Monday, 5 May 2014
10cc "Deceptive Bends" (1977)
10cc "Deceptive Bends" (1977)
Good Morning Judge/The Things We Do For Love/Marriage Bureau Rendezvous/People In Love/Modern Man Blues//Honeymoon With B Troop/I Bought A Flat Guitar Tutor/You've Got A Cold!/Feel The Benefit
Usually you can see a 'split' between band members coming from a mile away. No one who saw the looks John and George were giving Paul during parts of 'Magical Mystery Tour' at Christmas 1967 or had seen the interviews with four very defensive and guarded Pink Floyd members in 'Live At Pompeii' can have doubted that the end would come sometime, even if both bands nobly carried on for a few more years regardless. But the split between the Godley and Creme plus the Stewart and Gouldmann sides of 10cc seemed to come without warning, taking band and fans by surprise. As far as I can tell the band only ever had one even vaguely cross discussion with each other before splitting up (over the supposedly 'safe' single 'I'm Mandy, Fly Me', a tale of a drowning businessman saved by the apparition of an air-stewardess, which gives you some idea of what the Godley and Creme half of the band considered 'safe' in 1976). But split they did, both halves of a once magnificent band reduced to floundering a little while they waited to see what they could do next. For Godley and Creme the answer was the ridiculously ambitious three-album not-many-vocals mother of all prog-rock albums 'Consequences' followed by a series of slightly less ambitious but slightly less interesting albums as time wears on (climaxing in the surprisingly emotional album about electrical appliances 'Freeze Frame', their one album up to true 10cc standards). The 10cc-half go in the opposite direction, starting out safe and getting more interesting as time goes by before sadly splitting prematurely in 1983 just as they've reached their peak (few people bought it and less people noticed but 1983's 'Windows In The Jungle' is a bona fide under-rated AAA masterpiece and 1981's 'Ten Out Of Ten' is pretty darn good too).
Many fans give up on 10cc at this point - the moment when they became '5cc' to quote an old music press joke at the band's expense. I would have been tempted to as well after buying this album, which is easily the weakest of the 10cc albums to date. Heck, even the 10cc box set delighted in reducing the post-Godley and Creme years to an embarrassing footnote, through both music selection and sleevenotes (even Eric and Graham now reckon 'something was missing' - not that they'd have ever said that out loud at the time). But it would be an awful shame for anyone with an interest in 10cc's delightful humour and zany view of life to stop collecting the band's records from this point onwards: you won't 'feel the benefit', to quote from this album's main song, of what the band were trying to achieve. Even though 'Deceptive Bends' is an album that plays things far too safe by the standards of before and after and even though there are more duff songs here than any other record until the reunion years, it's nevertheless a likeable record. Lesser interested groups reduced to a duo would have split up at this point, but this is still a band with plenty to say and plenty of ideas about how to say it. Sadly the band's wonderful democracy (four singers, four songwriters, all used to singing on each other's work and writing in rotating pairs) naturally has to come to an end, but Eric Stewart is one of those multi-talented multi-instrumentalists comfortable in any setting (so it's a mystery why his few true solo albums are so poor) and Graham Gouldmann, in danger of being overlooked in the band's earliest days, gets plenty of chances to shine. 'Deceptive Bends' is far from perfect, then, but getting an only slightly less impressive album from a duo only a year after a highly impressive one from a quartet is a lot more preferable to simply calling it quite in my book. Fans should be grateful to 'Deceptive Bends' not for being brilliant but for being good enough to prove that the band could still work and for setting out where the band's new direction would take them. Album number five out of nine in the band's original studio run, 'Deceptive Bends' feels right at the heart of 10cc's work in other ways too, a 'stepping stone' album pointing forwards and backwards, caught between the often quite brutal silliness of yesteryear and the lighter yet deeper songs to come.
'Deceptive Bends' has always been a 'divisive' album. To Godley and Creme it was the album they were afraid of making had they stayed with the group; a radio and ear-friendly record packed with production gloss and a couple of verging-on-obvious hit singles. To Stewart and Gouldmann it's a masterpiece that proved they could make an album without the 'other two' and at the time at least they were super-proud of it, calling it the most 10cc-ish of 10cc albums. As far as this site's concerned they're both right - and both wrong. Few bands must have spent as long thinking about their next move as Eric and Graham did during the making of this album: wondering what fans will make of it, worrying about what the music press will say, adamant that what they do now will be crucial to their future careers. 'Deceptive Bends' is an album that's been so carefully planned and so minutely combed for possible 'weaknesses' that all the fun seems to have gone out of it all. If there is ever such a useful invention as the '10cc album name generator' in years to come (seriously, I'd use it every day!) then it would come up with a name not dissimilar to 'Deceptive Bends' (actually 'borrowed' from a road sign near the band's Strawberry Studios in Dorking along the A24: don't go looking for it though, it got taken down in the 1980s). If the money ever stretches to it there might be a '10cc album cover generator' as well - and if so it's inevitably going to feature some pun on said title not unlike the diving suits on 'Deceptive Bends'. Almost before you play it you half-know what to expect from this album: a silly single, a classy single, a long prog rock epic and lots of short, simpler songs mainly about love and based on simpler-than-simpler chords and riffs that appeal to as low a common denominator as possible. To be fair, none of the album is truly bad - it's all done with skill, which is more than you can say for most albums that try this trick and indeed much of this record shows off better than ever just how much skill the two remaining writers possess. But not much of it sounds inspired either - everything here sounds like it took a few minutes to think of and several painstaking hours to perfect (often the best albums feature those two things quite the other way around). If 'Consequences' is a project that suffers from going way way further off-road and off-topic than any recording project reasonably should then 'Deceptive Bends' is an album that suffers from being so afraid to move away from the straight and narrow. Yes it's wacky in parts and occasionally as daft and as deft as 10cc had ever been ('I Bought A Flat Guitar Tutor' is the band's single funniest song since 'Life Is A Minstrone'), but it's a safe humour that pleases everyone and offends nobody, which inevitably then ends up offending due to its inoffensiveness.
Or at least it would have done in 1977, released around the same time as Johnny Rotten swearing on live TV and against the backdrop of 'Bless Thy Neighbour' and various stand-up comedians still given the oxygen of publicity by the TV programmes of the day . Listening to it today, in our supposedly more enlightened times and politically correct times (which in fact are just choosier than ever about what to be offended by) some parts of this album are heavy going. The band really seem to have it in for the female characters on this record: 'Good Morning Judge' features a woman so shallow she makes her man steal for her; 'The Things We Do For Love' is a gorgeous song about a less than gorgeous girl who can't make her mind up whether to 'make' or 'break' up; 'People In Love' acts as if love is a sickness; 'Marriage Bureau Rendezvous' reduces the search for the perfect partner into a list of likes and dislikes; 'Modern Man Blues' is about how much happier the male narrator is without his wife nagging him all the time (because it means he can spend more time with his mistress!); 'Honeymoon With B Troop' is a song that certainly wouldn't get made now, concerning a nude-bathing girl on a scouting trip (to be fair the ages of the characters aren't given and could be between two scoutmasters for all we know, but is the narrator doesn't sound mature enough to know what he's doing with his woggle); even 'I Bought A Flat Guitar Tutor' dispels it's chord-quoting comedy lines to tell us about being 'suspended by the sharpness of your...'. The theme running across this album is that it's a woman-eat-man's world out there and if your girlfriend isn't playing hard to get then she's probably two-timing on you. Admittedly this is a late 1970s record and there are much worse around from the era (have you heard what's in some of those heavy metal lyrics of the period?!) - you could even claim that 10cc are spoofing opinions of the day for amusement and the joke is on the people who think like the narrators often do if you're generous. However even if they are meant to be parodies (especially 'Modern Man Blues') these lines seem 'wrong' somehow for the generally bright, ahead-of-their-times 10cc (sample lyric: 'A sophisticated man needs a little something on the side, so what you don't get at home you've got to get outside...So if you don't want to lose her you've got to drop it around like heck!')
One alternative reading is that the band aren't really talking about losing their 'woman' at all, but their errant band members. Betrayal is a key theme on this record and just because it's usually dressed up to sound like betrayal in love rather than work or friendship, it still counts (maybe). The hapless narrator looking for a connection he's not sure he'll ever get in 'Marriage Bureau Rendezvous' sounds awfully like a musician phoning around looking for the session musicians he'll need to make a record (for now only Paul Burgess 'joins' the band - his fine and under-rated drumming is one of the better things about this record). 'Modern Man Blues' is a cod blues that tries hard to sound sad before breaking into a cheer at the thought of not having to put with 'nagging, bitching' anymore and that the narrator can spend his money how he sees fit (how much did the Godley and Creme 'gizmo' cost exactly?!) Both 'People In Love' and 'The Things We Do For Love' agonise over how easily people can change their minds. Even 'Feel The Benefit' is a song that longs for world peace, more out of lethargy and weariness from fighting than anything else and the supposedly jokey 'Flat Guitar Tutor' makes a sad background of rows and arguments and 'You've Got A Cold' is about feeling helpless as something takes over your life (not that I'm comparing Godley and Creme to a flu germ or anything, honest). Heard back-to-back with previous album 'How Dare You!' and the biggest shock isn't the range (both Stewart and Gouldmann could - and did - write in every genre around in their day) and it isn't the musicianship (along with Burgess there wasn't anything the pair couldn't play): it's the limitations. 'How Dare You' is an album full of quirky one-off characters that would normally be drawn as the 'losers' of life but seem to be having more fun than any of us: the ambitious bordering on evil mastermind of 'I Wanna Rule The World', the eager-to-experience virgin of 'Headroom', the whoever-the-hell it is on the impenetrable 'Iceberg'. While they're all the kind of people everyone else avoids on the street, in their own universes these characters sound like kings. By contrast the characters on 'Deceptive Bends' are powerless, able to enjoy themselves only when someone else takes the hint and leaves ('Modern Man Blues'), escaping the uptight family via a camping trip ('Honeymoon With B Troop'), gets put in prison away from his missus by an unusually sympathetic jury ('Good Morning Judge') or takes a brief holiday in between world peace ('Feel The Benefit': all together now 'you can drink a lot of coffee in Brazil, but the bill is gonna make-a-you ill!') Everyone else is trapped by some other character's making and don't know quite how to escape - or if they ought to ('The Things We Do For Love' sounds like a nice cosy love song but it isn't really; the narrator's walking on egg shells because he doesn't know when she's going to suddenly up and leave him all over again).
It's also the complete antithesis of most punk songs. 1977 was 'year zero' for anyone under 25 (or over if they hated prog and could get their hands on some safety pins) and yet again on this site an AAA album released that year seems like the antithesis of everything the Sex Pistols and their ilk stood for. We've already said on this site that while Pink Floyd were treated by the punks as 'the enemy' on home-made T-shirts, that band was actually closer in style to punk than most (they share the same sarcastic disregard for modern society, even if most of Pink Floyd's individual songs from that year last longer than some punk albums) and that The Moody Blues were the band the punks should have been spitting at based on their own 'code' (introverted, thoughtful and convinced that a good tune could change the world - Pink Floyd had stopped thinking the same long before 1977). You can also add 10cc to that list; if The Sex Pistols' grand statement was 'Never Mind The Bollocks' then 10cc could easily have replied 'Nevermind That This Is All Bollocks'. Smart, funny, careful and often over-produced, 10cc simply had the 'wrong' sound for 1977 when everything was small and full of hate, instead of epic and full of love. Unlike some bands (Pink Floyd included) 10cc never modify their sound or make any sign that they've read the way the musical wind is blowing (the closest they get musically is actually this album's down and dirty 'You've Got A Cold' , but could you imagine Johnny Rotten writing a song about a flu virus?) However that's another reason 10cc might have been playing things 'safe': for all the 'dinosaur' bands in 1977 knew this could have been their last album, with their whole audience rising up in protest and walking out of concerts en masse (a theory spectacularly destroyed by the eight weeks Wings' 'Mull Of Kintyre' spent at #1 at the end of the year, despite the presence of a much more punk-friendly second A-side 'Girlschool' that nobody played).
With no less than five pure comedy songs on a nine-track album ('Good Morning Judge' 'Modern Man Blues' 'Honeymoon With B Troop' 'Guitar Tutor' and 'You've Got A Cold'), 'Deceptive Bends' also feels on first listening like it's too light and frothy, the equivalent of reading a good joke-book rather than a good novel (which isn't necessarily a reflection of how good the writing is: you're bound to remember more of the joke book than the novel, especially if the jokes are all about the Spice Girls). There is a 'deceptive' depth to this album, however, if you search for it. Up till now Eric has been the 'hit' writer of the band, tackling the more commercial songs for the band and generally only showing his more personal and often wild and wacky side when in collaboration with someone else, usually Lol. 'Feel The Benefit' is in many ways his 'break through' song, the first of his 10cc songs not to have a joke at its core (depending on how you read 'I'm Not In Love') and offering up the same kind of world-weary autobiography of many of his later, even greater songs (seriously, 'Windows In The Jungle' is the 10cc wrist-slashing equivalent of 'John Lennon-Plastic Ono Band' and to my ears it starts here). This being the oh-so-cautious 'Deceptive Bends', however, there is a joke stapled on to the song 'just in case' (only here it's a brief holiday interlude written by Graham). 'The Things We Do For Love' is as deep a song as any in 10cc's canon despite the radio-friendly production and singalong chorus and a million miles away from the pair of singles either side of it (the gimmicky 'I'm Mandy, Fly Me' and even more gimmicky 'Good Morning Judge'). You can also imagine another band tackling the tongue-in-cheek lyrics of 'People In Love' or the comedy of 'Marriage Bureau Rendezvous' straight, eking out the hidden melancholy behind both these songs. Even 'You've Got A Cold' could be only slightly re-written to make you sob rather than laugh (or, most likely, sneeze).
Which leads on to another point. Nowhere on 'How Dare You' - except perhaps that contentious single 'I'm Mandy, Fly Me' - could you ever imagine another band having a go at one of those songs. They're far too 10cc-ish, too madcap and frenzied and inhabit too unique a universe to even be covered by the likes of the 'Top Of The Pops' compilation albums that were all the rage in 1977. You can't say the same for much of 'Deceptive Bends' (although it's a brave group of session musicians who'd give 'Honeymoon With B Troop' a go). Does that make this album worse than 'How Dare You'? Yes and no. 10cc undoubtedly lose...something during the making of this record and never quite get it back again (Graham calls it a 'missing spark' on the Tenology sleeve-notes): it's not necessarily the humour (10cc are funny, often hysterically so, right up to their oddly grumpy pair of reunion CDs in the 1990s), or the wackiness (seriously, ' Guitar Tutor' is the most eccentric and way-out there 10cc song since 'Une Nuit En Paris') like so many critics pompously decided. But reduced to writing either alone or each other Eric and Graham lose out on a lot of the unpredictability 10cc had always had in the Godley-Creme era. So similar to each other in so many ways, the pair simply don't have as much of a 'wall' to bounce their ideas off as they had in the olden days (the same is true of Godley and Creme, who miss the anchoring writing style of Stewart and Gouldmann every bit as much as vice versa) and their music undoubtedly misses out, becoming just that little bit more like everyone else was writing. At the same time, however, the four 10cc albums previous to this one were becoming an increasingly rollercoaster ride. 'How Dare You' is an album that seems one hell of a lot longer than its 43 minutes, refusing to settle in one place for longer than a verse, a chorus, a middle eight or - in some cases - a single bar of music. 'Deceptive Bends' is a much gentler ride and succeeds by its sheer thoroughness. Where before you secretly wished the band has spent longer on a theme before racing away on a new idea, this time you get fully developed songs with a beginning, middle and end (well, some of the time). While taken as a complete body of work I still prefer the Godley-Creme era for its sheer uniqueness, many of my favourite 10cc songs are the rounded, complete works from the Gouldmann-Stewart period and while there aren't any from this album we're audibly getting closer to the 'jackpot' of 'Ten Out Of Ten' and 'Windows In The Jungle'.
Overall, then, 'Deceptive Bends' has a difficult job to do and it does it adequately enough. Casual fans might well have bought this album and not realised there was anything different from the line-up that made previous albums (the only pictures on the sleeve featuring the band have them in diving suits with the helmets down, as if the band didn't want to let on to those who didn't know that this wasn't the 'full' band). There are several great moments: 'The Things We Do For Love' is a fine single and single-handed proof that Eric and Graham didn't need the 'other two' to make a classic. 'Good Morning Judge' is a minor single by comparison, but it's exquisitely performed and produced and packs a real instrumental whallop matched by few other singles of the time. 'Guitar Tutor' is hilarious, the most postmodern song ever written, with each line referring to the chord changes - it's one of the best gags 10cc ever delivered, in fact, and so in keeping with past LPs. 'You've Got A Cold' features a suitably vocal-shredding performance and would be a candidate for the mother of all rock songs were not about the subject matter of a mother of a cold. 'Marriage Bureau Rendezvous' has a great melody and 'Honeymoon with B Troop' has great words (the pair somehow mixed together would have made for a truly magnificent single song). 'Feel The Benefit' is at least twice as long as it should be but at times is heartbreakingly moving, seemingly saying so much more when combined with the music than the scant few lyrics ever actually do. But there's no getting away from it: compared to the four previous, brilliantly eccentric and esoteric 10cc albums 'Deceptive Bends' pales by comparison. At times 10cc don't even sound like the '5cc' the music press joked about - it's hard at times to see this album as being by a full half of the band who worked on such wild and dangerous songs as in the past; on this album 10cc have been reduced from 11 minute vignettes about French prostitutes and Jesus returning to his last supper in the 20th century (shouldn't the food be cold by now?!) to songs about nagging girlfriends, colds and world peace (a big subject, yes, but an obvious one too). 'Deceptive Bends' has every excuse under the sun as to why it isn't quite as funny, daring or mischievous as past glories and is a hard album to dislike because actually it doesn't get anything that wrong. But it's the middle child of the 10cc family (literally, being studio album five out of nine between 1972 and 1983) caught between the youthful cheekiness and energy of yesteryear and the charm and maturity of the band's lately, so wrongly overlooked records; while frequently more talented and intelligent than the 'other' albums in the musical classroom, 'Deceptive Bends' seems destined to always come off sounding second-best.
'Good Morning Judge' kicks off the record with a rollicking, grungier take on all those teen flicks about prisoners that Elvis and the like loved doing so much (Cliff Richard should have done one - for his singing alone he deserves to be locked up). In true traditional 10cc style it's a comedy song delivered as a tragedy, with a punchline that seems inevitable (forced into stealing to keep up appearances with his girlfriend, the narrator finds off he actually has better friends in the slammer). In anyone else's hands this would be a knock-off B-side which lightly touches on the old 10cc theme that money can't buy you happiness. However, with this track easily the most 10cc-ish of the bunch Stewart and Gouldmann came up with for the album and with so much riding on the two singles released from this record 10cc turn 'Judge' into a production powerhouse. Reduced to two vocalists, Eric and Graham show off their many voices and their vocals here are delicious - especially the former's wide-eyed innocence-protesting narrator and the latter's deep vocal bass work ('Na na na na na na' has never sounded more threatening than it does here sung at top speed in the middle eight). The drumming is impressively tight and heavy, the criss-crossing guitar work delightfully exciting and energetic and rarely has a mix been so packed full of things going on and yet sounded so clear. The band clearly spent a lot of time on the making of this record and it pays off handsomely: 'Good Morning Judge' is one of the best-sounding 10cc records of them all and the band's slightly retro 1950s rock 'feel' spruced up for contemporary ears has never sounded more suitable. The problem lies with the song: it just seems too, well, safe for 10cc. Compared to, say, 'Rubber Bullets' or 'Wall Street Shuffle' there's no real anger or any emotion along with the comedy, the band only scantly try and tell a more 'serious point' over how justice may or may not prevail and although Eric's straight-faced delivery is delightful and plays the song just right, there's no way you could hear this song and not know it was a 'comedy' song. While fine on its own merits and a deserved #5 hit, 'Judge' is destined to be the single that hardly anyone remembers.
'The Things We Do For Love' is much better, putting to good use more of the lessons learnt over the previous years. Many fans were expecting Eric and Graham to simply rehash 'I'm Not In Love' for their first album as a duo (their biggest hit to date) but this is the closest we come: similarly lush (though not as electronically treated) 'aahing' vocals, a gorgeous melody and lyrics that look at love and romance from a slightly off-kilter viewpoint. The narrator of this song clearly views the love he feels for a girl as some form of illness: why else would he keep running back to her and their unstable relationship even when he knows it's all going to fall apart again sometime in the future and hang around 'in the rain and snow' just to see her when she doesn't seem to care anything like as much back. Even the lyrics in the verses seem to be conspiring against the narrator and telling him this relationship isn't going to work: when he tries to call her the phone lines are down. Eventually the narrator comes to two realisations: that love is a gamble every bit as risky as the nearest casino (only betting with hearts rather than money means even more is riding on the result) and that, for a relationship to work, compromises have to be made on both sides and you'll never truly get what you want- which may well make this the least romantic song ever (even 'I'm Not In Love' is 'secretly' a love song). Impressively multi-layered, this is a sad song at heart that knows there'll never be a happy ending, but it's all dressed up so cleverly (bouncy tempo, catchy chorus, singalong duh-de-duh-dee riff) that it still sounds like a happy song and works equally well as both. For me the masterstroke comes at the end of the middle eight when the song suddenly sadly shuffles off down a minor key ('You got me crawling up the wall') and seems to despondently give up on the relationship ever working, only to surge forward back in a major key and full of the joys of spring, the notes spiralling up to the sky. A clever song, written from the heart and the head pretty much equally, 'The Things We Do For Love' was a deserved big hit (although curiously it actually made #6, one place lower than 'Judge') and almost single-handedly saves the album. If Godley and Creme weren't jealous of their colleague's ability to write songs that were both deeper and more commercial than their own then they should have been.
From hereon in, now the singles are out the way, the album sinks down a level. 'Marriage Bureau Rendezvous' isn't a bad song -it sports a lovely slow melody and the feeling of nervousness tinged with excitement is exactly what a song about the endless search for your true love should sound like. However, like many a Gouldmann song, the words don't sound like a natural fit for the music, which keeps zig-zagging and altering its form to fit them, even breaking into reggae at one point (the earliest example of what will become a key 10cc sound after 'Dreadlock Holiday' the following year, although here the style lasts a single line). The lyric starts off being interesting - what could be more 10cc than a Marriage Bureau full of all those chances for missed opportunities and reducing the life-changing state of love into basically looking through a mail-order catalogue? However the song soon becomes a list rather than a proper song ('Would you like a blonde or a black or a blue-rinse? Do you like 'em small, love them slim, long and tall?') The song becomes uncomfortably cheesy come the middle eight, that swell of 'I'm Not In Love' voices appearing out of nowhere for the line 'won't it be fine when I find her?' which would have been thrown out of a Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland film for being too teeny-tacky. Graham might have done better to have built up the portrayal of his likeable narrator getting ready for his first meeting, hopping in and out of the bath several times, covering himself with cologne and 'shaving closer' than he's 'ever done before'. Against all the odds, this one doesn't belong in 10cc's long list of loveable losers, getting the girl at the end of the song, although the pair 'turning their back on the bureau' seems a bit harsh after all the good it's done them. This kind of natural, clichéd ending is deeply unusual for 10cc - usually the date would end with her catching fire or the restaurant being bulldozed the night before or something - but the closest we come is the slight hint that the pair used to be lovers long before ('Do you know you remind me of someone?') which might have made for a better ending ('So me and the e3x are compatible after all!') Either way, 'Marriage Bureau Rendezvous' is another sweet song that sadly doesn't quite come off, despite another fine performance (this is one of the best vocals Graham ever made) and some promising moments. Like a lot of 'Deceptive Bends' it's just simply all a bit too cosy and safe.
'People In Love' is Eric's turn to go all gooey-eyed and we'll be getting a lot of these love-lorn ballads from him over the next few albums. Some of them will be stunningly gorgeous, but sadly this inferior sequel to 'The Things We Do For Love' isn't one of his best. The song was actually the very last track ever recorded by the 'old' line-up of 10cc where it had the curious working title 'Voodoo Boogie' (it was later released in 2012 on the 'Tenology' box set) - maybe it was the thought of working on an album full of mawkish songs like this that caused Godley and Creme to quit. Eric is always good at sounding like he's in love, though and 'People In Love' is like one of those kitsch ornaments: so exquisitely carved and moulded with so much care and talent that you're impressed even whilst you're being sick from the sheer OTT ness of it all (if ever a song was already so far gone it could have done without syrupy strings it's this one!) Some of the lyrics are sweet though and on an album where 'The Things We Do For Love' hasn't already made the point better this song would be better regarded. Love is again an illness, a form of insanity almost, that turns the narrator's life upside down and means he can 'do nothing right' - another very universal song, then, although some of what it causes the narrator to do sounds rather unusual ('Walk under busses and burn your wings' - sounds like a problem with his eyesight to me, not his lovesick heart). Note the first appearance of a key theme of later Eric Stewart songs - the idea that the narrator never gets enough time with his beloved before being forced to go somewhere else and the thought that time moves quicker when you're enjoying yourself (this is the key theme of 'Windows In The Jungle'). A bit of a gooey mess, 'People In Love' should only be listened to by 'People In Love' who can stand the saccharine, although if Eric's vocals on this recording don't make you fall in love with him you have a heart of stone (or a cold).
'Modern Man Blues' is the weakest of the album songs for me: I've sat through so many of these fake chugging blues songs on AAA albums now I could probably make a 'top 50' out of them all if I had the stomach to sit through them again. This one isn't quite the worst but neither is it all that inspired: the verses feature the narrator and his wife having rows and are full of gloom while the choruses suddenly explode into a party (because 'she's gone' if you somehow missed that despite the fact the band sing the word 'gone' no less than 49 times during the song (or once every seven seconds). The song doesn't quite know if it's meant to be serious or funny. Sometimes it's hysterically funny ('She said 'your dinner's in the cat - and your love is out the door'), other times it's just uncomfortable ('A man can move much faster without such a millstone around his neck') and the switch between chugging blues and party-time is jagged and unsettling, even whilst you know why it's there. The band might have gotten away with it on a shorter song, but at 5:40 - with all of the tricks up the song's sleeve delivered by the two minute mark - it's simply too long. The best thing about this song is the contrast between Graham's rather sour vocals and Eric's more upbeat soulful voice, the two bouncing off each other remarkably well. Eric's guitar work is fabulous too, sounding more like his namesake Clapton than his usual style during the solo. As a song, though, 'Modern Man Blues' isn't anywhere near as funny as it thinks it is and you'll be so glad when this song has gone gone gone - so glad that song is gone (repeat for what seems like an hour).
So far 'Deceptive Bends' has been playing things way too safe: love-lorn ballads, slow chugging blues, an out and out 'comedy' song: only the single truly sounds like a 10cc song. No other band would dream of coming up with 'Honeymoon With B Troop' however, a madcap dance that covers more ground in its slightly less than three minutes than whole Pink Floyd concept albums. The song closest in style to the rather manic-depressive predecessor album 'How Dare You', like many of that album's songs it could in truth be about anything but is (I think) about a scouting trip that's, erm, highly memorable. For those of you who aren't British, the scouts are a sort of extra-curricular babysitting service that involves putting your children into hazardous exploits they can't handle so that they will know how to do them in adulthood: you know the sort of thing, making fires, getting stones out of horse's hooves, all the things you've never actually had to do. Generally speaking it's for primary school children, which makes the 'love story' in this song a bit, well, odd but the title can't refer to anything else can it? (Scouts and the like do have 'A' and 'B' and sometimes even 'C' troops and the reference to 'knots' in the last verse is a common bit of scouting knowledge, not to mention the references to tents and the unique kazoo solo). 'My baby goes topless and brings her beauty to a bottomless day' is as 10cc a line as you'll ever find, with more puns per word than the Basil Brush jokebook (boom! boom!) and the ending - where the lad proposes and gives his love a ring made out of string - is sweet. But hang on a minute - that double entendre ending 'now we'd like to...' which hovers in mid-air is taking things too far for a childhood crush isn't it? Musically this song is highly clever, bouncing around from one idea to the next via an eccentric hummable riff and even taking in snatches of 'Here Comes The Bride' (for no apparent reason!) Graham adds another strong vocal although it's He and Eric together in the backing that steal the show (their comedy 'bom-bom-bom's and substituting 'wife and 'life' for 'waif' and 'laif' just to return to the age theme). An odd song then - an uncomfortable one, even, post Jimmy Saville, but a clever one nonetheless and at one with the innocent-but-not-wanting to be 'Headroom' from an album before. An album highlight.
The real album highlight though has to be 'I Bought A Flat Guitar Tutor'. Showing off his ability to write a song around almost anything, Eric writes a whole lyric around the song's chord changes. We've quoted the whole lyric above but here's a sample for you again: 'I bought [A Flat] diminished responsibilit-[E], You're [D9th] person to [C]...' Talk about breaking the fourth wall and telling us that we're listening to a song while we're, err, listening to a song. As far as I can tell, the only chord Eric misses is on the line 'to be with you' (which I think from ear moves from B to B flat) - sadly there is no chord for the letter 'u' or Eric might have gotten away with that one too! The lyrics would simply be a clever idea had the tune not been such a strong one though and it would have made for a fine composition anyway with different words. The slow jazz shuffle backing that 10cc give the song is unusual and it's rather a good thing this song only lasts just past the 90 second mark, but even that shows an understanding of the genre similar pastiches failed on (see Wings' 'Cook Of The House' and 'Baby's Request' for two mistakes in a similar style). In the end, though, the only sad thing about this song is that there's no second verse. Come on guys, let's write a sequel: 'I bought A Flat Minor lunch when A Major fell on his head, he was ofFended but unBelievably wasn't dead...' (thankyou, thankyou, I'm here all week...)
'You've Got A Cold' is an infectious little ditty. No, seriously, spray your CD player down for germs when you're done - this song is so good at conjuring up the frustration and helplessness at having a cold that it will probably bring one on. Surely the inspiration for the Kinks' inferior 'Hayfever' from the following year, 'You've Got A Cold' is a driving rocker that any other band would have saved for a serious song about life and love. As ever, 10cc get away with making what should by rights be a throwaway song by playing it straight and being convincing enough to make this sound like a really big deal. Just listen to those lines: 'You've got a beauty, a bad ass, the mother of them all' - this isn't a mere temporary cold but a life changing condition (Eric must surely have had a cold for real when he wrote this - the hopelessness and shock at how powerful the virus is just rings totally true). Eric's voice is born for soulful rockers like these and he's in his element here, while the funky drumming from Paul Burgess and Eric's crunchy jabbing guitar work make for a convincing backing track and arguably 10cc's fourth best out and out rocker (after 'Rubber Bullets' 'Blackmail' and 'Second Sitting For The Last Supper'). I could have done without Graham's 'comedy' interjections ('Hot toddies...warm blankets') but elsewhere this is a great rock and roll song that just happens to be about a cold. The whole result is so convincing in it's portrayal that I think...achooo!...I might just have...sniff... caught a ...gasp...real cold now. Thanks for that guys.
'Feel The Benefit' is the album's grand finale and rarely have fans been as divided over a song. To some it's a pretentious over-long example of why Stewart and Gouldmann could never compete with Godley and Creme for big ideas; to others it's a moving song about loss of direction in adulthood. Both are true to some extent: 'Feel The Benefit' is indeed a beautiful song and is far more powerful and moving than by rights it should be, the whole of the song making up for any loss in the parts. It's still too long, though, means little when you sit down and analyse it all and needs a better twist than simply escaping for a 'holiday' with Graham Gouldmann in the middle. Structured to sound like 'A Day In The Life' (two similar long aching verses full of world weariness tied together by a lighter, frothier middle section and an orchestral interlude) it's clearly reaching for similar status: it's a big comment on life but done 10cc-style so is already half-laughing at its own pretentiousness while it does it. Eric for one seems rather attached to this song (it stayed longer in the band's setlists than you'd expect for such a complex and difficult piece) and his opening verses (set to an interesting variation on the Beatles' finger-picking lick for 'Dear Prudence') are moving indeed: his mother might have talking rot when she told him not to 'go out of the house without your shoes on' but she really meant 'take care'. Why does nobody ever say that or mean that anymore? No one could care less what happens to the narrator and the world he once enjoyed as a child now seems a cold and hostile place. Eric goes on to wonder, rather oddly, what would happen if 'all the entertainers of the world lost their music?', rightly claiming that music is about the only thing that makes sense anymore. While the opening music is a little too arch and self-aware for it's own good, the music when the song switches to a minor key (on the line 'where will we be?' and it's many variations) is sublime, hoping that everyone the world over 'feels the benefit'. There's a clever middle eight, too, where the narrator reveals himself to be a restless traveller with a 'cardboard suitcase', looking for somewhere to put down the roots he used to have when his mother fussed over him (travelling and being away from home will become the key theme of next album 'Bloody Tourists', written on the tour to support this album). When the traveller returns, though, he's not found fame and fortune and instead of simply being 'greener', as per the motto, the grass at home hasn't changed one bit: it's as enticing as ever and the wanderer wonders why he ever left (as a musician who found fame first of all as a teenager in his Mindbender days, this section may well be autobiographical for Eric, suddenly - and temporarily as it turns out - without a job for the first time since he was 18). There's another excellent use of 'I'm Not In Love' aah-ing vocals on this song (clearly a re-recording, given that Godley and Creme are missing) and Eric's vocal is another good 'un, doing just enough to convince us of his integrity. This whole section is very Queen-like in many ways, the band that 'inherit' 10cc's cleverness and love of everything epic, although for me that band were lacking the 'heart' of songs like this one, which is emotional and heartfelt as well as simply intelligent.
Like 'A Day In The Life' the middle eight kind of fits and doesn't fit all at the same time, looking at life from a different angle (only this time it's a holiday and travel to see happier climates instead of the misery of the world instead of the mundanity of life impacting on the suffering as per The Beatles' version). This interlude would have made a fun song in its own right with some clever ideas (all together now once again: 'You can drink a lot of coffee in Brazil, but the bill is gonna make a-you ill!') but here sounds a tad too recklessly fun-loving and unsuitable to fit within the context of the song. Graham even gets a few references to illegal substances into the lyrics ('You can smoke a little ganja!') which, along with 'Honeymoon With B Troop' and 'Flat Guitar Tutor' are the only moments where the band doesn't play things 'safe' on this album. One problem though: what is the line when they sing 'we'll float on a [mumble] down to Rio' - the lyric sheets claims the missing word is 'Queen'. Eh? How does that work exactly? (Actually the Royal Family ought to be used as boats down the Thames - it's not like they've got anything better to do with their time is it?!) A rather tacky reprise of the earlier 'Feel The Benefit' verses risks turning into some second-class charity single ('All the people in the world could say together 'we're all black and white, we're all day and night' - which is still more convincing than Michael Jackson later re-write on 'Black and White', incidentally). Thankfully some stunning guitar work from Eric double-tracked rescues the song and leaves the album on a high, with the last two minutes of the eleven minute song arguably the best. Again you can really hear the Beatle's influence here: this is what the guitar solo finale of the 'Abbey Road Medley' might have sounded like if turned into a fully-fledged song. Overall 'Feel The Benefit' is a fine song with some truly spine-tingling moments that nevertheless over-reaches itself and turns into a bit of a soggy mess by the last verse before the strong musicianship comes in to save it. Still, good on Eric and Graham for attempting something this big without Kevin and Lol around to help: the last time the band had tried something this epic was 'Un Nuit En Paris'.
In fact, musicianship rescues a lot more of this album than it ought to. 'Deceptive Bends' may feature a rather rum lot of songs by 10cc standards (barring the career highs 'The Things We Do For Love' 'Flat Guitar Tutor' and the opening section of 'Feel The Benefit' at least) but it may well be their best albums in terms of pure musicianship and arrangements. Generally speaking AAA albums that feature as much overdubbing as this one tend to be rather dry, too thought through and polished; 'Deceptive Bends' gets the mixture just right, with the nitty gritty punches of 'Judge' and 'Cold' off-setting the rather ickier moments (and even those are performed superbly). Were 10cc right to continue with half the band gone? Definitely - Eric and Graham cover a lot of ground with this album and while not as impressive as the four albums that came before it 'Deceptive Bends' still enhances rather than detracts from the band's reputation. The pair will get more and more used to their new look sound (even if, sadly, their fans won't) and some of the songs the pair write together from hereon in (especially on 'Windows') are 24 carat neglected AAA classics. There aren't any on 'Bends' just yet - the closest thing to a classic is hit single 'The Things We Do For Love' which is far from neglected - but you can tell the pair are getting there. What I wish is that Godley and Creme had hung around for just one more album and the quartet could have combined the best of this album and the duo's first post-10cc album 'Consequences'. An album featuring 'The Things We Do For Love' 'Flat Guitar Tutor' 'Feel The Benefit' plus the gorgeous 'Lost Weekend', so true character analysis '5 O' Clock In The Morning' and the funky 'Honolulu Lulu' would have made for one hell of an album, right up there with the band's very best. No matter: 'Deceptive Bends' may well end up being one of the band's weaker efforts from their 'first career' (it's between this album and 'Look, Hear') but if an album this well played and produced and occasionally brilliant can be counted as amongst a band's worst then that's still high praise indeed in my eyes. You can stop collecting the band's post-Godley and Creme albums if you want, but if you do you won't feel the benefit - 'Bloody Tourists' is up next and that album is wonderful...