Monday, 25 August 2014
10cc "How Dare You!" (1977)
How Dare You/Lazy Ways/I Wanna Rule The World/I'm Mandy, Fly Me/Iceberg//Art For Art's Sake/Rock 'n' Roll Lullaby/Head Room/Don't Hang Up!
Over the years we've seen some interesting comments from Alan's Album Archive bands when an album that an artist has spent months or years working on is finally out in the public eye. John Lennon dismissed his 'Mind Games' album as 'rock and roll at different speeds', Roger Waters declared 'Amused to Death' to be the third part in a holy trinity after 'Dark Side Of The Moon' and 'The Wall' and Neil Young once described 'Harvest' as 'the middle of the road when I was aiming for the ditch!' My favourite though is when bassist Graham Gouldman was asked by a hapless music journalist while making this album what the topics might be this time around: 'Well, it's a strange mixture of songs. There's one about divorce, one about schizophrenia, a song about wanting to rule the world, the inevitable money song - oh and an instrumental!' Actually that's underselling 'How Dare You', easily the most bonkers and the most controversial 10cc record, as you can add to that list a lullaby about childhood where sleep-deprived parents swear at their children, a teenager moving on from masturbation to sex and a soap opera where a mythical figure named Mandy rises from the sea to save a man involved in a plane wreck. You don't get any of those on a Spice Girls album...
'How Dare You' is most famous for being the last album with founding members Kevin Godley and Lol Creme. What's fascinating in retrospect isn't that there was a split (not since CSNY had there been a group with such split personalities) but that it occurs here. You see, even this album - which builds on 'The Original Soundtrack's madcap range of Last Suppers, perverted blackmailers, Parisian prostitutes and minestrone metaphors - isn't enough for them. Despite the fact that 10cc have moved beyond affectionate 1950s pastiches and comic book cutouts to discuss human life in the surrealist possible way in just four short years, 'How Dare You' - the strangest single album of the 1970s so far (with the possible exception of the band's earlier 'Sheet Music') - hasn't gone far enough. Godley and Creme naturally beat this with the mother of all concept albums the first time out (the three-album set 'Consequences', which you need a phd just to follow never mind understand), but calling 'How Dare You' too conservative an album seems to most fans like calling Lenin too conservative a revolutionary. Let me emphasis if you're new to this album (and especially if you're new to 10cc): this album makes 'Tommy' seem comprehensible, 'The White Album' seem condensed and makes everything Michael Jackson released sound vaguely sane. One minute we're in the head of a friendless psychopath desperate to turn his life around and make people bow down in power; the next we're in the mind of a madman left in a basket on the freeway whose about to break free of his perennial fixed grin; then we're a horny teenager wondering if all the things he isn't allowed to do now will be as fun as he thinks they will be; the next we're being pulled from under by an imaginary angel-come-air-hostess like that film of Dr No, No No No No. In short, 'How Dare You' is nuttier than a squirrel version of Nigel Farage holding a fruitcake. If this album was a person it would be your crazy Uncle Eddie locked up for impersonating a cabbage.
In any other band's hands this would be a stretch too far and even 10cc don't always get the balance of emotion, imagery and emulsion quite right: too much of this album goes for brains and brawn over feelings, a lot of it is too wild for all but the most out-there fans to grasp (not me though: wibble!) and the production gloss means that a lot of what should be cute and wacky cartoons come across sounding like the manga version of 'War and Peace'. 'How Dare You' isn't the perfect 10cc record - for me that's the later post-Godley and Creme works that always get left behind and even with this line-up the peak arguably came on albums two or three ('Sheet Music' or 'Soundtrack'). 'How Dare You' is, however, the most 10cc of 10cc albums; the record where every single track sounds like something this band would do that no other band would even begin to think of - and yet where every single song sounds completely different to the others on the LP. And therein lies the real reason for Godley and Creme to leave: the band couldn't possibly go anywhere quite this wild again without either recycling some of the ideas or getting ever more desperate for ideas. Lol seemed to realise this when talking to the Guardian to plug the band's 'Tenology' box in 2012: this album marks a 'crossroads' - all roads till now have been leaving to it but for the band to stay together it would have to chase it's own tail going back round and round the same path when there are simply too many to follow. A fifth Godley and Creme version of 10cc is an interesting prospect though and one a lot of fans have tried to imagine: would it have been like 'Consequences' (a jump too far for any fans to keep up with?) Like the album Stewart and Gouldman made (The mixed success 'Deceptive Bends'?) Would it have split the band between a 'wild' side and a 'poppy' side? Sadly we'll never know.
What we do know is that 10cc have gone about as far as covering the whole range of life and experience in one album as they can. What a record like this badly needs is something to tie the whole thing together and luckily 10cc are the rock royalty of the half-concept album. Every single song here is about mi-communication in some way, with each misunderstood gesture and underappreciated action fuelling the flames of something dangerous. You can hear it on this album when the clearly hurt and sulking killer vows to take his revenge on an unkind universe on 'I Wanna Rule The World!!!' The quiet loony whose calm coping exterior that everyone sees is only part of the 'iceberg' whose waiting for an excuse to erupt. The artist pushed too far in his search for money that he sells out all his artistic ideals, even though that's what an unspeaking fan base clearly want. The teenager whose never been taught about 'love' and only knows the mucky tales he's learnt - and spied on - involving sex; somehow you know this lad is going to end up a teenager father at best, a serial heartbreaker or even a rapist at worst. Most movingly it's heard in 'Don't Hang Up' which, some excruciating 10cc-ish puns aside, is as simple and straightforward a song about heartbreak as the band ever recorded, a phone that's literally about people not listening to each other because the other end never picks up the flipping phone! Even the other songs touch on it; I've been listening to 'Lazy Ways' for decades and yet I've only just noticed how ambiguous it is about whether relaxing and taking it easy is a good or a bad thing; the ambiguity makes it come across as a schizophrenic discussion where both sides have positives and the narrator never comes to a final conclusion. As for that song about miles-high Mandy, everyone else assumes this is the narrator's struggling sub-consciousness talking to him and assuming for the moment that they are right (and let's face it, stranger things have happened, in 10cc songs if not real life) then it suggests another 'self' we don't know is there but is always talking to us. The overall result is much like that for Pink Floyd's later 'Division Bell' (which ends in a similar way, with the band's manager on the phone to a child and having the phone hung up on him) things would be better for us all if we did more talking.
Talking of Pink Floyd, their usual album sleeve artists Hipgnosis did the artwork for 10cc and it's one of their most successful designs, so popular that the team are involved from here-on in in some capacity until 1981. Unusually, both front and inner designs have aged better with time, sounding off about topics that actually make more sense today than they did in 1976. The front and back sleeves feature a 'soap opera' - something that only ever featured housewives, policemen and 'agricultural folk' back in the days before 'Eastenders' and 'Hollyoaks' (perhaps Manchester's premier band of the day were answering to Coronotion Street, the only one to go anywhere close to this story?) The story is broken up into four sections, but without any captions or writing, leaving the listener to 'fill' this in themselves. Bottom left, a businessman is on the phone shouting. Top left a morose housewife is on the phone getting drunk. On the back sleeve a tramp seems to be on a public telephone box calling up a pretty girl in a hotel who looks shocked (she's dressed in an air hostess uniform - could this be Mandy?) At first sight all these telephone calls seem to be connected. But trust 10cc to give us an extra layer: keep your eyes on the periphery for a couple who appear in every single shot. That's them in the photograph on the businessman's desk, pulling up in a car in the housewife's drive, hugging outside the telephone box and appearing on the hotel room TV. Unless they're sets of quads where all four identical brothers married all four identical sisters or invented a time machine, it's safe to say they can't appear in all four places at once. So what we have here are four different stories involving four different phone-calls with the only common denominator being two people who might be complete strangers to the foursome (well, not the guy who has a picture of them sitting on his desk at least) and who might not even be alive at the same time (that's a very old monochrome shot of them on the TV). Incidentally the couple were friends of Hipgnosis' Aubrey Powell who'd always wanted to feature in some of his art - and amazingly, yes, her name really was 'Mandy'! The result is an album cover that's much like the album - people are talking to each other but from a distance and the wires have somehow got crossed and mixed up. Things are more fun but just as inventive on the inner sleeve. There's a party taking place in a nice looking house (one that Powell thinks, but can't quite remember, might have belonged to one of the Floyd) - only instead of chatting or gossiping face to face everyone is on the phone, wrapped up in their own tiny dramas. Remember, this is a good 20 years before mobile phones that like all modern inventions has become the 'latest menace' to 'fragment civilisation' that far from being the 'cause' that so many people blame is simply another symptom of a human trait that goes back long before we had any technology to blame it on. Hipgnosis even provide a 10c version of 'Where's Wally', with all four bandmembers hidden somewhere on the album sleeve, none of them obvious on first glance (we don't want to spoil the fun but if you're having problems guessing that's Godley at the back on the far left, Creme's in the middle with the phone cord wrapped around his neck, Stewart's just right of centre at the back in a fetching blue bowtie and Gouldman's just below him in the foreground, reaching out for a cigarette).
Whether by design or accident, then, this album is clearly about the split somewhere in there. High on the list of reasons for bands to split, right above 'spending time with my family' 'taking too many drugs' 'not turning up to rehearsals' and throwing a tangerine at your brother, is 'mis-communication'. Far from the rows that The Who and Oasis have had down the years, 10cc are the masters at awkward silences and of putting up with things for the sake of the band that they secretly don't agree with (that's why the split is the single most 'wow-I-didn't see-that-coming-one of every single AAA band; we all knew the Beach Boys, The Monkees and The Who would end the way they did - and frankly we're secretly rather surprised The Rolling Stones are still going - but 10cc, they should still be going strong now). Secret messages, pent up rages, secret desires to rule the world (or at least the studio) their way: 'How Dare You' seems like a secret glimpse into the band's psyche. Even that title, named after the single line spoken in the title song, sounds less like the subtle warning about the controversies of sex and swearing at toddlers it was presumably there for and more like a secret feeling that people are stepping on your toes. An eruption was inevitable; the fact that Godley and Creme were desperate to develop their 'gizmo' (which bended the notes of guitar strings and became an industry standard - that's not lazy research by the way, they really did call it that!) and Stewart and Gouldman wanted to stick to what the band had always been doing was the trigger but wasn't the sole cause. As a result 'How Dare You' is one of those albums, a bit like 'Abbey Road' and Oasis' 'Dig Out Your Soul' that have now taken on quite a different feeling to the one they had at the time: at the time it felt like fun as usual and it was good to see them back in any form; now it just feels like a long goodbye. The album even ends with a telephone being hung up, heard mid-note just before a 'natural' break was about to occur. If the band weren't playing with fans' minds then they should have second careers as soothsayers ('Ah yes...I see your life floating past my crystal ball...yours will turn out like...a minestrone served with parmesan cheese!')
That said, 10cc notably continue their usual policy of 'musical writing chairs', swapping partners so that each of the six possible combinations (Godley-Creme, Godley-Gouldman, Godley-Stewart, Creme-Gouldman, Creme-Stewart, Gouldman-Stewart) gets a go together somewhere, something we wish more bands who have more than two writers in them would do (the Mike Nesmith-Peter Tork Monkees combination has never been exploited; nor has the Phil Lesh-Bob Weir Grateful Dead one). That's a terrific strength to have, effectively giving us six different bands in one (heck, Godley and Creme were at least five different bands when they were together so make that ten). It's this variety, more than anything else, that will prevent both sides of 10cc from being anything like as great separately as they were apart (although both of them will give it a blooming good go, on albums like 'Windows In The Jungle' and 'Freeze Frame' particularly).
Ironically it's that variety, that need to go anywhere and everywhere, that hurts this album most. In case you hadn't guessed by now, I love my albums to be weird. Any record that gives me something nothing else I own has ever given me is always going to be special, whether it's high-voltage feedback, songs about singing toasters or china cat sunflowers. However even I'm shouting in frustration by the end of this record, which is so utterly, totally different each and every time that your head is spinning by the end. Every other 10cc album thus far has had some moments of normality to calm things down; an 'I'm Not In Love' to segue between the streets of Paris and the wronged lover appearing as a centre-fold in 'Playboy' or the 'Old Wild Men' who sweep in serenely in-between a Hotel run by cannibals and tick-a-tick-a timebombs about to go off on a jet plane. The closest we get here to a 'normal', run of the mill pop song is 'Art For Art's Sake' and even that's got dressed up to the nines production-wise to the point where it now sounds like an art noir film shot in technicolour. Normally Eric and Graham are our grounding to earth but, whether in an attempt to keep up with an unhappy Godley and Creme or because their writing was genuinely heading this way anyway, they're as 'weird' as their colleagues, giving us a lullaby for a sleeping baby that's anything but family-friendly and an air-hostess giving a man the kiss of life even though she couldn't possibly exist. By the way, you also know that you've probably gone past any limit on what can possibly be 'normal' when that latter song is released as a single and held up to be one of the reasons the band is getting too 'restrictive' so you have to leave, then that is a band that's clearly gone too far.
All that said, there's much to enjoy about this album. This album might wear you out by going to so many places all at once, but most of the places are worth a look. 'Lazy Ways' is an overlooked example of what Pink Floyd fans would call a 'pastoral' work - a rare glimpse at the trees and the nature and the summer from what is generally one of rock music's most urban of bands. 'I Wanna Rule The World' and 'Iceberg' are both funnier and more out there than anything by the more celebrated Frank Zappa. 'Rock and Roll Lullaby' and 'Headroom' are genuinely 10cc at their funniest, with some great lines on subjects that you'll never ever hear again on any other album. 'Don't Hang Up' is 10cc at their most humane, recycling the feel of 'Somewhere In Hollywood' but using the laughs more sparingly, as little jokes between a couple who clearly know each other well rather than as the punchline for something clever. Unusually this album's singles are the two weakest links (along with the one and only 10cc instrumental (editor's note: oops forgot about B-side 'Gizmo My Way' - alright then, the one and only 10cc instrumental that made an album!), which sounds odd right at the start of the album) but even they only pall compared to what came before - 10cc simply have simply gone so far ahead of their old selves that the band are effectively forced into releasing the only two songs that still have anything even vaguely in common with the pop charts and aren't necessarily picked because they're the best songs in the bunch (interestingly both halves of the band rectify this problem quickly - Stewart and Gouldman with the catchy but deep 'The Things We Do For Love' and Godley and Creme with the lovely yearning '5 O'Clock In The Morning'). Best of all, this album feels like a progression the sort of things we keep nagging our bands for not making: the themes are deeper (usually), the stakes are higher (generally) and far from selling out like at least one half of the band feared this record is still very much 'art for art's sake', the band breaking up when music was still a career, not merely a living. We might not like every lesson 'How Dare You' has to tell us. We might not like the backdrop to every story it presents to us. We might not enjoy it as much as some of the earlier slightly less zany works (or in my case some of the later, less zany works) but we admire this album's world of broken relationships and higher consequences (see where Godley and Creme got that idea?) all the same.
How can 10cc possibly follow-up 14 minute musical 'Un Nuit En Paris' as their latest opening track? The short answer is, they don't: the title track of 'How Dare You!' is instead quite light and flimsy in 10cc terms. In fact, it's the only time the band make good on the promise shown in their 'Hotlegs' recording 'Neanderthal Man' and go for unusual, rhythm-heavy sounds as opposed to melody, lyrics or puns. On the plus side there's an awful lot going on in this instrumental, which features every possible percussion instrument known to man (cowbells, congas, bongos, maracas, sleigh bells and even something called a 'rizo-rizo' for which I can find no reference whatsoever in anything else; type into google and all you get is the credits for this song, a load of guys with that name and Rizo the Rat from The Muppets). The song starts off as slow and laidback but turns into a more turbulent song by the second half when we slide to a minor key and end up in the hands of a harpsichord, before the song awkwardly rights itself and launched itself into a more usual guitar track. This song, like 'Neanderthal Man', makes more sense when you realise how obsessed with engineering 10cc all were: the band were formed to run Strawberry Studios for other musicians and Eric especially became a very fine engineer, interested in the 'practical' side of music-making; these two songs represent perhaps the most extreme examples of a song being created solely for the purposes of creating a 'sound'. Usually instrumentals don't have a theme, they just kind of roll around a bit, but as you'd expect 10cc seem to have a few idea for what's going on in this song and leave a few clues: it starts with the voice of 10cc secretary Kathy Warren whispering 'quiet!' and then 'How dare you!' which gives the effect of a romantic liaison gone wrong (seeing as Kathy was also the voice in the middle of 'I'm Not In Love' whispering 'big boys don't cry', is this later on in the same relationship?) The highlight is Eric's howling guitar which finally takes off somewhere around 90 seconds into the song and some more playing around with vocals (a 'Mexican cheer' and fed into the song backwards down the left channel). The result is one last great gasp of pure musicianship from a band on its last creative legs, giving everyone a chance to shine in turn. Interestingly, the song is credited to Godley and Creme alone although all four members seem to have been quite involved in shaping it.
'Lazy Ways' is a collaboration between Creme and Stewart that again sounds rather bare and basic by 10cc standards, the kind of laidback folk-rock about having a good lazy time we expect most bands to record at some point but not the usually workaholics 10cc. However that's only the first half of the melody, built on a sweet piano lick; the rest of the song builds up layer and layer to the point where an angry mellotron growls in the background and we get the repetitive relentless sound of what sounds like a tambourine being thrown and caught from one member of the band to another, whizzing past our ears like a relentless factory conveyor-belt. The rest of the song then becomes a dialogue between the two, trying to find the answer to the question 'how can you work and yet avoid getting out of your lazy ways?' The lyrics then get confused, the chorus ('You'll never get up if you don't get up...') sounding as if its come from another song entirely (my guess is the laidback start is Creme's and the punchier restless middle is by Stewart, simply based on the previous styles we've heard from the pair down the years). A romantic middle eight (with the curious line 'Holding you, with your body') confuses matters more: is the word 'endlessly' meant to mean that the narrator has to keep interrupting his love life to earn a living? The result is a second straight song that seems to be more about sound and texture than the words, but another strong group performance (with Eric's vocal particularly fine) and a lovely see-sawing melody mean the band just about get away with it.
'I Wanna Rule The World!!!' (by Godley, Creme and Gouldman) is much more like the real 10cc and is a sound collage unlike any other you'll ever hear. A whole group of frightening Graham Gouldmans march into the room on both sides before making way for Creme's nerdy narrator, tired of being bossed around and with a future with nothing more exciting than working in 'daddy's shop'. Godley's wicked mock-angelic voice then acts as his conscience egging him on: 'whatcha gonna do? How ya gonna do it?' Another terrific very 50s guitar solo then links to another James Bondy section through the eyes of the baddie willing for success ('I'm keeping them on ice, in suspended animation..') A call to a rally then gives way to what this song's really about: tired of being bullied, the narrator wants to be the bully. Creme yells his next lines at the top of his voice and turns the song into a demented Nazi rally (Pink Floyd should have hired him for the role of Pink in 'The Wall' film; he's twice as demented but three times more convincing in the role than Bob Geldof on 'In The Flesh?') Creme's playful childlike voice then withdraws, tells us that he wants everyone to be free - but, power going to his head again, he wants the world to 'be less free than me because I rule the world you see'. The scene is then pulled back to reveal the narrator for what he is: a scared child sending out an army of teddy bears and dolls out to wreak revenge, the only strings he has under him to pull. The result is a song that, even by 10cc standards, pulls away the rug from under us every time we think we're getting close to the 'truth' and one that we're forever having to re-asses based on our assessment of the narrator: when we think he's an evil demi-God we're angry; when we know he's a child venting his frustrations at his helplessness we're on his side (note the reference to 'getting a pain in the Shirley Temples', an early hint at the childlike status of the narrator). A production masterclass, 'I Wanna Rule The World!!!' is exquisitely constructed, with several different performances stapled together in a way that must have taken an awful lot of hard work. I'm still not sure whether all that hard work is really worth it - as a production number with the clever twist at the end 'World' is a song made to admire, but a song to actually enjoy? I'm not so sure...
'I'm Mandy, Fly Me' by Eric, Graham and Lol begins with the hook-line from 'Clockwork Creep' (on second album 'Sheet Music') and an airplane flying overhead before being swiped aside by a fat bass line, exotic synthesiser sound effects, a vocoder apparently whispering 'amazing grace' and whistling. We find out later that the airplane has crash-landed in the water, with the narrator thrown out of the plane (his first line is that he's 'on the outside looking in') but rather than sound petrified or angry, the narrator bobbing in the water is ecstatic. The poster he sees on the side of the aircraft, of an air-hostess named Mandy, 'with a smile as bright as sunshine' causes him to hallucinate (or so it seems) and takes him out of himself ('The world was spinning like a ball, and then it wasn't there at all!') Mandy gives him the 'kiss of life' that saves him, his addled brain setting off on a journey of exotic acoustic guitars and psychedelic effects that ends only when he's pulled from the wreckage; he asks for Mandy but she's not there. A love song to an imaginary person, created by a situation so intense and extreme that the 'real essence' of life comes into sharp contrast, 'Mandy' is balancing a lot of things for a humble catchy single. For a start we don't know who to believe: the narrator is clearly awake enough to realise that what's happening to him seems like a film (Mandy acts 'just like the girl in Dr No, no no no') and yet when he tells his rescuers later that it might have all been in his head they tell him 'no no no no' and that she was was real, yet currently missing - do they mean this? Or is that simply a ruse to keep him awake and conscious in the hope that the pair might be reunited? (note the sheer amount of denies in each of those two lines, the sort of things you do when you're lying to someone). The key line of this song is 'if your chance would you take it?' - would you be prepared to create a whole new life for yourself in your mind to keep yourself alive? And if you did, what would happen to you afterwards when you realised you were making it all up? It's interesting in this context that the band chose an 'air hostess' as their 'exotic woman' (the first in a whole sequence of imaginary confident Eric Stewart girls who'll end up seducing him on subways and all sorts in albums to come): air hostesses never seem quite real anyway, what with all that make-up and being made up to look the same. This clearly isn't a 'real' woman: she's the sort you see everywhere if you travel by plane a lot and even that name - Mandy - isn't a common one amongst 'real' people, though it's used a lot in books. The result is a fourth straight song in a row that's easy to admire and yet there's something difficult to fall in love with compared to earlier classic 10cc singles: there's too many questions and not enough answers for this to be an 'easy ride', with the sudden switch of gears every time the band break out for another instrumental making this song less easy on the ears than, say, 'I'm Not In Love' or 'Rubber Bullets'. Still, this is a lot of people's favourite 10cc song for a reason: its a love song told with such a radical twist that no one on first hearing could have heard it coming (if they'd understood it at all), traditionally loved by 'true' fans (although interestingly co-writer Lol Creme wasn't one of them; it was this song he quoted as evidence that the band were growing stale). In actuality 'Mandy' is a clever hybrid of catchy commercialism and bonkers uniqueness that couldn't possibly have been thought up by another band, but there are better mixtures of the same ingredients around, even on this same album.
'Iceberg' is a rollercoaster that we all ride if we own this album, a Godley-Gouldman collaboration that takes weird to new levels. Musically this is a return to the 'Donna' and 'Sacro-Illiac' 50s spoofing 10cc of the first two albums, but featuring more switches of pace, mood and feel in its 3:45 running time than most 1950s albums. Musically this is a jolly song with a sing-songy narrator, but that's just the tip of the iceberg: what the lyrics (delivered by both writers in their sweetest voices) tell us is something quite different. The narrator is an orphan whose been 'in and out of trouble ever since they left me in a basket on the freeway' and whose background haunts him badly, even though most people don't realise on meeting him. If you do something to 'annoy' him, he can't handle it ('I might do something you might regret in a hurry...'), a line spoken in the same cool casual manner so that you probably miss it the first time round. Later verses tell us that some people believe he belongs in a 'home for crazy people' and that his hobby is 'heavy breathing on the telephone'. But these moments aren't 'usual' - they're the bottom of the iceberg society has tried to pretend isn't there and that the narrator's cruel family-less background has been 'solved' by a few kind words and a pat on the head. So what do we do? As the song says 'there ain't a thing that you can do': society is locked in this stalemate until someone gets hurt, which by the sound of it happens at the end of the song, a truly eerie mesh of distorted voices, cackling 'ha ha ha' laughter and the narrator sweetly telling us to 'get down - 'cause there's not a thing that you can do' and the threat that he might 'be back' later. The very end of the song finds us back at the end, with a rollercoaster that no longer seems so fun and the electronically distorted snorting of a pig. The fight between animal and human within the narrator has been lost, with the former apparently winning. Another odd song, 'Iceberg' is another piece that just about gets away with the difficult brief of letting us 'understand' a difficult to sympathise with narrator and seeing life fully from his perspective, with no guilt no doubt and no change in his feelings as he commits his terrible deeds. There are some clever ideas and some excellent couplets (best line: 'It's me that's been dogging your shadow, it's me that's been shadowing your dog') but, again, 'Iceberg' isn't the sort of track you put on for enjoyable listening; there's only so much thinking you can do listening to an album and this track alone stretches the listener a little too far I feel, even without the context of being track five on a nine track album which all demand you do the same.
By contrast, 'Art For Art's Sake' is probably the 'emptiest' song 10cc ever released as a single. A scathing extension of 'The Wall Street Shuffle' by the same writers (Stewart and Gouldman) it features a cold and heartless riff, chilling sound effects and sarcastic lyrics about the twin competing desires of all artists everywhere who need 'art for art's sake but money for god's sake'. It's as if 10cc have deliberately come up with a catchy singalong that merely repeats the central idea in different ways to deliberately exploit this loophole and include the audience as part of the constraints: to continue to make their less accessible songs the band also have to make songs like this from time to time and writing a song about that process is either deeply cynical or a marvellous post-modern statement about the state of the art world (notice this song is widened to include all 'art', not just music) that criticises the fact that singles like this have to get released. To be fair, 10cc always give us value for money with their productions and this is one of their best: Eric provides another terrific vocal with cameos from Lol at his highest and Graham at his deepest. There's another terrific Guitar solo which (unlike the single version) plays on and on for a full minute at the fade, with Eric's part perfectly judged between genuine enjoyment and freedom and the cyncism of the rest of the song. Best of all is the use of sound effects which beat anything Pink Floyd did on 'Money' by being less literal and more inventive, with ringing tills and clattering percussion signifying the sound of coins. Again, while this is simple stuff lyrically with less meat on the bones than any 10cc song since the first album, musically this is another complex piece and you never quite know where you're going, with ideas whizzing past you at high speed. That lot ends up with another song that sounds more fun to make than it is to listen to, but even comparatively empty 10cc has more going on than most bands would ever think to include and there's a nicely gutsy, rocky vibe at the heart of this track which makes a change from the run of ballads that were being released as singles. The song's writers seem to have liked it as they basically recycle the idea and sound for the similar 'Good Morning Judge', their first single post-split.
The sweet 'Rock and Roll Lullaby' comes next, another Stewart-Gouldman song sung by Kevin. The song is the best used yet of the 'what did he just sing?' technique the band have been perfecting across two albums now, with a tired dad singing to his toddler in the same universal sing-songy voices used by parents everywhere but realising that as the youngster doesn't understand the words and just the tone of voice he can get away with all sorts of language ('It's daybreak in the land of nod, so get to sleep you little sod!') Godley's innocent vocals are the perfect match for this song with a twist and it's easy to sympathise with the tired narrator as he tried to get his child to grow up and become more independent and then instantly regrets it, realising that childhood is too short as it is. The song cops out by the end, with the admission that he or she (we never find out which) will be loved 'anyway you are', the cue for a big singalong, but even that's somehow fitting in a song that's clearly about a loving if infuriating relationship, the narrator quick to recognise that their 'devil' might yet turn into an 'angel', unable to 'reason what is right and what is wrong'. In this context though, the line 'the sandman's gonna get you!' seems a bit harsh. The end result is a sweet little song that will be identified with by parents of young children everywhere and perfectly in keeping with the album theme of 'mis-communication' and hidden messages.
'How Dare You' then ends with the last two songs Godley-Creme made with the band. 'Head Room' is sung by Lol and finds the pair in mischievous mood, pushing the limits of what was allowed under censorship in 1976. We're never told just how old the narrator of this song is but he's clearly young and curious about the world of sex that's all around him but which he's not 'allowed' to join in with. He's remarkably aware of what's going on around him, 'hanging around' when his parents aren't looking and getting intimate, making the birds and bees go 'weak at the knees' from 'practice' and dreaming of his first kiss. Most of the song is bouncy and jolly, the kind of thing they use as theme tunes for cartoons about naughty schoolkids in the UK (take your pick out of Just William, Dennis The Menace and Tracy Beaker depending on your age) with a country-rock feel thanks to some steel gizmoed guitar. Thankfully 10cc vary this sound (which would have become irritating really really quickly) with some touches of real pathos: the moment when the band stop 'playing' and get emotional in full harmony on the line 'Oo they've been shooting me a line, maybe it doesn't exist at all' is the most thrilling moment on the whole album, making a silly song sound 'real' in the space of a few seconds. Less forgivable, though, are some excruciating puns: the title is the closest the band can get away in the mid-70s to the idea of the narrator being given 'head' and the line that he's up late because 'it's far too wet to woo' that makes him sound like an owl is so bad it's painful! Head Room' might not be the best Godley-Creme song ever written but it's a lot of fun and features exactly the sort of playfulness I wish their duo records had featured more of.
The album then ends with its best song, 'Don't Hang Up'. Godley's vocals and Lol's sad piano melody are the sound of heartbreak on a sad tale of a couple breaking up when one half doesn't want them to. The lines are very clever and like 'I'm Not In Love' tell the listener more about the narrator through subterfuge than he would ever have told us outright: he protests that he's doing 'really well' but let's slip that his new apartment is 'as safe as Central Park' (which, even in the days before John Lennon's murder nearby four years later, isn't exactly safe). This isn't just comedy though, there's a real pathos here too: the line that the narrator was never the 'Errol Flynn' type his partner longed for despite trying is one of the sweetest in the 10cc pantheon. Along the way the narrator reflects on where it went wrong, recounting an awful honeymoon ('a honeymoon on itchy bedding...dumb waiters waiting, sweating straining, all mass-debating my woman'; notice the typical double entendre in the last line which amounts to the same idea of betrayal and two-timing going on whether you're hearing it or rewading it from the lyric sheet).In perhaps the greatest moment of the song, even the dustbinmen walk into the room to give us their opinion (graham cameo-ing on the song) - even they know it's a 'dustbin romance' that is never going to work; and yet the narrator still hopes that it will. We then follow Godley as he gets drunk and morose (memorably watching vol-au-vents 'explode' at a party while 'lousy violins begin to play)'; a scene made more darkly comic with the knowledge that this might be the 'party' on the album's inner sleeve, where everyone is on the phone trying to speak to their own missing partners. He then heads for the bar with the typical stream of Godley-Creme puns that ends with the narrator imagining the pair winning the 'no noble prize' and misunderstanding the barman's query over a drink, replying 'marriage - on the rocks'. Throughout it all Godley's narrator is on the telephone vainly trying to get his old partner to pick up the phone - but we all know and he secretly knows that she never will, that this relationship is over. One of the best 10cc songs in terms of balancing the chuckles with real feelings, 'Don't Hang Up' is tremendously moving, the cleverness there to move the plot along as well as make us giggle, the humour used as a disguise for tears. The song also marks the perfect end to an album all about people not saying what they really mean: the final note of the album (which in the days of vinyl kept going in the run-out grooves until you lifted the needle off the record) is the 'cancelled' dialing tone of a phone. The song also makes, knowingly or not, for a fine farewell to the 'Godley-Creme' years: this is a song about people going their separate ways and no matter how many people wish however hard, the characters in it are never going to get back together again. Despite being dominated by Godley and Creme, this song also features another fine band performance both musically and vocally, showing all the more reason why the band should have continued and not 'hung up' on their career when they were arguably reaching a peak, of sorts. All bands should split after releasing a song like this: a sort of unified piece about fragmentation that beats better known examples ('The Beatles' 'Abbey Road Medley' and Simon and Garfunkel's 'Song For The Asking') hands down.
Overall, then, 'How Dare You!' isn't the greatest 10cc album ever made but each track is inventive, special and full of a varyingly successful mixture of art for art's sake material that no other band would ever have done. At times this album is a wise old figure delivering the secrets of life; at other times its an annoying toddler tugging at our sleeves for our attention. That's one heck of a lot of ground for one album to cover and 'How Dare You' isn't the sort of album you put on for a bit of light relaxation and a few good tunes. No wonder this album is titled 'How Dare You!' - this record takes more liberties than most: it surrounds us with madmen, psychopaths and hallucinations, bounces between out and out comedy and earnestness and after dangling this carrot of inventiveness and originality before our ears snatches it away by telling us there won't be any more, even though we've spent a great deal of time twisting our brains around to make this album fit into our understanding of how albums work. If you want an album that makes you think and make you laugh, that takes you somewhere you will never ever go again, however, then you're more likely to say 'I love you' than 'how dare you'!