongs to another composition all together. Still, my heart still feels sunny inside whenever I hear it.

‘Can’t Believe You’re Lyin’ is the third of the album’s slow weepies and easily the weakest. Sounding like the riff from ‘This Note’s For You’ tacked onto the feel of ‘Coupe De Ville’, this is an oddly clichéd and forgettable track that doesn’t have much to say or many ideas how to say it. Neil’s narrator has lost it all again, both his job and his woman as ‘there’s another guy working in my place’, but this song feels less realistic somehow, less factual, more generic. Really it’s just an excuse for Chad Cromwell to get his brushes out and for Neil to pick out an oddly tentative guitar part that sounds less like a ‘solo’ than a few meandering picked out notes. The one part of this song that does work, though, is the al-too brief chorus, where ‘you have changed my life in so many ways...’ which sounds melodically like the sun coming out before it darts behind a cloud again on the lines about how his girl is ‘lying’. Sadly though the song’s biggest weakness is that it is ‘lying’; this is the one sing on the album that absolutely definitely is a work of fiction and it sounds it too: Neil doesn’t mean it, the band don’t know it and ultimately the listener doesn’t really care about it. Neil said later the song came in a rush and took ‘about five seconds or something’. One wonders what he was doing for the other four seconds!

‘Hey Hey’ is more bland filler, uptempo this time as Neil gets way too OTT in his vocal. A snarling put-down of women everywhere, this is a mean-spirited song about how the ‘fairer sex’ are out to take their men for a ride always. ‘They want a piece of the action, but they don’t let you roll the dice!’ he fumes, before adding about how his girlfriend is never up for sex when he is (‘She don’t want to wear me out!’) and yet jumps around with every other guy she sees. And then suddenly the song switches: ‘My girl knows how to please me!’ Neil boasts, before telling us how she loves him too much to lose him. It’s odd to hear Neil boasting in song anyway (he’s much happier playing lovable losers), but after such a vitriolic pair of opening verses it seems all the stranger. Next we’re being urged to dance in a return to the album’s opening two tracks: ‘Get offa that couch, turn off that MTV!’ Neil demands, a bee in his bonnet yet again as he urges us all to exercise. Alas this song is as wrong-footed musically as it is lyrically and it’s a hard song to groove to, always chopping and changing styles, while Crowmwell’s drums play in counterpart to what everyone else is doing, emphasising the ‘wrong’ beats. The result is, in truth, all a bit of a mess and should have been re-titled ‘So So’ rather than ‘Hey Hey’. At least the Bluenotes are having fun squealing on the horn solos though, sounding like Yoko Ono stuck on a spin cycle.

The album then closes on one of the earliest songs recorded to the album, one with Ralph still on the drums (and he sounds fabulous, even if no one else does!) and George Whitsell, oddly, playing bass rather than his usual guitar (making this a two-way Rockets reunion, though both men will be long gone by the time the sessions reconvene). ‘One Thing’ is a final slow weepie in which Neil recounts how much a love in his life is falling apart. Two lovers don’t listen to each other anymore and there’s coldness and distance where once there used to be passion. ‘I think we’re heading for a heartache’ Neil complains, sounding as if he’d doing the usual blues cliché of drinking at the bar late at night to drown his sorrows. But he sounds less than convincing and is clearly playing a role of a narrator ‘feeling empty...with no love inside’, while the song is just too slow to take seriously. What does work though is the space for the horn section as the saxophones sound mightily good, pouring out sad slow mournful riffs before the trumpets and trombone come along to wrap the song up in a cocoon of brotherly love. The result is an oddly anonymous song to close out the album on, even if in many ways it sticks closer to the generic blues ideal than the other tracks on the album. Like the first song this is also hopelessly overextended, to a full six minutes, when there is only really enough material for three at best.

Overall, then, ‘This Note’s For You’ is a peculiar album. Some of it works really well, some of it works really badly and for every right step there’s one wrong-footed move that sends the album collapsing like a pack of cards. Many fans will tell you it’s the best of Neil’s genre experiments, but I’m not sure that’s true: ‘Trans’ had a lot more up top and even ‘Landing On Water’ had panache and spirit while ‘Misfits’ from ‘Old Ways’ was better than any individual song on this album. Even so, it’s better than in many ways it has any right to be. Unlike some of those other albums (‘Trans’ aside) it does feel like the ‘real’ Neil is speaking to us on occasion cross the record. The Bluenotes are one of Neil’s better bands too, even if they needed a lot more rehearsal time to really get to grip with these songs. Had this record stayed as strong and consistent and emotional as it is on the first side I’d have been more than happy, but an entire second half of filler really brings the statistics down. Certainly this album pales in comparison to ‘Freedom’ to come, an album which does better things with horns and then adds another half a dozen more suitable Young styles into the mix as well. Even so, this is a long way from being a bad record. The humour of the title track and the seriousness of ‘Coupe De Ville’ and ‘Twilight’ are strong enough to paper over many of this album’s holes and while there’s regrettably little inspired guitar playing, in terms of Neil’s lead vocals this set is a revelation, testing him in adrenalin, joy and spookiness he doesn’t always get a chance to use. This isn’t one of those essential albums you need to own and if you’re like me you might not bring it out of its box to play too often. But when you do it’s a nice surprise and – oddly for a blues album – destined to put a smile on your face from its sheer spirit and joi de vivre. I just wish there had been a few less notes in ‘generic blues stylings’ and a few more notes for ‘us’ in there.

Other Neil Young articles from this website you might be interested in:


'Neil Young' (1968) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/neil-young-1968-album-review.html
'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' (1969) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/neil-young-and-crazy-horse-everybody.html
‘After The Goldrush’ (1970) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/neil-young-after-goldrush-1970.html?utm_source=BP_recent
'Harvest' (1972) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/neil-young-harvest-1972.html

'Time Fades Away' (1973) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/neil-young-time-fades-away-1973.html
'On The Beach' (1974) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/neil-young-on-beach-1974.html
'Zuma' (1975) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/neil-young-and-crazy-horse-zuma-1975.html

'American Stars 'n' Bars' (1977) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/news-views-and-music-issue-70-neil.html

'Comes A Time' (1978) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/04/news-views-and-music-issue-29-neil.html
'Rust Never Sleeps' (1979) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2014/01/neil-young-rust-never-sleeps-1979-album.html

'Hawks and Doves' (1980) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/news-views-and-music-issue-26-neil.html
'RelAclTor' (1981) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/neil-young-and-crazy-horse-re-ac-tor.html

'Trans' (1982) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-84-neil-young-trans-1982.html
'Everybody's Rockin' (1983) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2017/01/neil-young-everybodys-rockin-1983.html
'Old Ways' (1985) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/10/neil-young-old-ways-1985.html

‘Landing On Water’ (1986) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/neil-young-landing-on-water-1986.html
'Ragged Glory' (1990) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/neil-young-and-crazy-horse-ragged-glory.html

'Weld' (1991) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-95-neil-young-weld-1991.html
'Harvest Moon' (1992) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/neil-young-harvest-moon-1992.html

'Sleeps With Angels' (1993) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/news-views-and-music-issue-121-neil.html

'Mirror Ball' (1995) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/news-views-and-music-issue-103-neil.html
‘Are You Passionate?’ (2002) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/neil-young-and-mgs-are-you-passionate.html
'Greendale' (2003) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/05/neil-young-and-crazy-horse-greendale.html

‘Prairie Wind’(2005)  http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/neil-young-prairie-wind-2005.html
'Fork In The Road' (2009) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/neil-young-fork-in-road-2009.html

'Le Noise' (2011) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/news-views-and-music-issue-94-neil.html

'A Treasure' (1986/2012) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/news-views-and-music-issue-147-neil.html
'Storytone' (2014) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/neil-young-storytone-2014.html
'The Monsanto Years' (2015) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/neil-young-and-promise-of-real-monsanto.html
'Peace Trail' (2016) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2017/02/neil-young-peace-trail-2016.html
The Best Unreleased Neil Young recordings http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/neil-young-best-unreleased-recordings.html


10cc: Solo/Compilation/Live/Wax Albums Part One: 1971-1986



Hotlegs "Song"

(Phillips, '1971')

Today/Um Wah Um Woh/Run Baby Run/How Many Times?/The Loser//Take Me Back/Fly Away/All God's Children/Suite F.A.

"It's not so easy to explain away, it takes a foolish man to try, I knew as soon as I put pen to paper"

A fairly straightforward re-issue of the one and only 'Hotlegs' album with a slightly skewed track listing, a more commercial front cover (well, just - a cartoon of a man and a guitar that plays hearts) and a far better title. The track that's gone awol is 'Lady Sadie' which is no great loss really, although the adrenalin-charged  'Um Wah Um Woh' seems wrong coming as track two after the lush balladry of 'Today'. All the fans who stayed away from the record the last time around...stayed away again, but Phillips will be back to try and cash in on the 10cc name in 1976 with a third go at plugging the album, when it's so vastly more successful that it almost charts, which will give you some idea of how few copies this version of the record sold. 

"100cc: The Greatest Hits Of 10cc"

(UK Records, '1975')

Rubber Bullets/Donna/The Dean And I/The Wall Street Shuffle/SSSSSSSSilly Love//Waterfall/4% Of Something/Gismo My Way/Hot Sun Rock/Bee In My Bonnet/18 Carat Man Of Means

"I got a bee in my bonnet, got a chip on my shoulder!"

The UK label tries to cash in on the mega-huge success of 'I'm Not In Love' after the band's departure for the Mercury label with a tatty compilation that was released far too early before the band had a chance to rack up the hits. There are only two albums and eight singles to choose from anyway but even some of those are missing such as the flops 'Johnny Don't Do It' 'Headline Hustler' and 'The Worst Band In The World'. Unusually this compilation splits the set between A-sides and B-sides, making this a useful compilation for fans to track down in the era of vinyl when these flipsides were rare. Sadly most of them aren't much cop (with the exception of 'Waterfall', which deserved to be a hit even more than 'Donna' did), which makes for very uneven listening compared to the gems on side one. Un-needed in the digital world this compilation has yet to be released on CD: a good thing too as there are better and far longer and far nicer packaged sets than this one (the cover is just the album title on a black background, which seems such a waste given what a colourful band 10cc always were). A shame the full set of eight A/B sides aren't here too given what a short running time this compilation has.

The King Biscuit Flower Hour"

 (King Biscuit Flower Hour Records, Recorded November 1975, Released November 1995)

Intro/SSSSSSSSilly Love/Baron Samedi/Old Wild Men/The Sacro-Iliac/Somewhere In Hollywood/Donna/Ships Don't Just Disappear In The Night (Do They?!?!?)/The Worst Band In The World/The Wall Street Shuffle/Rubber Bullets

"It irrigates my heart with greed to know that you adore me!"

Recorded at the same time as the 'BBC In Concert' set that's always doing the rounds on the BBC4 channel, this is 10cc at their ferocious live peak, heavy on the 'Sheet Music' period. The band are way more primitive than on the records and rawer than the later Eric/Graham and others incarnation of 'Live and Let Live', but that's the whole point: the songs have all been extended and given new arrangements to that they rock out in ways that they never did on record. Sometimes this works, with a particularly funky 'Baron Samedi' going on forever, a gorgeous 'Somewhere In Hollywood' which is fragile and haunting compared to the tougher, more confident version on 'Sheet Music' and a rocking finale of 'Rubber Bullets'. Alas the experiments just as often go wrong, with a scrappy 'Ships Don't Disappear In The Night', an unlistenable 'Old Wild Men' and an even more up-itself 'Worst Band In The World' reduced to funny accents and in-jokes. The best thing about this may be Kevin Godley's zany introduction (sadly not on the BBC show) where he starts by quoting from The Bible and announces himself as 'an omnipotent, omnipresent and abdominal God, here to bring you the fabulous far-out funky freaky hippie happy zippy zany wicky wacky 10cc!' Well you can't get a bigger opening act can you? I bet his fee was pretty high though. Good fun and though it's as unlike the clever technical overdub-filled albums as you can get this is still well worth hearing. Odd that there are no songs from the just released 'Original Soundtrack' album though - not even 'I'm Not In Love' or 'Life Is a Minestrone', which makes me wonder if the date given in the sleevenotes is out by a few months or even a year (November 1974 makes much more sense compared to the set-lists we have for other gigs). 

Hotlegs "You Didn't Like It Because You Didn't Think Of It!"

(Phillips, '1976')

Um Wah Um Woh/Today/You Didn't Like It Because You Didn't Think Of It/Fly Away/Run Baby Run/The Loser/Neanderthal Man//How Many Times?/Desperate Dan/Take Me Back/Lady Sadie/Suite F.A.

"You can't leave a good band down!"

Now that 10cc are big stars, it made perfect commercial success for Phillips to release their as-near-enough-dammit 10cc debut. However the record label has no access to the band's new name and so can only advertise the fact by use of a striking colour drawing of Eric, Kevin and Lol (there is no Graham of course as he hadn't formally joined the band yet, although he does guest on some of the better tunes). Other than the cover and the confusing new name, though, there are no differences here with the record put back the way it was when first released as 'Thinks...School Stinks' in 1971. 

"Live and Let Live"

(Mercury, October 1977)

The Second Sitting For The Last Supper/You've Got A Cold/Honeymoon With B Troop/Art For Art's Sake/People In Love//The Wall Street Shuffle/Ships Don't Just Disappear In The Night (Do They?!?!?)/I'm Mandy Fly Me/Marriage Bureau Rendezvous//Good Morning Judge/Feel The Benefit/The Things We Do For Love//Waterfall/I'm Not In Love/Modern Man Blues

"Sittin' with a tentpole what a bloody jamboree, listen to our motto - be prepared for ecstasy!"

You know the awful moment when you have to put down the dog you've loved for so many years and you get a new puppy to replace it and you don't feel like you can ever have the same connection with it and yet it tries so hard to please you and lick your face? Listening to 'Live and Let Live' is rather like that. The old 10cc are dead and you never mourn them more than here because, far more than the studio records, 'Live and Let Live' is a 'band' album and half the band aren't here. This live record - the first officially released concert set in the 10cc discography and compared to, say, The Rolling Stones there really haven't been many - never quite recovers from that loss. Eric and Graham ignore every song from their past that Kevin or Lol wrote or sang on (the only credit they get the whole album is Godley's co-write on 'I'm Mandy, Fly Me' the song that all but split them up), even when that means some of their biggest hits are missing such as 'Rubber Bullets' or 'The Dean and I'. With so much space to fill, they get rather desperate in the material they lean to pad out this album with practically the whole of recently released album 'Deceptive Bends' here as a sort of defensive 'well, it's all 10cc!' gesture that rather undermines the album around the point when you realise you're three minutes into a thirteen minute version of 'Feel The Benefit' that's near enough identical and you're wondering why they bothered. All of this is combined with the fact that 10cc are a band more built for the studio than the road in any incarnation, with their songs sounding scruffy and raw and sometimes unrecognisable compared to their polished masterpieces.

Even so, it's hard not to like this album which has such a tough job to overcome and tries so, so hard all the way through. Eric and Graham pour their heart and soul into the performances, especially the former with some killer guitar solos and a much grittier form of singing we haven't heard on record since The Mindbenders days. The four new boys in the band do a great job of sounding just enough like the old records while adding their own sound, which is impressive given that only Paul Burgess ever played on any of the records (and then only 'Bends'). All too often 'Live and Let Live' is content to simply give the audience what they want, even when they can't do it that well, with perfunctory readings of 'Good Morning Judge' and 'The Wall Street Shuffle' that don't rock anywhere near as hard as the hit records while none of the 'Bends' material comes close to matching the LPs. I'm not sure handing 'Art For Art's Sake', a track Eric sang so well, over to the very different vocal sound of keyboard player Tony O'Malley in the name of unity was such a great idea either, even if he does give it his all. But sometimes this record has some very very good ideas that even the 'old' 10cc would never have thought of. A wild thrash through 'Second Sitting For The Last Supper' is played fast and furious and pushes all the band to their limits from the get-go, so different from the controlled cool of the record. 'Ships Don't Just Disappear In The Night', which used to sound such a mess in the old Godley-Creme days, is transformed into a carefully controlled little rocker which loves throwing you off the scent every time you think you've pinned it down. 'Waterfall', already a stunning studio B-side, gets a delightful makeover that adds layers of 'I'm Not In Love' style harmonies that makes a beautiful song even more beautiful. And talking of which this version of 'Love' is beautiful, slow and reflective with Eric pouring heart and soul into the vocal while the band somehow find a way of recycling their massed 'aaahs' in live concert without skipping a beat. A sprightly 'The Things We Do For Love' is pretty darn impressive too and impressively light on its feet.

As you'd expect from 10cc, this is also a very funny gig and thankfully all the witty repartee is kept on for atmosphere - unlike many a live record. We can't quite hear what the heckler in the front row is saying but Eric has every put-down ready. 'I love you all' he claims before 10cc leave the stage for a possible encore, 'Even you with the big mouth!'  After a fierce jamming session falls apart but in a very graceful and exotic way Graham dead-pans 'That's definitely going on the record' - thankfully it does! A finale sees Eric declare 'I think the roof just came off - yes, I can see the stars!' The audience are certainly enjoying it, making an awful lot of noise and re-acting with a lot of emotion for people who have come out to see a supposedly 'intellectual' band play. Yes we should have had a live album from the Godley-Creme era (the tour supporting 'The Original Soundtrack' was particularly electric) and this double set could have been a single album without taking anything good away easily. But this is also a record that tries hard and really thinks about what's good for the band, the audience and the legacy. Yes it's far from perfect and no new puppy will ever replace the old dog of your dreams, but there's easily a place for this much maligned work in our 10cc collections and we can perhaps live and let live over its controversial Godley/Creme-ignoring presence in the band's canon. 

"Greatest Hits 1972-1978"

(Mercury, '1979')

Rubber Bullets/Donna/Silly Love/The Dean And I/Life Is A Ministrone/The Wall Street Shuffle//Art For Art's Sake/I'm Mandy Fly Me/Good Morning Judge/The Things We Do For Love/Dreadlock Holiday/I'm Not In Love

"Like a gourmet in a skid-row diner, a fitting menu for a dilettante"

 ‘Greatest Hits’ is the epitome of a perfectly timed compilation. At the time it was just a filler, released to capitalise on the recent #1 of ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ and to fill a gap between the ‘Bloody Tourists’ and ‘Look, Hear, Are You Normal?’ LPs. It was a rather necessary release as well, filling in for the hole where a normal 10cc LP would have been and giving Eric Stewart more time to recover from a nasty car accident that nearly killed him. But as it happened that gap rather killed the band off as well and ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ - the most recent song here - was the last hit the band had anyway and so you get pretty much the perfect summary of the band at a time when the record company hadn’t yet written them off and was still giving them proper attention (the cover of this album is excellent and very 10cc – they feature a series of ‘greatest hits’ ranging from the iceberg hitting the Titanic to the cricket ball that killed a passing sparrow at Lords cricket ground) but wasn’t released too early to miss out on some of the bigger hits. In fact Mercury have gone to some length to secure most of the 'UK label' hits such as 'Rubber Bullets' 'Donna' 'SSSSSilly Love' and 'The Dean and I', making this set the first time that a mixture of the UK and Mercury tracks had appeared in the same place. If only this album had come out on CD we might have been spared the horrors of the more recent compilations. Odd that the songs are ever so nearly in order but not quite, however ('The Wall Street Shuffle' is between 'Minestrone' and 'Art's Sake' when it should be next to 'SSSSSSilly Love' and 'The Dean and I'). Perhaps strangely, this much-loved compilation hasn't appeared on CD even though many of the digital era sets are clearly based on this one.
                                        
"Tropical and Love Songs"

(Mercury, '1979')

Dreadlock Holiday/The Things We Do For Love/Channel Swimmer/Rock 'n' Roll Lullaby/Life Is A Minestrone/People In Love//I'm Not In Love/Don't Hang Up/The Second Sitting For The Last Supper/Get It While You Can/For You And I

"Everybody's having fun so why be the one left out in the cold?"

With typical bad timing, Eric Stewart's car crash came at just the point when 'Dreadlock Holiday' was opening new doors for the band. Especially in Japan, where 10cc had just become the next big thing. While the rest of the word got the comprehensive 'Greatest Hits' released instead of a new album, Japan chose to deliver a slightly quirkier compilation that had less hits but arguably more of the 10cc character about it. With a name exploiting the band's newfound Caribbean sound (even though the second track is set in the heart of winter, but never mind), this compilation took off big-time and even made it to a few other shores on import, even though all of the songs on it were available on other releases. It's still a popular compilation with many and for good reason, mixing the obvious and the unknown to great effect. 

Graham Gouldman "Animalympics"

 (Mercury/A&M, '1980')

Go For It/Underwater Fantasy/Away From It All/Born To Lose/Kit Mambo//Z.O.O./Love's Not For Me (Rene's Song)/With You I Can Run Forever/Bionic Boar/We've Made It To The Top

"Hey, boy, what you gonna do when there ain't no future here for you?"

Considering that 10cc were one of the most visual bands of the 1970s in terms of their songs (their third LP wasn't called 'The Original Soundtrack' for nothing!) it seems strange to say that by 1980 the closest the band had ever come to becoming involved in a film was Eric Stewart and the other Mindbenders trying their hardest to look like teenagers behind Lulu in 'To Sir With Love' and the odd music video (and even those didn't start in earnest until 'Good Morning Judge' in 1977 - and yes Eric and Graham got there before their more famous fellow directors Kevin and Lol). This all changes in 1980: Eric's car crash in January 1979 means that the rest of 10cc have time on their hands but don't want to make another full 10cc album yet until they're up to speed. Eric is still having trouble even listening to music after all, as the crash damaged his hearing.  With time on his hands, Graham takes up a commission to record the music to much-loved children's animation film with the rest of the band's help, while later in the year Eric tentatively tries the same with the much more 'adult' comedy 'Girls'. Clearly the two musicians are heading in two very different worlds by this stage with some of the most juvenile and mature releases in the 10cc discography - though not the way round you might suppose...

Animalympics was a rather good animated children’s film involving animals performing at the Olympic games and features some typically optimistic, overcome-obstacles-and go-for-it children’s fare sung by, err, rhinos, fish and lionesses; very off-the-wall, very early 10CC in fact. However Graham approached the project much like the later 10cc albums and seems to use this project as an early version of the 1981 band album 'Ten Out Of Ten', pouring out his heart on a series of songs that are about love, loss, hard work and ambition - they just happen to be sung through the eyes of two long distance runners who happen to be an Ibex and a tigress, that's all! In a way 'Animalympics' is the final, largely-Graham-less 10cc project 'Windows In The Jungle's kid sister, tackling the same themes of scratching below the surface and working out what life's really about (though the characters in the film train hard they pretty much all realise that there is more to life than being the fastest, strongest or jumping the longest - it's the proving yourself to yourself and forming a family that are the salvation of almost all these animal athletes). The two albums even feature the same 'jungle' sound effect, heard at the beginning and end of 'Windows' and here as a loop on the instrumental 'Kit Mambo'.

'Animalympics'  is also far more of a 'band' album than either of the last two 10cc albums and despite the billing Graham is often subservient to Rick, Paul, Stuart and especially Duncan who comes into his own on this album. 'Bionic Bear' is by far the most experimental and technologically progressive track in the 10cc canon and even became a minor hit in the 1990s disco scene with dancers convinced it was a new work by some hip with-it teenage something rather than off a children's soundtrack album a decade old! The throbbing 'Kit Mambo' and the cheery station ID of 'Z.O.O.' are also far superior to any of the previous 10cc instrumental B-sides, tightly played and distinctive. However it's Graham's lyrics that stand out the most across this album and all of them cut far far deeper than by rights they need to. The upbeat 'Go For It' is about so much more than winning a race; it's about refusing to be beaten or to give in to the voices in your heard telling you you can't do something. 'Away From It All' is dreamy escapism and an Eric Stewart-style look at how love is more important than winning any day. 'Born To Lose' looks at what it really takes to become an olympic-level athlete: hard work and dedication of course, but also all the things you miss out on, like living 'real' life alongside everybody else. The French-style 'Love's Not For Me' is a tigress' emotional outpouring that she runs to run away from other things in her life, including love. You wonder how many of our athletic stars became olympians after first hearing this album in their tender years - and offering this album up to future would-be athletes with its theme of deprivation and competition seems a good idea too. Even the songs that are just silly pop songs are well handled too, especially the singalong 'Underwater Fantasy' which features the single best 10cc guitar riff since 'Rubber Bullets'. Is it as good as the 10cc albums around it? Well, perhaps not given that 'Bloody Tourists' 'Ten Out Of Ten' and 'Windows In The Jungle' all have such a lot to offer all the way through (and there are, perhaps, three filler songs across what is a rather short album). But this quirky, thoughtful, well arranged and produced album has much more of a 10cc feel than the 'Look Hear' album released hot on its heels (the soundtrack album was delayed a few months to coincide with the release of the film - really belongs in the 1979 list as that's when it was made) and it is one hell of a lot better than by rights it should be. Would that all children's soundtracks were made with this much love, care, attention and depth.

Perhaps missing the 'togetherness' message of the film, the original idea of showing this film on TV in the run-up to the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980 never quite happened. This was, you might remember, the year that America decided to boycott the games (in protest at a Russian invasion of Afghanistan) and where most of the coverage of them was swept under the carpet, so this American-made film became a much bigger hit in Europe than it ever did in the States (we got it in the cinema instead).  America finally showed it in 1984 as part of their coverage of their 'home' games in California instead. As for the soundtrack album, it desperately deserves a re-release on CD, although funnily enough it is available on iTunes at the time of writing.

'Go For It' flies with the funk 10cc tried to pull off on parts of 'Bloody Tourists' like 'The Anonymous Alcoholic' and 'Exclamation Marks!!!' but they actually pull it off here. Rick Fenn's guitar and Duncan's synth bass hit a neat groove while Graham tells us all about the sacrifices you have to make to become the best at anything in life - like ignoring your friends when they call round. 'It's really your decision' shrugs Graham, 'You can boogie all night and sleep all day!' It's probably best not to remind him of how little training the likes of Usian Bolt and Michael Phelps tend to do before their olympic games...

'Underwater Fantasy' would have been a big hit for 10cc with different lyrics and features one of the best 'band recordings' by the six-piece 10cc. Rick's double-tracked guitars (there's even a backwards guitar loop!), Graham's bass and the two drummers cook up a storm and the effects are pretty spectacular by 1980. Yes the lyrics are silly, describing what it would be like to live underwater, but other novelty songs on similar themes like 'Octopuses' Garden' frankly didn't rock this hard or this well.

'Away From It All' is a sleepy ballad, actually heard at the end of the film despite being so early on in the course of the soundtrack album. Kit Mambo the tigress from Africa has fallen for her biggest rival in the marathon running Rene Fromage, an Ibex from France (apparently both sexes run in the same event in the animal kingdom) and it's suddenly put her career into perspective: she took up running to avoid falling in love and yet here she is, wishing she wasn't running and was with her new handsome bloke with the big antlers; secretly he's wishing it too. on second thoughts don't play this to future potential Olympians, they'll all be busy falling in love instead...

'Born To Lose' is Rene's story and it's one Godley-Creme have put into song a few times: bullied and ridiculed, Rene was told he would never amount to anything. But he took that fire and used it positively, making himself tougher, training every day and turning into his continent's leading runner. It's a life-changing moment as he realises he has the power and he isn't born to lose at all - and neither, by association, are you the listener. A percussion-heavy backing track keeps the song relentlessly running on but the tune is perhaps a shade less memorable than on the rest of this record.

'Kit Mambo' is a four minute instrumental-with-African-chants that makes amends for the rather stereotypical 'Oh! Effendi' from 'Sheet Music'. The band really nail the African leanings here with Burgess and Tosh's groove meshing well with Graham's Ladysmith Black Mambazo style chanting and Rick Fenn's terrific and rather Eric Stewartish crystal-clear guitar. The sound effects are so good it was inevitable they'd be re-used in 'Windows In The Jungle'. Sadly this song is only heard in a few second extracts across the film - it really needs to be heard in full to be enjoyed.

Side two starts with another song only heard in part form, the stirring 'Z.O.O.' (the acronym for the television network that 'screens' the 'Animalympics' though who knows what it stands for - Zooligical Ornotholigist Olympians perhaps?) This is a big production number which grows bigger with every cycle of the main riff, with horns and strings and a Hawaiian steel guitar part from Rick. It's very catchy  but, like a lot of instrumentals, perhaps a little too long on album.

 'Love's Not For Me' is Rene's sad song of why he began running - for all the wrong reasons it seems. A French Rivera feel adds a nice feeling of melancholy to this song which Graham invests with a surprising amount of emotion and warmth. You sense that he identifies strongly with Rene, in as much as any bass player with a hit pop group can ever identify with an animated French Ibex.

'With You I Can Run Forever' isn't quite up to the rest of the album despite featuring a very lovely riff that sounds like a missing hit from the summer of love you didn't quite get round to hearing. Heard in the film at the point where Kit and Mambo fall in love (and carry on running past the finish line of their race - which is a draw if you were wondering - to be together and be free), it's pretty but also pretty inconsequential.

'Bionic Boar', meanwhile, is the opposite. Way ahead of its time, this is Duncan Mackay's masterpiece with a fleet of synths all meshing to provide a soundtrack somewhere between a war film and a horror movie. I never knew 1980s synthesisers could sound this good, while the song even incorporates an opening burst of 'Old McDonald Had A Farm'. The idea of the competing pig being bionic (ie part robotic) also sounds awfully like the 'drug cheating' scandal that came just before the last olympics in Brazil in 2016. Highly impressive.

Alas the last song 'We've Made It To The Top' is exactly the sort of cheesy children's pop song you may have been expecting for the past half hour. Celebrating the end of the Olympics and all the hard work spent, it vows 'we ain't never gonna stop', perhaps missing the point that olympics only turn up every four years. The line 'we've made some friends along the way and we made some people happy when we came in at number one' might well have you reaching for the sick bag too.

Overall, though, 'Animalympics' is a good sport: it doesn't cheat or stint on hard work or assume that because this is a children's film that Graham and co can cut corners. Instead this is 10cc at their united best (minus Eric), setting fans curious enough to buy this LP up nicely for the more emotional and heartfelt songs both Graham and Eric will write during their last few years together. It certainly gets a gold medal from us and makes tackling the 'missing year' in this book (given that this is really a 1979 project, not a 1980 one) that much easier.

Eric Stewart "Girls"

(Polydor, 1980)

Opening Music/Girls/Disco Grindin'-Switch La Bitch/Disco Bumpin'/Aural Exciter/Warm Warm Warm/Tonight/Snatch The Gas/Your Touch Is Soft/Trouble Shared/Discollapse

"You've got the world in the palm of your hand - don't ever throw it away!"

Eric, meanwhile, wasn't quite so lucky with his choice of film. After his car-crash Eric became ridiculously prolific, as if making up for lost time. This film soundtrack, however, isn't one of his better ideas: most of the songs are full of the sort of soft 'lift music' instrumentals every film from the 1980s seems to be full of and there are only four actual 'songs'. To be fair, these aren't bad: despite the generic titles 'Warm Warm Warm' 'Tonight' and the title track 'Girls' are real character songs, Stewart doing well to get into the mindset of an ambitious female blocked not by talent but by sexism (it may be that the 1983 10cc song 'Working Girls' started life here too - the date seems wrong but it sounds like a good fit at least). Wanting to take 10cc into a raunchier phase, more in keeping with some of the tracks off the last two albums 'Deceptive Bends' and 'Bloody Tourists', he agreed to write the score for a film about three high school leavers who get up to mischief with various boyfriends. Of course they all fall pregnant (or at least think they are) and suddenly their exam results don't actually make that much difference. Like the film, Eric's soundtrack album isn't quite as groundbreaking or as controversial as it wants to be and mainly consists of fluff and filler, with lengthy instrumentals taking up most of the playing time. On the plus side this is, like 'Animalympics', pretty much a band project and indeed Eric shares co-writes on every song with Duncan Mackay with his synths again the dominant force (albeit in a bluesier, less mainstream way than 'Animalympics' - if anyone ever wondered exactly what Eric and Graham brought to those 10cc albums each the differences between these two albums will tell you a lot more than I ever could). Sadly Eric's clearly not up to full health yet and his occasional vocals and - sadly - even more occasional guitar solos are tentative and clumsy compared to the days of old (or indeed the days still to come). Much of this album sounds busked in the studio, in contrast to the painstaking attention to detail of 'Animalympics', and is often aimless and noodling, wandering around waiting for inspiration to hit.

Rightly seen as the nadir of Eric's catalogue, it does however have a few standout moments, most of them the passages that are songs: the title track (complete with compulsory 'Hmmm-mmm' after every title repeat) is an OK-ish 1980s pop song that sounds like a more hyperactive twin of Barry Manilow's 'Could It Be Magic?', especially when heard in instrumental form; 'Tonight' is a funky take on Eric's usual hapless narrators turning the tables by being the chaser rather than the chasee; 'Warm Warm Warm' is a sweet minor gem of a ballad that repeats the refrain of 'Tokyo' against some vaguely romantic words about the human need to be close to somebody (anybody!) that rather drives the whole film. Anyone who goes weak at the knees when Eric puts his romantic voice on will enjoy this one, even if it isn't quite as 'special' as some of the others in his catalogue. Set against this, however, 'Disco Grindin' however is awful, Eric's misogynistic lyric of 'Switch The Bitch' and ogling over sixteen year olds set against his cod-heavy metal solo-ing perhaps the single worst moment in this book, while the six - six! - instrumentals are a lazy way to pad out an LP, even on a film soundtrack where you half expect that sort of thing. Thankfully things are going to be better on from here on in, with this project one that Eric kind of had to make to bring himself back to full musical health and he won't make any of the same mistakes again on the last pair of original and rather gorgeous 10cc albums that are as full and thoughtful as this album is silly and flimsy. 

"In Concert"
(Contour, '1982')
The Second Sitting For The Last Supper/You've Got A Cold/The Things We Do For Love/Art For Art's Sake/People In Love/The Wall Street Shuffle/I'm Mandy, Fly Me/Marriage Bureau Rendezvous/Good Morning Judge/Honeymoon With B Troop/Waterfall/I'm Not In Love
"Don't give a damn, don't give a hoot, just got to keep making the loot, chauffeur driven!"
Just as 10cc were beginning to disintegrate, with Eric and Graham off making different projects, the public got a reminder of just how unified they'd seemed just four years earlier with this record released to fill the gap where a 1982 album would normally have been. 'In Concert' isn't a new album, just a 12 song single LP reduction of the original 15 song 'Live and Let Live' double. Of course, wouldn't you know it, the three songs missing are some of the best: 'Ships Don't Just Disappear' the lengthy 'Feel The Benefit' and the encore 'Modern Man Blues'. The album got a new, rather more boring name and a new, rather more boring cover with all six members of the 1978 period 10cc staring straight at the camera looking bored. A nice cheap way of getting what used to be a rather expensive double album in 1982 is now, ironically, a rather expensive means of getting that last album for your 10cc collection in this day and age while 'Live and Let Live' is comparatively cheap. Such is life.

Eric Stewart "Frooty Rooties"

(**, **1982)

The Ritual (Part One/Progress De La Rake Part Two/Euphoria Part Three/Dog With Four Trees)/Make The Pieces Fit/Never Say I Told You So/Night and Day/All My Loving Following You/Rockin' My Troubles Away/Doris The Florist/Guitaaaaaaaarhghs/Strictly Business/Night and Day (Reprise)

"Stop your dreaming - your ship  could be sinking, better start moving - you can't sit there thinking!"

The only 10cc non-soundtrack solo album released while the band were still 'together', 'Frooty Rooties' was something of a poor seller and has been rather forgotten by 10cc fans today. Eric clearly had a lot on his mind in this period, still suffering from the after-effects of his near-fatal car crash in 1979 and in a deeper mind-set than most of his earlier work. In many ways a solo album seems a natural thing to do - Eric's material isn't quite as obviously made for 10cc as before and had he released all of this material as well as the songs that made the last two 10cc albums (recorded either side of this album) he would certainly have swamped Graham. However it's odd what Eric chose to keep for himself and what he gave to the band. While some of these songs (most notably ten minute suite 'The Ritual') sound like a 'practice' for the deeper, what's-the-point-of-it-all sighing of the two songs that bookend 'Windows In The Jungle', this is arguably the most '10cc' of the three records, what with song titles like 'Doris The Florist' and 'Guitaaaaarghs' (although even these aren't out-and-out comedy moments).

To be honest I was expecting more from this album, which is clearly a labour of love and had much time and care lavished on it. Eric ought to sound as inspired and troubled as he does on both 'Ten Out Of Ten' and 'Windows In The Jungle', both albums that I adore, with the same feeling of urgency and sudden insight that can only come from someone whose stared death in the face and lived to see the other side. Instead it's a rather sleepy affair, not just low on laughs but also the seriousness of those late-period 10cc classics. Too often the album takes the easy way out, burying interesting ideas underneath  silly retro-rock riffs which were always Eric's less appealing side: 'Night and Day' (senselessly heard twice across the album) sounding like that annoying pub singer who played at your last Christmas party and wouldn't move off the stage; similarly had 'Rockin' My Troubles Away' been delivered by an Elvis impersonator you'd have asked for your money back, never mind when it's a song made by one of the 1970s' greatest ever bands.  'Strictly Business' tries to have fun with a 50s style song about what rip-off managers were really up to - which sounds like a good idea but manages to reduce a whole genre down to point-scoring and nasty jibes (10cc were never good at 'angry' or 'bitter', as a good deal of reunion album '...Meanwhile' attests). 'Guitaaarghs' is an overlong, underwhelming instrumental.  Even the title and front cover - a very retro shot of Eric sitting with guitar, legs akimbo - aren't half as clever or ironic as they think they're being, a poor man's 10cc album title and sleeve (it would have made more sense if Eric had harnessed the similarly word mangling power of Little Richard on this record, but no - he's a wannabe Elvis). While the ballads are better even these tend to come in less 'finished' form than usual: I can have one of Eric's band ballads (not just 'I'm Not In Love' but 'Memories' and 'Don't Turn Me Away' for example) happily going round my head for weeks; by contrast I've just been playing 'Make The Pieces Fit' constantly and I still can't remember it. Given that - 'Windows' aside - Eric's next album won't be until 2003 it seems an awful shame that such a great talent is being frivolously wasted on such undeserving material.

That said, even a great artist on a bad day can come up with something. Opening song 'The Ritual' is no '24 Hours' or 'Taxi! Taxi!' but is a neat and clever look at the sheer amount of made-up rituals the average human goes through during an average day. While Eric never quite comes out and laughs at the sheer ridiculousness of it all, that's clearly the idea: 'I nearly died' the subplot of the song states, 'and you still want me to go through all these polite gestures if I want to get a record out?' 'Doris The Florist' is a fun 10cc-ish story that doesn't go where you think it does that's funnier than most of 'Look Hear' to boot. 'All My Loving Following You' could have been a cute hit pop song had the 10cc name been on it, a lovely chirpy piece of fluff that really swings. In contrast to that cover with Eric's guitar proudly on display, Stewart rarely unleashes his guitar here but when he does the sound is a delight: 'Never Say I Told You So' features one of his greatest solos; full of ringing clarity and scatterbrained precision, the very musical equivalent of an 'I told you so' in fact. Had the album been full of more moments like these then 'Frooty Rooties' would seem a lot more substantial. As it stands it's a shame those four songs have been forgotten, part of a 'nothing' album that even most fans don't seem to know very well.

As we've seen, 'The Ritual' is arguably the best and certainly the deepest song here. The track takes the theme of '24 Hours' and the sound of 'Feel The Benefit' for a ten minute song about the narrator's pointless preening, 'all a game and just a bluff', as the narrator walks away from a night with several pretty ladies but unable to remember anything about them when he gets home. A 'middle eight' (in as much as a ten minute song built up out of bits stuck together can have a 'middle eight') features a whole load of awful chat-up lines before a sudden 'dance' instrumental. Eric's narrator finally meets his dream girl and tries to stop her going ('There's so much I want to say'), but now that 'the ritual' of asking girls out has become more serious he's tongue-tied and lost for words. Eric is then in denial, 'I'm Not In Love' style ('I can't believe that I'm in love again!')before  it all goes wrong and he finds himself back at the beginning, 'wandering in a state of confusion, looking for a new illusion'. The second half of the song is less interesting than the first (it could have ended quite happily at the five minute mark) but there are some very good lines, like the wannabe lothario after his prey and 'smiling like a politician' and when it all goes wrong 'drowning in a sea of silence'. '24 Hours' does a better job of similar ground, though, and it's rather a shame when after ten minutes the song fades rather givers the conclusion we long for; the way out of this vicious cycle of love and loss.

'Make The Pieces Fit' is pretty but pretty boring, with a simple 'Hotlegs' style guitar riff backing a song that's once again about going on a date, 'syncopated ad libs'. However two similarly-minded souls can talk together 'like harmony' and sound as if they're 'meant' to go together. 10cc would have made something of this ballad, but this is a song that gives muted a bad name.

'Never Say I Told You So' at least sounds good: there's some great guitar work in Eric's characteristic on-the-edge-but-in-control style, but the song itself is uncomfortably close to The Beatles' 'Come Together' with the same macho posturing and silly sentences. A chanted chorus of 'let it go let it go let it go' is one of its authors less inspired moments, but the song clearly means something to Eric, with a great vocal similar in style to his guitar-work.

'Night and Day' is horrendous, the sort of twee Tin Pan Alley-style song the 1960s were invented to destroy forever. A strong candidate for Eric's worst song during his entire career, this song's only redeeming feature is that at 2:26 it's so short. 

Unbelievably this least-deserving of songs gets a reprise at the end of the album!
All My Loving Following You' is better, equally derivative but with a real spark of life to it and a fun bouncy riff that's easily the catchiest Stewart song from this album and the two 10cc records either side of it. It's a throwback to the 'Sheet Music' days when quirky songs like this were the norm, although the usual 'I'm in love with you' style lyrics aren't as quirky. Another fine guitar solo, sadly replaced almost straight away by a very 1980s sax part, makes this another of the album's better songs.

Rockin' My Troubles Away' is a grooving 1950s style song that suffers from too many cliches and is one of those silly little songs that sound like more fun to play than to listen to. Eric is no Elvis, for which I'm usually deeply thankful, but here a little more charisma and a little less impersonation would have been good.

'Doris The Florist' is a lovely story-song, with a delightful chorus of such longing and yearning that I'm surprised the middle of the record doesn't melt. Doris is one of life's reliable types whose dreams never quite come true, her lonely life above the shop where she 'pulls the shutters down' every night has become such a way of life that she's scared of meeting anyone new (she even politely turns the narrator down), ending a 'blossoming' romance. This would have made a lovely 10cc song.

'Guitaaaaaaarghs' is actually less about the guitar and more about the funky rhythm section, a near-instrumental with Eric throwing out some lyrics rap-style which really doesn't work even as parody. Only a brief retro guitar solo makes this song in any way listenable.

'Strictly Business' is one last horrendous return to the 1950s, better than the previous two but still a long way from inspired. Returning to the theme of 'Art For Art's Sake' a musician's releases are only considered 'good' if they 'sell a million' - because that way the business can 'rob you blind'. Once again a strong guitar solo is the best thing here on a track that really doesn't suit Eric.

The album then plays out with a reprise of 'Night and Day'. Of all the songs I never wanted to hear again...it's as if Eric is testing our patience to see if we really will sit through anything; against all the odds this song is actually worse than I'd remembered. Thank goodness it's only short.

Overall, then, 'Frooty Rooties' is a 'lost' record that's been lost for some very good reasons. Eric can usually write better than this in his sleep - so what was this record all about? As proof that he can operate without the rest of the band it's only half-successful, as a strong album in its own right ditto. Nobody was forcing Eric to make this record and what with 10cc's busy itinerary he clearly didn't need to make it: so why is it here? 'The Ritual' and 'Doris The Florist' seem like clues, returning to the 1980s 10cc theme of making the most of your life before it's too late. But if so then why aren't these songs on 'Windows In The Jungle' where a fab album might have been made even 'fabber'? 'Frooty Rooties' is a frustrated lost opportunity to prove how great Eric can be - and he won't get another chance all to himself for another 21 years...

Wax "Magnetic Heaven"

 (RCA, '1986')

Right Between The Eyes/Hear No Evil/Shadows Of Love/Marie Claire/Ball and Chain//Systematic/Breakout/Only A Visitor/Rise Up/Magnetic Heaven

"We'll be together now, find our way out somehow, your secret's safe with me I swear!"

The Gouldman-Gold partnership in 10cc in 1981 across a couple of singles and a slightly tweaked version of the 'Ten Out Of Ten' album had split fans almost down the middle. For some the injection of Andrew Gold's grasp of contemporary pop and his whizzkid way with synthesisers was a natural extension of what the original 10cc had once been all about and which they had gradually broken away from as passing years, wisdom, maturity, car crashes and falling record sales changed their natural style; it was all a bit less 'safe', as if Godley and Creme were back in the band again, albeit a very different band to the one they'd left in 1976. Graham, especially, seems to have loved this brief period of 10cc history and would no doubt have adopted the style for good had Andrew not had to reluctantly go back to his career on his manager's instructions and had Eric Stewart - who was on the songwriting role of his life - not been in something of a serious life-changing mood.  For others Gold's style wasn't so much Godley as Godforsaken: 10cc were such a 1970s band and had never had to chase the pop markets quite so desperately before, why try and force them into a more contemporary style? Wasn't being 10cc enough and since when did this band care about record sales anyway?

At first Andrew was just helping out on a Graham Gouldman project as Graham realised in a panic, at the end of 10cc in 1983, that he hadn't written any songs alone for over a decade. Andrew, whose career has all but dried up since his big hit 'Lonely Boy' in 1979, was only to eager to re-connect with his old friend and flew over from America to stay in Stockport (which must have been a culture shock!) The former pop boy wonder was only meant to stay on Graham's sofa for seven days; the pair found writing together so natural that he ended up staying for seven months. The pair planned to call themselves 'World In Action' and anxiously waited to see if their first single 'Don't Break My Heart' would be as big a hit as 10cc; the answer was not even close. Remembering their early days as Hotlegs, Graham tried again with a new band name 'Common Knowledge' and a second single 'Victoria' - this one did so badly that an almost-completed album was shelved (until 1998 when the album appeared named after the band but with the band name given as 'Wax', just to add to the confusion of the 10cc collector!) In truth you can see why: the ideas are there, but nothing quite comes together and it's not as memorable as the later albums (we've reviewed it out of order later in the book). The pair decided to have one more go and picked 'Wax' as a suitably catchy wacky name - their main point of existence, after all, was to glue themselves to people's ears. Third single 'Ball and Chain' did ok, enough to get them a deal for a full album anyway and 'Magnetic Heaven' was the result, a much tougher, more memorable album than its predecessor.

In truth the new poppier direction was both good and bad for first 1981 period Gold-produced 10cc and then Wax, the three albums that Gold and Gouldman made together sharing the same strengths and weaknesses as their work for 10cc in 1981. On the plus side Wax allows Graham the chance to return to his earliest days as a craftsmanlike pop writer, rather than being the unsung bassist in a band that already had three front-men and - thanks mainly to Gold  - the band have as much of a finger on the pulse of the markets of the day as Gouldman did in the 1960s; arguably more than 10cc ever had in the 1970s (they were a law unto themselves and ignored trends for the most part). It's good to hear Graham getting back to his pop roots again as well, writing simple catchy songs about nothing much in particular but which still came with killer hooks and great choruses; if you've heard Graham's work in order (either at the time or just now working through this book) then 'Magnetic Heaven' actually comes as a bit of a nice change from sensitive ballads and earnest confessionals. However this is not really a career, well not a long-lasting one anyway and even by the second released/third made Wax album 'American English' you can tell the duo are running out of ideas while trying to do similar things all the time. Sadly the depth that Graham had learnt during his time with 10cc is thrown out with the sad songs and the poor-selling un-commercial singles, while the repetitive 1980s backing - which sounded cutting edge at the time - now sounds far more dated than anything 10cc were up to ten years earlier. The trouble is everything turns to Gold on this album - no not that sort of gold I'm afraid, it's just that if you buy this album to hear Graham alone you'll be disappointed. Little here sounds like pure Gouldman, with Graham getting just one and a half lead vocal on this album to his name (the album highlight 'Marie Claire' plus a bit of 'Only A Visitor') - pretty much the same as he was in late period 10cc. Instead Andrew sings lead on nine tracks and Graham is having a lot more fun writing in his new partner's style than Andrew is writing in Graham's softer, less aggressive style. In short, this is a band you're only really going to love if you also love 1980s pop music and try your best to forget the brilliance Graham was up to before - and yet on this album 'Magnetic Heaven' especially this is superior 1980s pop from two men who at least know what they're doing. This is a band you tend to either love or hate in fandom; as usual in these circumstances I'm on the fence and can see the points of both sides - Wax is a comedown from 10cc certainly, but then which band wouldn't be? By the same token it's also one up from Graham's own solo work and you can tell just how much he's enjoying this collaboration - on the few times you hear him, anyway.

As an album 'Magnetic Heaven' is like one of those people you meet who seem oddly assertive and aggressive at first but once you get to know them they're really quite sweet. Hyperactive in the extreme and using nothing less than seven synthesisers where one would probably do, 'Magnetic Heaven' is loud and proud of it, bursting with every 80s pop cliché from the sample ('b..b...breakout!'), those synth-drums (every collector of bands who passed through the mid-1980s will know what I'm talking about) and a writing style that means practically every line gets punctuated by something, usually a peal of synth notes that come with the fuzzy brightness of a doorbell on a quiz show. If that sounds unappetising then yes, much of it is - and yet both Gold and Gouldman clearly know what they're doing underneath all this surface appeal. Many of these songs are actually quite thoughtful when you study them rather than 'hear' them if that makes sense - yes tracks like 'See No Evil' and 'Systematic' sound like one power-pop chorus but underneath all that they're actually pretty intelligent tracks about not trusting what you hear and obsessing so badly about something you're not going to say no. 'Marie Claire', the one song here Graham gets to sing, is as great a love song as any in his canon, sung with one last hopeful glance backwards before the narrator sadly takes a final 'no' for an answer and wanders off (it's 'I'm Not In Love' in reverse, with Marie Claire in denial perhaps). Also, not one song on this album is truly bad - a few songs are particularly bland like 'Breakout' (Wham meets Take That, yeesh!) and 'Rise Up!' (Boy George meets Bob Marley), but none are all bad. And there are even quite a few 10cc albums you can't say that about.

Wax is an interesting band and this is their most interesting record, because they're the only example I can think of where writers who started with pop records grew, learnt a great deal, matured in style and came out the other side - and then put everything they'd learnt back into making pop records. It's as if Lennon and McCartney had returned to write a sequel to 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' having already written 'Eleanor Rigby' and 'In My Life' or Simon and Garfunkel writing 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' and surrounding it with their early period woo-bop-a-loo-chi-bahs. Heaven? Hardly, at times this album is so 1980s it sounds like synth-hell, while the curious abstract watercolour painting of the pair on the front cover demonstrates the exact same problem with the album: all abstract noise, no detail and colour. However, magnetic? Yes - there's something about this record that finds me coming back to it over and over again. 'Magnetic Heaven' is a mature album in a popstar's clothing and if you can get through the first feeling of 'yuck' when you play it then it will suck you in.

'Right Between The Eyes' is a slightly misleading start, if only because it features guitars and hardly any of the other tracks here do. The chord progression is almost 1960s in its sweetness and restlessness too, though the sound is very much 1980. Andrew's narrator sings about falling in love when he least expected it - and out of love the same. Yeah sure we've heard it all before, to quote an earlier Gouldman-Gold song, but this song sounds more 'real' and believable than many others on a similar theme.

'Hear No Evil' is an early appearance by a regular Wax theme: outrage over injustice. This isn't really a theme either man had covered much on their earlier work and this isn't one of the better examples, but for once the song's pop assertion sounds just right on a song about fighting back against rumours. A great snazzy chorus rather underlines the serious point but is good for singing along to as Gold urges us to be nice to everyone or they might not be so nice to us one day.

'Shadows Of Love' is another pretty chorus in search of a song that desperately needs an 'unplugged' style remix one day so we can hear how beautiful the song really is - and Andrew's gutsy vocal too. A poignant lyric about two lost and lonely souls coming together and  finding out what real love, as opposed to 'shadow' love one-night stands, this is one of the nicer songs on the album.

'Marie Claire' is stunning, a Gouldman tour de force in which he uses his rarely heard 'angry' vocal to good effect, especially when it's heard in tandem with Gold's more hopeful vocal in the chorus. The narrator and Marie Claire used to be close, he promised to be with her forever 'even between the devil and deep blue sea' - and now that's where she wants him, as she dithers and delays their romance. The verse, an angry snappy minor key verse suddenly falls into a major key chorus that features such an outpouring of love and affection it takes a brave girl to say no. The hint, too, is that the narrator has just got his timings wrong; she's in trouble, asking him to cover up for her (which he does, of course, he's in love) and she's clearly 'wrong' - and yet for the narrator 'you're the one thing that's right in my life'. Beautiful. If only Graham had written this song for 10cc's similarly poignant final album 'Windows In The Jungle' it would have been perfect.

Side one ends with the semi-flop single 'Ball and Chain'. The first song recorded under the 'Wax' name, it's interesting how confident and contemporary the Wax pair suddenly sound after messing around with their 'World In Action' and 'Common Knowledge' styles. Another song of obsession, it makes good use of a pulsating synth riff that just won't let go and a snarling Gold lead that may well be one of his best (especially the spoken word part, 'Day after day and week after week they knock you down till you're dead on your feet and what you got? Huh, nothing!' which is usually a big no-no in songs like these).

'Systematic' sounds more like Gouldman's work, based around an inventive bass riff and featuring many of the 'off-beat' rhythms he tended to use mostly when working when Kevin Godley. This unusual, eccentric melody is matched by unusual quirky words that again focus on obsession with Andrew's narrator refusing to take 'no' for an answer and systematically breaking down his wannabe lover's defences. Something tells me that with a riff like that he's likely to win.

'B-r-r-r-r-r-r-reakout' (as it's pronounced, if not written) is, though, just an empty song and amongst the weakest tracks here. She's finally said 'yes' after a romantic dinner and Andrew's narrator is hallucinating and dreaming of 'setting your inhibitions free'. Sadly that seems to involve break dancing as a metaphor for him finally having got past his girl's reserve, but then it was 1985 - break dancing was still (just about) cool then.

'Only A Visitor' slows down the pace a touch and is the only time in wax history Gold and Gouldman trade lines on a duet - it sounds so good you wonder why they didn't do it more often. Graham takes the verses, Andrew the chorus and both sing the middle eight, Graham the lengthy parts and Andrew the short. A song about feeling out of place, it could be about either Graham entering the pop market, Andrew living in Britain, a person on the run or aliens. Maybe all four: maybe Graham is an alien on the run?

The synth-heavy 'Rise Up!' starts with what sounds like a coffee blender clearing it's throat before settling down into one of those 1980s songs that manages to combine lyrics about being hopeful about the modern era and that things are going change with a 1980s sound that just makes you feel depressed. Like many of the songs here, a remix of the song would reveal an actually sweet and detailed song which urges us to 'retaliate' against injustices of the world, because they have no place in the 'modern' world.

The album then closes with the moodiest, least poppy song  - title track 'Magnetic Heaven'. A sampled choir sings some 'I'm Not In Love' style 'aaaahs' and a small child asks 'Daddy?' but otherwise this is Wax's only instrumental and that's odd because this song sounds as if it 'needs' words perhaps more than the rest on the album, with a dangling synth riff that almost does seem to be singing to us. The 1980s effects are wretched though, here even more than normal.

Overall, then, 'Magnetic Heaven' is an album that somehow manages to mix the sort of off-putting production sound that means you'll never play this album again with a set of songs that actually grow on you and are a cut above your average synth-filled 1980s pop album. While I wouldn't say Wax ever quite settle down and find their style, for a sort-of 'debut' (in real teams, of course, a surprisingly un-difficult second album) this is surprisingly full of style and character - a character quite unlike Gold and Gouldman's work separately. My guess is that, after losing their way a little on 'American English', Wax could yet have bounced back and become a superb band rather than a promising one, but sadly it was not to be. Just as candlewax doesn't burn forever, this was a band that always felt like it was going to have a limited life and so it proved - which is a shame, if only because a more retro 1990s production (closer to both men's natural tastes) might have revealed a far better band than Wax are ever given credit for being. Are we waxing lyrical about Wax's first record? No, but it's close...