Friday 4 July 2008

10cc "Windows In The Jungle" (1983) (Revised Review 2016)

You can now buy 'Memories - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of 10cc' in e-book form by clicking here!

"Take one funnyman, add in a serious car crash and an unmissable deadline + what do you get? Possibly the best 10cc CD of all, opening a window into Eric Stewart's troubled psyche.”

Track Listing: 24 Hours/ Feel The Love (Oomachassooma)/ Yes I Am!/ Americana Panorama//City Lights/Food For Thought/ Working Girls/ Taxi! Taxi! (UK and US tracklisting) 

'It's all part of living - do you want to get away?'

The year is 1983 and at last, after nineteen years at the top or near enough of the pops, Eric Stewart has given up writing through characters and pretending not to be in love by opening up to what is on his mind and in his heart on a thrilling album which turned out to be 10cc’s last for near enough a decade. ‘Windows’ should have opened new doors for 10cc instead of shutting the door on them – it is a riveting classy collection of songs inspired by the car crash that nearly killed him in 1979 and all the things whizzing through his head when he stared death in the face. This is an album about what life could and should be about instead of all the distractions that come to waylay us all, delivered with power and warmth that's virtually a solo work. The defence that Eric could never say ‘I love you’ in a song is tested here as he realises that it is the most important thing he could ever say, that life is too short and precious for wasting on jokey comedy songs and that each of us should be living our lives brighter, better, happier. Sometimes my job is hard: finding something new to say about records the world already knows backwards and which most people probably like a little more than me; here though my job is easy because I can guarantee I know this album at least as well as some people, more than a vast majority and there's a lot that's never been said about it. The world should have turned this album into a best-seller (it's way more emotionally satisfying than 'Pet Sounds', far more inventive than 'Graceland' and has much more of a theme running through it than 'Sgt Peppers' and 'Band On The Run' for starters). Instead it's an album that only a reviewer like me, apparently, can love and which went until as late as 2014 to secure its first ever legal CD release anywhere but Japan. Here, then, is our window in the 10cc jungle: this forgotten record might just be their masterpiece as long as you don't come to it looking for it to be a particularly 10cc masterpiece.

'Windows In The Jungle' is not the usual collection of funny happy-go-lucky 10cc songs and nor is it the catchiest, wildest ride of your life. You can entirely see why this sometimes hard-going collection of eight complex and ambitious songs was not what a record buying public wanted in 1983, particularly from a band long considered old hate. But that freedom is what makes this album special: figuring that nobody is buying the band’s ultra-commercial work either, Eric is free to write what he likes without repercussion (because only true fans are going to buy this stuff anyway). At the same time the guitarist is an odd position in the band: he’s less than happy at being told to work with young hotshot Andrew Gold who along with Graham is pulling the band in a different direction to where he wants to go. He also knows though that the band’s record label is getting impatient over falling sales and a long string of flop singles so that this might be the last chance he ever gets to speak what is on his mind.

The result may not be as catchy or clever as where 10cc started, but it's sweet (oh so sweet!) as Eric tries to urge us to ignore the pressures and responsibilities of the day and spend time with the one you love, tough (oh so tough!) as Eric faces the fact that love is an impossible enigma that will never be enough and great (oh so great!) as he ignores the obstacles and vows to plough himself into love, heart and soul, anyway. 'Windows' is a concept album of sorts (in as much as any 10cc album was ever a full concept album; this is arguably the closest) about peeling away the unnecessary distractions of our lives and to get down to the nitty gritty of who we are and what we stand for. But, more importantly than that, it's an album that peels away the 'fake' Eric as well and revealing that the confident, clever, popstar-since-his-teens guitarist with the cool shades is as lonely and vulnerable as anyone else, if not actually one hell of a lot more so. This isn’t a window into the jungle so much as it is a window into Eric’s soul and for that alone this album scores highly for bravery even without containing some of his best material.

Most 10cc albums come from a combination of the brain and the funnybone, but 'Windows In The Jungle' is a rare album that comes direct from the heart. It should have been one of the greatest albums of the 1980s. Instead it's an album that picks up grudging two-star reviews from fans who know it isn't rubbish but wonder where the catchy hits went, with a sales figure so poor and a studio atmosphere so low that it killed 10cc off for good (barring two reunion albums a decade later that nobody wanted to make). Sometimes life just isn't fair but - irony of ironies - that's ok, because that's kind of what the message of this album is too: the windows of clarity that call to us and part our own jungles of befuddlement with their sudden realisation about how we should be living our lives are so small and unlikely in a modern world full of the need to be seen to doing so many things we don't feel or believe in. These insights don't come round often and usually only through highly troubled circumstances (such as car crashes); we have to make the most of them when we get them. There is no other album in my collection that offers me what 'Windows' does (with Cat Stevens’ near-death-from-TB ‘Mona Bone Jakon’ the closest); it might not quite be the best album ever made thanks to a couple of lesser tracks and a flimsy album cover that doesn't quite come off, but it's close - at least for a record that nobody else ever puts in a 10cc top ten (and remember, they only made eleven albums).

The ‘subject matter’ of these two albums really boils down to – ‘What’s the point? We struggle all of our working loves to earn our five minutes of relaxation and freedom, only to start all over again – and with death seemingly lurking over our shoulder at every turn, surely our priorities are muddled? We should be living to give us the space to be able to work, not work to give us the tiny space to truly live'. We start with a day that begins like every other on '24 Hours', a song that begins with the newspaper boy delivery waking up the world to a 'race everyone's wanting to run'. Across eight golden minutes Eric tries to ignore the rushing commuters, deadlines and horrors of the world and pay attention to the 'music of life' he knows to be our true calling - a tune that he finally thinks he's found before it marches off, exiting stage right, to an icy riff and a sense of gloomy frustration. He wonders why people only celebrate their birthdays once a year, when everyday should be a day to celebrate and do something special. He'll do the same again tomorrow, the realisation of what life is really about tantalisingly out of reach as everyone around him repeats the same routines. It’s clearly written by someone whose life has just come to an abrupt halt whose never had to think about these things before, seeing the bigger picture instead of living for the day’s deadlines as before. This is a theme recycled elsewhere on the album: 'Feel The Love' is like a complete mis-reading of everything 10cc always stood for: the comedy vocals, the silly chorus ('Oomachasooma', is the name of an unlikely cupid figure the narrator pleads to for love), the warm lyrics about love and the 'Dreadlock Holiday' reggae backing ought to add up to the catchiest 10cc-hit-by-numbers in years. Instead it's a gloriously sly, sarcastic song where Eric jumps into love knowing full well the odds of finding a compatible partner are a 'million to one' and he's going to get burned - but he can't stop himself and 'ignore this feeling', because if he wasn’t to feel this strongly and try then what would be the point of living? More deadlines? Nothing matters more than the one you love - it's the working out who you love that's the heartbreaker.

'Yes I Am!' is a fascinating song, the one true 10cc love story without a catch anywhere in it as Eric finally comes clean and gets as close to saying ‘I love you’ as he ever has. In the song Eric slowly turns from the mushy insecure needy wannabe lover from [43] ‘I’m Not In Love’ whose oh so tired of being hurt over and over into someone whose as sure as he's ever been about anything in his life before. And all that even though none of the textbook things happened: the earth didn't move, he didn't see any fireworks and his world didn't stop - but he did catch his breath, risked his heart being broken and at last found someone he could trust with his fragile heart, with 'nothing to prove'. Even in a career of pitch-perfect love songs, this may well be his best (well, along with 'I'm Not In Love' and [64] 'The Things We Do For Love' perhaps), mushy in a way Eric has never allowed himself to be before. Next up comes 'Americana Panorama', a song about other people getting it 'wrong' - namely the politicians who have power for the sake of wielding it rather than to do any good and with a killer attack on Ronald Reagan ('a right banana'). They're missing the point too, lost in a jungle of their own making and making decisions for personal and party gain rather than for the good of the people they are meant to represent. Eric’s near-death experience has allowed him to see through so much now, including blind faith that leaders know what they are doing – instead everyone seems to be stumbling blindly without the sudden shock that he’s just had that we only get one life to make things work and that could be taken away from us at any time.

Over on side two 'City Lights' juxtaposes how alive the narrator feels when it's the weekend and he's out on the town and with money to burn, while the rest of the time he feels so fragile and ill and overworked. It’s a return to an old familiar 10cc theme which seemed to obsess Eric in this period (see ‘The Ritual’, the only song that sounds like this album on Eric’s 1982 solo set ‘Frooty Rooties’); how do you win a girl over authentically when so many of our dating rituals are about exaggeration and showing off? Here, though, it’s the thought that we have to wait until the weekend to enjoy ourselves and concentrate on our personal lives simply because society is set up to make us feel that way; we should really be concentrating on making our lives better Monday to Friday too. 'Food For Thought' has Eric talking about how his body knows the 'real' things in life when he sees it, relating all the changes in his body when he thinks of his lover (no not in that way, that's a whole different album, but in a metaphorical 10cc way). Eric realises that he's been starved of love like this for far too long and that he needs this food to 'survive', not a life of paying the bills and monotony. 'Working Girls' sounds as if it was added at the last minute as a more '10cc style' track to pad out the album (perhaps based around a track submitted for Eric’s 1981 film soundtrack ‘Girls’ as this song reflects the ‘sexy feminist’ plot quite well), but even here this tale of secretaries being seduced by 'office romeos' is a kind of 10cc feminist statement about how girls deserve better than the first smooth-talking man they comes across. This cat and mouse game is so ugly though, so unreal, so unromantic compared to the very real love the narrator felt over on side one - surely then it isn't really love at all? If so, what’s the point? Power is fleeting, as is everything and we should be concentrating on making ourselves happy.

Finally we end up back at 'Taxi! Taxi!', another song that at seven minutes is almost completely a repeat of the eight minute '24 Hours'. But why not? The day is over with still none of the true life lessons learnt: the narrator's daydreamed, fallen in love, even enjoyed a lovely romantic dinner that was over in what seemed like seconds (compared to the torture of watching the clock ticking down at work) and the couple don't want to part from this most brilliant moment of their lives- but they have to, they've got work in the morning. So here Eric is again, back in the rain waiting for a taxi to take him home, all his promises of a better life unfulfilled and waiting for the day to start again so he can maybe snatch another five minutes of bliss. Taxi's are dangerous though, especially when running late and taking you to somewhere you really don't want to go (and especially after you've nearly died in a car crash). Is this a warning? Is the taxi a symbol of everything that takes us away from our dreams and back to the life we really don't want to lead? Will we ever escape the vicious cycle of the taxi denying us our destiny? Is it a ‘short cut’ that we shouldn’t be taking when there is so much of life to live? It’s no co-incidence that this last track of 10cc’s initial career ends with the narrator poised in the doorway, peering back over his shoulder, willing himself to say ‘to heck with it’ and run back in to the arms of his girlfriend, responsibility free, but still worried about the repercussions and nagged at by his conscience. For most 10cc songs, at their core, are about this – about how to stay sane in a mad world and survive it without going under. This is, you sense, the realisation that made the psychopath of [55] ‘I Wanna Rule The World’ go insane, and the [79] ‘Anonymous Alcoholic’ fall back on the boozer. Eric, though, wants to learn from this lesson, to get the most out of life. When asked about this album by a  fan on his website Eric commented that he wished he had gone further with the concept instead of watering it down,  but really ‘Windows’ is an album that hangs together better than any of the other 10cc half concept albums; all songs are about wanting more out of life and the risk of having that snatched away from you.  

Throughout the album we get a repeated sound effect of a jungle breaking through the ‘noise’ of the performances occasionally. This is actually a sound effect first put together by the rest of the band in Eric’s absence for the film soundtrack album ‘Animalympics’, the ‘main’ 10cc album of 1979 made while Eric recovered from his car crash and credited to Graham (specifically the track ‘Kit Mambo’). Eric re-uses it here as a back to front metaphor, the primal jungle of what mankind really needs and wants in his life peeking through the ordinary monotonous world.  This rhythm is though so faint we can't usually hear it except at moments of great intensity. This may also be a signifier of ‘what happens next’, as on the record it lasts before and after we’re gone and all our routines and money and prestige are for nothing, perhaps representing the afterlife Eric nearly joined early. We hear it at the start of this album before its rudely blasted away by a car horn and again at the end. While the rest of the album hangs in the balance, it ends ultimately with the sad sound of the jungle all over again, blinding the narrator to the clarity of the day and which runs back into the opening song like a loop; just another unfulfilled daydream with all those chances for a better life blown once again that once more wakes with a honking car horn as we're back in that sodding taxi on our way to work. It’s a great idea and I only wish 10cc had somehow got that sound into more of the album.

The size and scale of this record (life, the universe, everything and Ronald Reagan) is a big call for a concept album and especially one that only runs to eight songs - even more so when you realise just how comparatively few lyrics there are on an album where every song tends to go for long massive unresolved fades (the characters perhaps pining away for all the things that almost but never quite were). However Eric is up to the task: he's almost always good (at least with 10cc, his solo albums lack a little something) but here he's exceptional. Many reviewers have wondered if his heart was really in the material and claim he sounds bored across this record. No sunshine, that's as wrong as thinking that The Spice Girls really stood for 'girl power' and feminism and weren’t the puppets of their male middle-aged manager; I tell you Eric is note-perfect across this album and never sings better: incurably romantic, hopelessly idealistic, desperately lonely and darkly bitter in turn as he tries so hard to be as tough as the world makes him to be while remaining soft in the middle all the way through. There's less guitar than normal, but what there is sounds astonishing: Eric's angry urgent guitar  snarls of 'come on, put the world to right' on '24 Hours' is exceptional; the slow sad groove that ends 'Taxi!' between guitar and keyboard his most emotional swork even without the words.

Note that only Eric's name has been mentioned so far: this album's Achilles heel is that while it is a quite brilliant album it is not necessarily a great 10cc one. This is in effect, a solo album in all but name and feels much more like one than ‘Frooty Rooties’ ever did. Co-partner Graham Gouldman might get his name in all the writing credits (and may have written the ultimate its-not-on-here-but-it-should-be song about seeing things other people can’t with The Hollies' 1965 hit 'Look Through Any Window') but this record reveals nothing of his usual deadpan touch or warm-hearted eccentricity and only one lead vocal across the whole album, tossed away during a brief sixteen words on the middle eight of the stunning opening track plus an all-too brief co-lead on 'City Lights'. Graham is, for the most part, more interested in working with Andrew Gold than bearing his soul and Eric seems to have temporarily ‘pinched’ his trademark loser narrators by opening up his heart and being vulnerable, although like all his collaborations with Eric it is hard sometimes to see where the boundary between the two begins and ends. Though only 'Feel The Love' really 'feels' like a 10cc song (as opposed to session-musicians-backing-Eric), that's as good a way to bow out as a band as any, with an intricate ensemble piece that bids farewell to Paul Burgess in great style, all of the usual 10cc trademarks turned inwards to sound melancholy and eerie. Paul and Rick Fenn have by now been given their marching orders, fed up of hanging around with a low-selling band who don't want to tour and spending even less time on this album than they did on ‘10/10’. That leaves 'Windows' (plus 'Meanwhile...' the mean-spirited polar opposite reunion album that follows) as the only un-democratic album by perhaps rock's most evenly distributed talented band (maybe CSNY is the other). Stewart out-solos pretty much every other solo album ever made by playing everything bar the occasional rhythm section himself (all those years with 10cc being the ‘in-house-band’ at their group-owned Strawberry Studios in Stockport must have helped). At times Eric's seriousness becomes a little cloying if you're not in the right mood, with no wacky humour or even another 'voice' to dilute the power. But then that's the whole point once again: for twenty years now the world has been trying to dilute Eric Stewart, a writer who was always much more three dimensional than the hit single conveyor belt ever allowed him to be (he's since claimed that his one big regret about this record was allowing Warner Brothers to bully him into writing 'Feel The Love' as a potential hit single, though actually its clumsy dourness fits rather well here). That’s not really a problem either as ‘Windows’ still fits in with the 10cc ‘yin/yang’ approach to making music: if funny hijinks with Graham is what you want then the 'Animalympics' soundtrack album released in 1980 made with all of the six-piece 10cc except Eric (though funnily enough it gets a 'Gouldman' credit even while this much more solo album doesn't) is this album's close cousin, with its sister use of the same jungle sound effect and the slightly softer, gentler handling of the same subject matters of working hard, achieving your goals and concentrating on the 'right' goals in life (even if that story is told through the eyes of a pair of marathon lovers who fall in love and realise that's more important than a gold medal - they also happen to be a tigress and an ibex!) Played back to back, it often feels as if the one is breaking free into the other...

From its cover down - a scene of sunshine entering through a slit in a dull grey monolithic world – ‘Windows’ is the ultimate 10cc concept, trying to shine a light onto an often mad world and tell us what we really need to know.  A rare ‘window’ on what might have been really going on in the mind of its chief creator Eric Stewart, a writer who tended to use character and metaphor in his songs, what this album loses in wacky commercialism it more than makes up for with passion and delivery. A forgotten gem that even the band seems to have wanted to bury at the time, Windows is the perfect rebuttal to every sneering 10cc critic who moaned about the cleverness of it all getting in the way of feeling (these people can’t have been listening to the same records I’ve been listening to, as they all have genuine feelings aplenty – just not usually this much per record) and a bright shining beacon which offers a fine reward for those of us old fans who’ve spent years trying to track the thing down. Remember, this is a brave album: 10cc are on their uppers and they desperately needed a hit yesterday or sooner: they could have done the easy thing and recorded eight different re-writes of [43] 'I'm Not In Love' along with two of [74] 'Dreadlock Holiday' (actually that's not a million miles away from the failed attempt on 'Look Hear'). This just doesn’t sound like a 10cc album, which is I think why fans don’t like it more. It’s serious, to the point of being morose at times, reflecting about the pointlessness of human existence and the often unending search to find a soul-mate which single-handedly puts the mockers on every love song on this list. Yes, bits of this album are catchy, just as in the days of old, but given their context sandwiched in between the more serious soul-searching tracks here even these songs sound more ironic than confident. However by any other standards it’s a brilliant record. Bits of this album (‘Oomachasooma’ and ‘Americana Paranoia’) are even laugh-out-loud funny too, just like the days of old when 10cc records were always the funniest and most biting ones you could find in the top 40, but here the humour is wry and dark, full of an edgy defensiveness and desperation even though the wordplay is actually every bit as clever and hilarious as before. This is a group in its dying breaths, riding out the dying embers of a contract after a record company had already lost so much faith in the band that they a) did as little promotion as they could get away with and b) let through one of the most horrible and dull album covers in the history of rock (although here again that's kind of the point too: there are three cuts in the sleeve so that the grey drab outside gives way to the colourful inside, which would work better if the inner sleeve was actually, you know, colourful inside of off-colour white).

So what's the catch? Just the album cover? Well, I'd love to tell you there isn't really one, but sadly there is and there's nothing 10cc can really do about it. This album sold so poorly and suffers from such a poor reputation that this album is near-impossible to find on CD. In fact the only release I’ve even vaguely heard of is some guy on Ebay flogging an imported issue for the ridiculous price of £36 (there aren’t even any bonus tracks). And the worst of it is, the price will probably go up now I’ve written this great review for this website and someone else will put a higher bid in than me when they’ve read it and I’ll never own a decent copy of it…don’t you just hate it when then happens?! The original vinyl edition might be a better bet if you still have a good second-hand shop nearby (editor's note: it took another six years of pleading, but finally we got this album on CD for the first time in 2014 with a handful of interesting bonus tracks too, yay! That currently leaves The Hollies' 'Out On The Road' as the only one of the entire list of AAA main albums in search of a first UK/US CD release and even then we have a French import around nowadays). In a funny way it's fitting that an album about missed opportunities and ignoring the status quo should be so unknown and under-appreciated though and goes to show that you can 'fool the people all the time'...

Some albums in your collection are just lucky, talismans that offer you something they don't appear to have offered anybody else (at least judging by the reviews and with the possible exception of the people - or person, really, in this case - who made it) and which repay the love faith and hope you put into buying them, scorched reputation and all, a millionfold across your life (you'll know that too if you're enough of a collector to read through to here about an album that nobody loves; even if you don't happen to agree with me about this album I know you'll have your own lucky talisman of an album you weren't expecting to be much cop and fell in love with completely and absolutely - we all do; this one is mine). We love brave records with big hearts here at the AAA that deliver something a little bit different: flawed as this masterpiece is (side two isn't up to side one, while a bit more drama in the backing tracks would have been welcome), 'Windows In The Jungle' ticks all the right boxes. It sounds like no other album made before or since, including every 10cc album made before and since, brings me sunshine on a cloudy day when all I can see is the sodding jungle and reminds me that the world is what you have the guts to make of it, even with the world and it's taxis waiting to bring you back to earth every day of the week. It is, for its creator, a literal life-changer and so much of that is conveyed in the music then it might well do the same for you.

The Songs:

[114] 24 Hours, with its rumbling sound effects mixing jungle rhythms and urban city noises, starts off like many a jolly 10CC song, one of those classic scene-setters that set much of the tone for the album. But the piece’s mournful tune, which keeps trying to rise higher and higher only to fall short of its target and round off with a wry sigh at the end of each line, tells the observant listener that something is wrong as early as the first verse. Indeed, even these typically 10cc sound effects sound rather ominous here, as if the cannibalistic tribal rhythms of our ancient way of life really aren’t so different from our modern days filled with traffic jams and roadworks, as if we’ve just swapped one claustrophobic jungle we can’t escape for another. The use of comedy on this track is also interesting, as in nearly any other 10cc song this would be an all-out sitcom, full of sleepy paper boys and ambitious but doomed workers that we’re meant to laugh at for not seeing past the ends of their noses. But the mood is different this time, as the joke is one played on all of us by the society we live in. Eric has just realised how much really has been going on that he hasn’t noticed and on this track it’s as if 10cc are trying to puncture a great conspiracy about our priorities in life. This time, the song is a tragedy, with all of our little sacrifices and efforts ultimately in vain because everyone else is doing the same thing and ultimately we all come out equal, with none of us any further on in our lives for all of our hard work. The lyrics of this song deal with tired humans going about their daily business, ‘the start of a race all of us wanting to win’ as Stewart eloquently puts it and which the author himself had temporarily escaped (the whole of this song is in the third person, as if Stewart is calmly looking at the world around him for the first time, perhaps from a hospital bed). The song tries its best to sound busy and bustles along with several rhythms and counter-rhythms from drummer Paul Burgess on some of the best playing of his career. But ultimately, it’s hollow: the song is actually a leisurely walking pace beneath all of this activity going on over the top and for all of its seeming drive and verve the track takes an age to get anywhere at all – for once though this sort of languid, muted scene-setting is perfectly judged, finally bursting into electric fire at the 4:30 mark. Eric makes it clear with the song’s mournful melody that mankind isn’t really getting anywhere except deeper and deeper into a technological cul-de-sac. Like the hilarious 10cc anti-capitalist diatribe [30] Wall Street Shuffle, the last laugh isn’t on the people with money in the bank because of anything they’ve done at the expense of others – it’s because of all the things they didn’t do, all the important bits of being human that have just been forgotten and neglected through the protagonist’s tunnel vision, with the people with full bank balances actually losing out on life in some way. Stewart makes it clear that, in the grand scheme of things, something somewhere has got lost and that we are concentrating on getting richer instead of spreading love in the world. This isn’t the way the human race was meant to behave, with nothing to look forward to except for fleeting moments like holidays and birthdays and Christmas alluded to in the song, even though each of us spend our time not working of doing better than this, the ‘stars in our eyes’. All of us are living ‘under pressure’ trying to gain enough money to live off, but what price is a dream? Just as in real life that long, slow build-up has taken up much of the time and there’s no space left for the characters to reflect on their happiness. ‘It’s all part of living’ the song sighs, ‘do you wanna get away?’

Eric builds up the controlled emotion of his characters well, trying to turn dull monotonous routines into poetry for all his characters: newspaper delivery boys (‘Letterbox noise snapping the day into life’), commuters on a crowded train (‘Hook and hustle, flex your muscle’), a birthday party (their frozen smiles captured in time by camera until they get to have the next celebration in between the dull routine), even the celebrities (a ‘cover girl’ posing for a magazine whose only living out a fake fantasy for us to be jealous over). Finally  Eric lets this simmering song explode into boiling point with an absolute volcano-like burst of erupting guitar, set alongside a tack piano riff that sums up all of the rigid routine going on around it. He also turns in one of his best guitar solos a second time when the track gets properly going, a nice hybrid of being noisy and being melodic, later multi-tracking his reprise solo near the end of the song so that he seems to be answering himself, as if he’s the only person listening in this wasteland of missed opportunities. Gouldman’s belated middle eight tries to break through the song’s tense atmosphere with its tale of Phil asking for his pay and a reminder of a tight deadline, but it’s only the briefest of interludes – all too soon the night is over and we’re back in the bewildering rush of modern life all over again and even this interlude is ugly, modern, brash, in-your-face and exactly the sort of ‘rest’ period that isn’t relaxing at all, leaving us unprepared to return to our daily lives again. Interestingly, this is one of the few 10cc songs that doesn’t end on a full finish but fades out gradually only to reappear in only slightly altered form on the last track thirty-five minutes later, perhaps implying the course of our meandering way of life carrying on in-between the other songs. The result is a beautiful song, exquisitely crafted and unlike many 10cc songs is gently mocking us all, asking where our lack of ambition goes every time the clock ticks down to a routine.  The production is great too and full of many brilliant touches: listen out for Eric's squeaky shoes over the opening as he slowly makes his way to work, drowned out by the head-hanging riff before he hears the window in the jungle for the first time that day. A thrilling opening to any album, which really sets the tone nicely for this one.

[115] Oomachasooma (Feel The Love) seems to be back on familiar territory with its strange title, daft backing vocals, ear-catching opening drum lick and – if you can track it down because it’s rather rare these days – a hilarious promo video set at a tennis match which sends up Eric’s earnest why-am-I-the-only-one-taking-this-song-seriously? vocal tremendously well. But unlike most 10CC songs, where you can usually tell the band are only one drumbeat away from laughter, the vocal is sung by Eric at his most committed and gritty, as if he’s the only person in this song taking it seriously. Added at the last minute when Mercury asked for a ‘hit’, this is a sarcastic catchy single, one that takes the idea of true love and which makes a serious point while playing it for laughs in the ‘old’ 10cc style. Much as Eric disliked this watering down of his big concept, however, this song suits the album well: we’re never allowed to take big ideas like true love seriously enough in pop music and cultlure but it’s a huge life-changing subject. Eric really does mean the sentiment of this song and its not some hilarious anecdote put on for our benefit, it’s just the clothes this song is dressed up in that happen to be silly. In a reiteration of the last track’s none-of-this-really-matter’s shoulder-shrugging, the narrator finds himself in love but instead of being pleased is confused as to why he hasn’t felt like this before in his life. Indeed, the narrator is downright angry that he’s been spending so much time concentrating on things that don’t really matter – as he realises now, all that does matter is ‘the one you love’ and everything else is filler in our lives, a chance to do something before the great day of finding your soulmate arrives. Yet Eric is also confused—does this mean the ‘love’ he’s felt for others in the past wasn’t real? Was he so desperate for love in his life that he imagined it? Or does love feel differently every time depending on the person he’s with? But hold it right there: even this supposedly optimistic message about finally finding true love gets garbled thanks to the truly depressing middle eight (sadly cut from the single version, or I suspect more people would like this song). Dropping to an uncomfortable minor key Eric gives us all pretence and looks at love logically: if each of us have only one soul-mate out there and there’s several billion of us in the world – it’s a waste of time us looking for them and the chances of our meeting the ‘right’ person first time out are doomed to failure. However we are doomed, for searching is also the single most important thing we can do, Eric warning us though that ‘while you’re walking on air keep your feet on the ground’.  This is a terribly gloomy message for a band who usually do their level best to cheer you up, but somehow the silly backing and the catchy, offbeat hook doesn’t jar – it just makes the whole subject of love sound downright absurd instead, a black comedy played on us by our makers who gave us the drive to mate without the means of easily finding one. Even a playful plea to the ‘oomachasooma man’ (a modern-day Cupid) to sort things out on the narrator’s behalf can’t quite make this song the belly-aching chuckle it tries hard to be and the presence of another fantastically edgy, deeply furious guitar solo seems to be another ‘window’ into the desperation going on in its creator’s mind, however much he tries to hide it on this album. The result was an inevitable flop at a time when 10cc couldn’t get arrested, but had it been released in 10cc’s heyday it would surely have been huge – for me it is one of their best combinations of jokey laughs and serious depth, a glorious under-rated song that sticks several past 10cc songs into a blender (including a comic reggae lilt) and which comes out sounding quite unlike any other song ever made by anybody.

[116] Yes I Am! Is a fascinating song. While Eric is often accused of hiding behind the ‘dark glasses’ he wore after the effects of his car crash and ‘hiding’ his true self from fans, this song is so impressively open and ‘real’ it hurts. A response to his wife’s comment that he never said ‘I love you’ in person or song and Eric’s thought that this would just be a cliché result in a song where he makes his feelings of being deeply in love felt without ever actually using those words. The song starts off as one of those languid slow-burning ballads Eric always writes so well, complete with a bluesy sax solo that’s a rare moment on this album that’s pure 1983, but as the song goes on it becomes clear that this is another cry of doubt and second thoughts about life despite the confidence asserted in the title. In fact, this seems to be deep down a song about how being ‘unsure’ of things is a natural and welcome state for human beings to be in and that the narrator was always slightly edgy when life seemed to be secure and easily compartmentalised. The only thing that makes Eric’s narrator sure is love – which is ironic given that the leap of faith it took to get it and the sheer nature of tracking down your life partner makes true love the least likeliest thing in the world. Thankfully, Eric does at least contradict the last song’s message with a burning middle-eight, telling us how sure he is that he’s found the love of his life now and urges the listener not to worry about who their heart chooses for them, saying that wondering through logic is pointless with something so unique to every person, that 'there's not really any reason why you really fall in love - because you can't stop it...hold on tight and never let it go!' But this hopeful moment is only a glimpse of light surrounded by shadows – this song is also about the narrator’s lonely past, ‘desperate for love’ with ‘so many dreams shattered’ before this moment that has made him doubt even this till now when he should have known all along. Eric also seems to regret his years searching for some utopian ideal he was never going to find – as he puts it in the second verse, there were no fireworks and the earth never moved the way he was led to believe by so many films and pop songs, but the narrator still knows that this is ‘real’ love all the same. Another poignant middle eight also returns to this album’s themes about why we worry about the little things so much when love is in the end the only thing that matters (or, if you like, that love is all you need). Although this song sounds far more traditional than what we’ve had on the album so far, this song is still a far cry from Stewart’s usual cerebral work and the ominous closing riff, which sounds like it’s marching off to war, destroys much of the romantic mood built up over the past four minutes and suggesting that this isn’t going to be as happy ever after tale and that love can change. Even a pretty melody, an ‘up’ message and what is for this album rare block 10CC harmonies can’t make this song sound anything but scary and ominous on a fascinating track that’s easy to love.

Just as we think the song has died out, suddenly out of the silence comes the jagged riff of the last track again, kicking off the album’s most outwardly looking song.  [117] Americana Panorama is a rather world-weary protest number, recalling the tune of [30] Wall Street Shuffle but played at a funeral pace, with lots of odd but strangely funny jabs at 1980s American politics sung to a tune that sounds on the verge of tears throughout. Despite the jibes, Eric’s message is clear –we waste our time putting faith in world leaders to save us when they clearly can’t. Eric condemns America, a land he was brought up to admire but which now scares him in the cold war era, a country that promoted peace and prosperity while providing for the rich and nothing but fast food for the poor and needy and already home to a number of assassins of leading ‘peace’ figures: J F Kennedy, Martin Luther King and John Lennon. Stewart is also not the first musician on this list to point our that Reagan’s Hollywood past before his term of office in the 1980s seemed at the time as if the rubber-necked one was only ‘acting’ out the cold war and making the nation scared to stay in fear (perhaps Eric should have got together with Lindisfarne’s Alan Hull and started a support group for irate musicians?) Sporting one of Eric’s better vocals, with a quietly burning anger that’s kept in check until the middle eight suddenly explodes into pure anger (‘Do you know what you’re doing?’), this song’s brooding menace and uncharacteristically uncharitable sentiments make it one of the most unique and impressive song in the 10cc canon, even if the sentiments seem a bit strange to modern ears (we know now, many years after the fall of the Berlin wall  that the cold war never happened of course – but try telling that to somebody who lived thirty years ago when WW3 seemed imminent, if indeed it hadn’t already started). At first this song seems to sit outside this album (it is, after all, the only song not directly connected to the story-telling narrator), but in actual fact it makes perfect sense: why are we squabbling over such small matters (ie foreign policy that makes other nations look ‘bad’ and us ‘good’) when they come at such a high a price? (ie our lives). That sentiment, at least, makes more and more sense every day. Best line? 'Americana Panorama, Reagan was a right banana!'

Side two arrives and pumps a bit of 10cc’s old effervescent energy back into the album courtesy of the sprightly [118] City Lights. A bright-and-breezy out-on-the-town song that offers a huge contrast from the harshnesses of life we’ve heard so far, it’s as if side one never happened for three blissful minutes. Gouldman at last gets a decent vocal cameo on this album as the gad-about-town (although it is a shame that he’s singing multi-tracked rather than with Stewart as on most of the last album) and the slimmed down band seem to be having fun with this song’s simple beat which is much catchier than the rest of the album. As for the theme, its an expansion of that brief joyous middle eight we heard on 24 Hours, with the narrator ‘coming back to life’ now that the day is over and the night has fallen. Like so many past 10cc songs Eric is a teenage lover about to hit the town, enjoying the release of a weekend as he heads into the hustle and bustle of a town for a ‘shot of midnight fever’. ‘Tuning his receiver’ to the rest of the world, it’s a rare chance to connect with the pure nature of human being and their wants and needs, Eric’s narrator feeling himself ‘coming back to life’. There’s a brief gloriously and infectiously joyful Stewart guitar solo that leads into a last Gouldman verse too as the narrator hits the dancefloor, the music taking him away and allowing him to forget his claustrophobic daily living. By the end of the song everyone sounds exhausted, collapsing into a sudden surprised heap when the song suddenly fades to nothing, the weekend abruptly over. Though not up to the depth of the other songs on the album, this ballad-heavy album desperately needs a track like this to break up the tension and this is another deeply under-rated track.

That upbeat mood is rather short-lived with [119] Food For Thought offering, well, food for thought. Based around yet another of Eric’s slow-burning ominous riffs, the song is at its basic level really just a list of a girlfriend’s physicals and mental attributes, but the pessimistic mood of the song (she obviously doesn’t feel the same way about the narrator) and the downward sloping harmonies make it sound more of a funeral than a party, as Eric compares his growing obsession with his muse’s offhand nonchalance. The two are contrasted not in lyrics but in music, where Eric’s powerful rock riff – the best aural evidence of obsession since Lennon’s I Want You (She’s So Heavy) – is interrupted by the choruses’ relaxed calypso. In the context of the rest of Windows In The Jungle this is another song about the narrator’s sudden confusion after a dilemma, trying to work out what his priorities are in life again – does he waste his time chasing after someone who blatantly isn’t interested? Or give up in the hope that someone more compatible will come along? He also feels starved – in his eyes the whole point of living is to feel loved and he’s starving, made to settle for second best or conditional love for far too long so that by the time he finally finds it the full force of love gives him a tummy-ache. As the middle eight’s scary spiralling harmonies tell us ‘I’m starved without your love’ and even the deadpan 10cc serious chant of ‘oooooh’ can’t lift the mood of this song. What is, in truth, easily the weakest song on the album was picked as 10cc’s final single from their ‘original’ career, perhaps more because it is a simple song working on less levels than the others than its true worth,. It is, though, nevertheless, an impressively arranged song with an impressive melody and a riff that really gets stuck inside your head. 

[120] Working Girls continues this balancing act, with a daft-but-loveable riff and punchy harmonies sandwiched between this tale’s lyrics about another lost-soul character trying to better herself and break out of the ‘cat-and-mouse game’. My theory is that this song was either begun or inspired by Eric’s work on the film ‘Girls’, which is basically a daft less feminist version of this album, of two youngsters coming up against a male patriarchy in business and wondering if it is worth selling out their soles for a pay-rise and a bit of power. Eric both leers at and then empathises with the girls who are gradually coerced into giving up their principles, leered at in the office and later lured by the idea of being stars by revealing more and more of their bodies in a photo-shoot. Nobody should have to be doing this for something so fleeting and Eric’s sense of injustice, always strong, comes to the fore on this song. The irony is that throughout the song all the girls want to do is work – and yet the idea of them as ‘working girls’ becoming closer to prostitutes runs through the song despite being exactly what they don’t want. Eric is helpless to stop this, building himself up into a forth of anger at the ‘cat and mouse game’ before taking off for a heavenly solo, full of all the things he’d like to say to those in power. By the end of the song they’re back in the office, their heads buried in as ‘paperback romance’ but Eric wants to warn them to be careful, that sexism and males taking advantage are everywhere. By the end of the song, though, Eric can do nothing except offer warnings so instead he and Graham chant the title over and over while a cooing saxophone tries to get the girls back into bed. The result is a fascinating song: Eric has come a long way from his Mindbenders days trying to make girls love him and it makes sense that he should use one of his last precious eight slots on his last chance on a 10cc album to warn the world about a danger that it feels that only he can see. Finally, belatedly, he gets some decent support too with the most ‘live’ band performance on the album and some great Stewart-Gouldman interplay in the block harmonies - at last - is classic 10CC, with the two splitting off in different directions every other line yet somehow complementing the song well. There’s a shocking edit about 3:30 into the track that rather spoils the mood, but this is such an important overlooked song on such an important overlooked album that any criticism is by the by.

Closing track [121] Taxi! Taxi! takes us back to the start, its characters still trapped even though it’s now the end of the day and they can all go home and get some light relief before things start all over again. A tale of a trapped worker, watching time slow down to the sort of crawl it only ever seems to manage half an hour before going home time, the bulk of this song is suitably claustrophobic with Stewart stretching his words out for aeons at a time. The clock mocks him, ‘the seconds turning to minutes, the minutes to days’ while Eric longs to get out (having never worked an office job, was this part inspired by his wait in the hospital for visiting time or when he was released perhaps or a long day in the studio?) Eric’s sudden cry for a ‘taxi!’ to take him home out of this madness sounds like a life-changing episode, giving the narrator a chance to go anywhere at all and be who he really wants to be now that the working day is over. This verse’s poignant imagery and fleeting fast-moving pace tells us about all of the great things the character has ever dreamed of becoming and the delightful time he’s planning out that evening with his girlfriend. He has it all planned as only Eric at his romantic can: a restaurant, wine, holding hands by candlelight  – by contrast this time flies past far too quickly, the couple pleading ‘leave us alone we don’t want to go home’ while the cleaners tidy up around them. They then dream of all the things they want to but will probably never get round to doing – a tropical holiday, leaving footprints in the sand and looking up at the stars, but rather than making plans Eric just moans about his time in the city and how he has to get home to bge ready for work.  The ‘taxi’ riff (with the singers calling for one in exactly the same way they would in real life) is a classy and very 10cc-ish hook, taking the everyday and turning it into the absurd (which, arguably, real life is anyway). Gouldman’s harmonies make a welcome return here, sugar-coating Stewart’s increasingly desperate wail of a lead vocal which finally falls over at the 4:30 mark into an exclamation of ‘Its been a hell of  day in the city but its time to get away!” The song then ends on a long slow fade, with clink-clank drums, an acoustic and electric guitar plus a keyboard all chiming in with their own rhythms and melodies all dancing madly while sounding like running on the spot. Playing for a full ninety seconds its very pretty but also very eerie: it feels like a warning, a moment in time hanging suspended as Eric screams at himself not to go home but to enjoy this moment forever. Because life can hit you when you are unawares and the hint is that the narrator is about to suffer some terrible reason why he can’t make good on the promises he’s left for the next day. Suddenly, with the roar of the jungle and insights whistling inside his ears and ours, it’s as if we have seen just for a minute how the narrator’s life should have been lived. A worthy close to a worthy album, Taxi! Taxi! Is a clever song, all the more poignant when you know the story behind it with the album message to make the most of our time.

Taken as a whole ‘Windows’ is one of the most moving of AAA LPs – certainly one of the most moving LPs that hardly anybody bought. Though often dismissed as the runt of the 10cc litter, being further on from the laughs and punchlines of early 10cc than any of their other albums, for my ears at least ‘Windows’ is the band (or at least Eric’s) longest lasting work, full of an emotional power and feeling that even writers more used to being from the heart can’t match. That car crash really was a life-changer in so many ways and, with 10cc winding down and a belief that he should spend more time doing other things that matter to him, it makes perfect sense that Eric chooses this album to step away from the public arena for so long. By the time he returns in 1992 the 10cc reunion albums made under pressure will struggle to find anything to say, perhaps because ‘Windows’ is the perfect goodbye. A fine goodbye to a fine career, this is 10cc at their moving best. Not hilarious best maybe, not always inventive and original best even if ‘Windows’ is still an album quite unlike any other, not even best played and arranged, but in terms of songs the band rarely came up with a better selection and, as poorly used as Graham and the others are, this is a truly important album by one of our greatest writers at the peak of his game. This is a very special album by a very special band about trying to lead what should always be a very special life and the privilege of seeing a window into the soul of one of the most guarded rock stars of the 1970s and 1980s is a truly special moment on an album that also reaches out to the listener and forces us to think about our own life choices. Why this album continues to get such short shrift I do not know – this is one of my favourite albums by anybody, anywhere.  

'How Dare You!' (1976)

'Meanwhile' (1992)

'Mirror Mirror' (1995)

Pre-10cc: 1965-1973, A Guide to Mindbenders, Mockingbirds and Frabjoy and Runciple Spoon!

Non-Album Songs Part One 1972-1980

Non-Album Songs Part Two 1981-2006

Surviving TV Clips, Music Videos and Unreleased Recordings

Solo/Wax/Live/Compilation Albums Part One 1971-1986

Solo/Wax/Live/Compilation Albums Part Two 1987-2014

10cc Essay: Not-So-Rubber Bullets

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