Monday, 12 September 2016
Yvonne's The One/Code Of Silence/Bluebird/Age Of Consent/Take This Woman/The Monkey and The Onion/Everything Is Not Enough/Ready To Go Home/Grow Old With Me/Margo Wants The Mustard/Peace In Our Time/Why Did I Break Your Heart? Now You're Gone/I'm Not In Love (Acoustic Re-Recording)
'Mirror, mirror on the wall, did 10cc really have so far to fall? Divided in two it's less than half the draw, but there's a reason Eric and Graham weren't playing ball. At least a few songs that still stand tall - well, more than on 'Meanwhile' after all...'
Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman still hadn't quite repaired their friendship after the split in 1983. Being press-ganged into making a tenth 10cc album nine years later (when Mercury discovered they still technically had the band under contract) hadn't helped their working relationship - and yet they still had to make an eleventh if they wanted the ghost of contracts past to leave them alone to see out their twilight years in peace. It's hard to make an album when the record label wants you to rather than when you want to and 'Mirror Mirror' suffers from all the problems of its predecessor 'Meanwhile...' by sounding all too often as if the band would rather be anywhere but the studio most of the time. Maybe the beach, where the cover photograph and inner photos were taken, including what was in all likelihood the only day Eric and Graham spent together on the whole project (and even here they almost have their backs to each other as they look in different directions. You see, after the miserable sessions for 'Meanwhile...' the duo were keen not to make the same mistake again and 'Mirror Mirror' is actually a very 10cc-ish concept album about 'mirroring', with Eric and Graham effectively offering us two solo albums for the price of one (before coming together with the earlier one-off 1992 re-recording of 'I'm Not In Love' at the end).
This is, of course, a problem - 10cc aren't 10cc without those harmonies and it's all too obvious that you're hearing lots of little Grahams or lots of little Erics. It's also a fact that neither man's solo records ever sounded like 10cc - it's the teamwork that made those albums, with the slightly different madness and energy of each member bouncing off each other, especially in the Godley and Creme years. At least 'Meanwhile...' had the odd chorus harmonies and a full reunion in the case of 'The Night The Stars Didn't Show' with Godley and Creme guesting (neither turn up on this album). However 'Mirror' is also a better album in several respects and solves one problem 10cc had been having since Godley and Creme left in 1976 where they became the Eric Stewart show with the odd Gouldman cameos and it's great to hear Graham getting his fair share of the album at last. The band had made this work before too: it's almost like 1983 all over again, when Eric was busy making the deeply serious band album 'Windows In The Jungle' while Graham was off making the nicely silly solo album for children 'Animalympics' and both are pretty excellent works in two very different ways. The working arrangements also means that 'Mirror' does have a little bit more of the old 10cc joi de vivre, with both men at least excited to be in their half of the studio (well, we say that as a metaphor as they'd have to be big studios - Graham was in London and Eric was in France) and there's a lighter, happier feel than the darkness of 'Meanwhile...' which often seemed so at odds with 10cc traditions. Of course both sides would still have sounded better had Eric added his characteristic guitarwork to Graham's recordings and had Graham added his characteristic harmonies to Eric's recordings and it would have been nice if the last 10cc album released under the 10cc name had actually featured more than one previously released recording featuring the two men together. That was, after all, the original plan - both Eric and Graham started work on their songs intending them to be demos the others would finish off, but as time went by they both became more protective (the two 'new' songs with credits to both men, 'Take This Woman' and 'Why Did I Break Your Heart?' were leftover from the 'Meanwhile...' sessions and were worked out by both men a little bit, but were very much written by Graham and Eric respectively). But even at 2.5cc (yes, we've delayed using that joke till now, aren't you proud of us?) there's still room in this engine to offer...something.
Given that we're talking about what are effectively two very different records here, we're dividing our review in two. Here's Eric's album: an eccentric collection of heartfelt love ballads, Beatle co-writes, songs of angst and guilt, songs of sex and sensuality, regular pop and some comedy reggae. It's like a sampler from all his past styles with 10cc, though perhaps only 'Yvonne's The One' (which is really much more of a Paul McCartney song) and the eerie 'Code Of Silence' really add to his back catalogue. The tracks do, at least, follow on to some degree from last 'proper' album 'Windows In The Jungle' ('Meanwhile...' was a special case made in a hurry) with similar themes of life being too short for distractions to get in the way and that it's the smaller moments that have the most impact. 'Yvonne' seems to be a casual acquaintance at best and even though 'volcanoes erupted' when Eric's narrator saw her, he seems to have only met her three times. The two wereb't quite as compatible as they first seemed though - and life's too short. 'Code Of Silence' urges Eric's partner to talk about what's troubling her or he can't help her - and life's too short to suffer alone. 'Age Of Consent' fills in more everything you needed to know about Eric's erotic side (Exclamation Marks!!!) with an illicit affair taking place in public, despite the nerves of his partner - because life's too short. 'Everything Is Not Enough' is the most straightforward pop song on the album about how power and riches aren't everything - because life is too short to miss out on love and fun and friendship ('and that's a sin'). 'Margo Wants The Mustard' is a Godley/Creme style novelty song about a middle aged lady who wants a little spice in her life - because life's too short. Finally, 'Why Did I Break Your Heart?' still agonises over a love affair that went wrong, possibly from decades ago, with Eric still in pieces over what might have been - because life is too short to be alone. In other words even the comedy songs have an added attack of the grumps, a sense of time closing in and a feeling that the characters are in the last chance saloon of their lives.
Graham, though, is writing from a fairly happy place. If Eric is writing his songs from the point of view that 'life is too short so don't waste it' then Graham is asking 'why not?' His equally eccentric selections for this album include a nature study, a comedy about marriage, a confusing metaphor about a monkey peeling an onion, a nostalgic Wax reunion, the sweet sentiment of love song 'Grow Old With Me', poetic prog rock and the sad loss of 'Now You're Gone', which is the one song here that 'mirrors' Eric's 'Why Did I Break Your Heart?' By and large, though, Gouldman's contributions are upbeat and ask 'well, why not try it? Life is short'. 'Bluebird' tells us that 'inside everybody is a story to be told' and wonders why we settle for the drudgery in our lives when if we wanted to we could be as free as the birds - because why not? 'Take This Woman' takes marriage very lightly and after taking this woman to be his wife, the narrator wishes someone would take her away again - well, it was worth a try. 'The Monkey and The Onion' (I think...it's a weird song) tells us that life is a puzzle with no answer, so instead of debating it we should be living it. 'Ready To Go Home' has the narrator returning to his childhood home and hoping that life will begin again without the baggage of the past - because why not? 'Grow Old With Me' has Graham happy that his gamble in love paid off and that his dreams have come true and he was right to allow himself to fall in love again - because why not? 'Peace In Our Time' is both grateful for what has been and hopeful for what might come and is the closest 10cc ever came to writing a religious song (though which religion - if anything it's closest to paganism - is left unexplained) - because why not, what is there to lose? Switch the tearful 'Now You're Gone' (where the narrator's girlfriend died and life will never be the same - because life is short) around with Eric's go-get-em 'Margo Wants The Mustard (because why not?) and you'd have an almost exact mirror running parallel between the two halves of tracks. 10cc could have made even more of this actually - instead of hiding the fact the two weren't working together (which is after all, fairly obvious from the liner credits) they could have put one song after another, alternating happy and sad to better reflect life's rich tapestry of emotion. Or put all the sad Eric songs at the beginning and all the happy Graham ones at the end, with a crossover in the middle. However putting the 1992 re-make of everyone's favourite in-denial song 'I'm Not In Love' is a worthy closer, the song reflecting as it does someone poised between wanting to embrace the new (because why not?) while being scared of things going wrong (because life is too short to be unhappy).
The end result is an album with many nice things that feel like they get lost down the end of the sofa rather. This is, after all, a 58 minute album (or 61 if you own the Japanese model with the second version of 'I'm Not In Love') which makes it at least twenty longer than any previous studio 10cc record. They always say that comedy works best in little bits, which might be why 10cc never tried a double album (along with the fact that at their perfectionist speed it would have taken years, like Godley and Creme's 'Consequences' did) - but then 'Mirror Mirror' isn't much of a comedy record in 10cc's tradition either, with only 'Take This Woman' and 'Margo Wants The Mustard' coming from the wackier side of 10cc's collection of pens. The sad truth is that, even for a band who last sounded like 10cc on the generally under-whelming 1981 record 'Look Hear', this really doesn't sound like a 10cc record. Less sombre than 'Ten Out Of Ten' and 'Windows In The Jungle' and less dark than 'Meanwhile...', 'Mirror Mirror' is musically halfway there with its generally ear-catching pop and the generally lighter subject matter. But it all feels a little bit too 'normal' to be a 10cc record: this may not be a road that runs particularly middle for most bands but Eric and Graham are right down the middle of it here. Graham himself commented afterwards that this was the only 10cc album he could ever imagine another band performing (well, except 'Margo Wants The Mustard' perhaps) and that's the problem in a nutshell. Why listen to 10cc trying to sound like other lesser band when they could have been diving into their unique personalities and bouncing ideas off each other? Life's too short for a disc full of soppy love songs, humourless comedy and songs about monkeys, onions and bluebirds.
On the other hand though, over in the other mirror, this final 10cc record does offer a few things you won't hear anywhere else, namely the guest cast. For what other album out there features Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Tim Rice and should-have-been-a-sir Andrew Gold? Fittingly for such a record Macca's contributions are both old and new, obvious and obscure: he'd long been a 10cc fan since he and his brother Mike McGear recorded at 10cc's Strawberry Studios in Stockport and he'd cameod on Godley and Creme's 'Get Well Soon' in 1978 (well, apparently - I've worn my cassette copy out and I still can't hear him). After 10cc broke-up Eric ended up in his un-named bands, guesting on 'So Bad' from the 'Pipes Of Peace' album in 1983, appearing in the ill-fated 'Give My Regards To Broad Street' film of 1984 and best of all co-writing half of McCartney's quirkiest and most 10cc-ish album 'Press To Play' in 1986. One of the prettiest outtakes from that album was the sweet acoustic ballad 'Yvonne's The One', which Eric dusted off here in manic reggae power pop form (Macca's original demo, still unreleased at the time of writing sadly and I fear it will be a long time before his deluxe sets get as far as 'Press To Play', is best). Eric rang Paul up to ask to 'borrow' the co-written song and mentioned that he was after an unusual sound to go along with a moody track he was working on, 'Code Of Silence'. Paul suggested using frogs and crickets, gathering them up from his own garden to add an eerie backing track and stayed in the studio long enough to add some synth-strings and electric piano. Tim Rice, meanwhile, befriended Gouldman while working on the Guinness World Records series of books (in which he features a lot, what with 10cc and the many cover versions of his songs) and the pair of songwriters vowed to work together one day. 'The Monkey and The Onion' is the result, which either sounds like Graham trying to write in a more 'normal' style or the famously straight-laced Rice trying to act 'weird', I'm not sure which! Finally, Andrew Gold's presence on 'Ready To Go Home' was only intended as a short-term favour, with Grahan's old friend from his Wax days dropping in to hear how things were going and adding a harmony part where Graham wanted Eric's to go. Though Stewart and Gold weren't the best of friends after Andrew's brief spell trying to shape 10cc in 1980 (ending up in just one release, the sarcastic postmodernist single 'We've Heard It All Before!'), Eric commented that the harmony was too good to interfere with and should be kept. Given Andrew's untimely death aged just 59 not all that long afterwards, it works as a fitting coda. Sadly less audible are two old 10cc friends who really should have made their presence felt more: drummer Paul Burgess, who was with the band between 1977 and 1983 (you can tell when he's playing and the drum machine gets turned off - they're the better performances on the album by and large) and Rick Fenn, guitarist from 1978-1981 who does a good job of sounding like Eric on the 'Graham' tracks. No other 10cc album features guest parts (not unless you count ex-10cc members on 'Meanwhile...' and actually it works rather well, with all the people in this paragraph adding their own sound without taking anything away from the style of Graham or Eric.
However, most fans would still much rather have had an album of Eric and Graham writing and playing together, bouncing ideas off each other and creating the old magic through friction. The sad truth is that none of what Graham or Eric have made in their solo careers to date have come anywhere close to being as good as they were when they were working together. They're not a band titled '1cc' after all, this band was always intended as a group project, a democratic partnership where anyone could sing anyone else's songs (and often did) and the ten possible writing partnerships were exploited every album so every track went somewhere a little bit different. 'Mirror Mirror' continues that sad tradition - even though it features perhaps the best half-solo album of Eric's career and the best half-solo of Graham's since 'Animalympics', it still pales into insignificance compared to what the pair used to be able to do together. Even the packaging is pretty awful compared to the great images of old: the cover is meant to be of a couple of computer-generated 'people' made out of mirrors and posing like Graham and Eric, only the picture it's based on isn't anywhere in the booklet (neither of them is wearing a hat for starters) and it's hard to work out what's going on (not that that ever stopped 10cc covers in the past, but this time you're not interested enough to care what's going on!) And as for the inside, shots of a monkey and a rather scarily big onion seem obvious, while the blow-up doll for 'Take This Woman' is tacky - maybe if the package designers had been brave enough to find images for every track instead of just a few this might still have worked. But like the album itself it feels half-hearted, with a sense of 'that will do, life's too short' rather than 'let's give it a go - why not?' Had the pair spent even a week together at the beginning and end shaping and perfecting material it could have been such a different story, because the material is certainly stronger than the average on 'Meanwhile...' (even if there's no one song as sharp as 'Shine A Light In The Dark') and includes a couple of real gems in 'Yvonne's The One' (whatever the band have done to this poor over-dressed song compared to the McCartney demo!), 'Ready To Go Home' and at a pinch 'Why Did I Break Your Heart?' and 'Now You're Gone' as well. While neither 10cc reunion album is really recommended - both are made to make up the numbers rather than through any burning desire to get back together again - there's a great 40 minute album between the two somewhere and more than half of it comes from this one.
Things are further confused because the version of 'Window Window' I'm discussing is the longest one, the fourteen track version released in Japan (where 10cc were having something of a renaissance at the time after Graham's frequent touring there) in the Summer of 1995 and in the rest of the world six months or so later at the end of the year. Before that Europeans and Americans got a very different ten-track version that was heavily slanted towards Graham: I'm Not In Love (Remix)/Peace In Our Time/Ready To Go Home/The Monkey and The Onion/Why Did I Break Your Heart?/Code Of Silence/Take This Woman/Grow Old With Me/Age Of Consent/Everything Is Not Enough. Just to confuse matters even more, Japan then re-released the album in 1996 with a fifteenth track unreleased anywhere else - a 'Rough Art Mix' (as in, 'roughly state of the art') of 'I'm Not In Love'. This has confused the heck out of different collectors down the years so do be warned - not all mirrors look alike!
'Yvonne's The One' dances with all the reggae and carnival of 'Dreadlock Holiday', which came as a right shock to those of us collectors who knew it as a typically sweet and tender Paul McCartney ballad. Macca doesn't seem to have minded the bright new makeover though, adding some rhythm guitar to Eric's backing track, which is somewhat drowned out by all the production gimmicks. Which is a shame because 'Yvonne' isn't really a production gimmick kind of song. A tale of lovers passing in the night the narrator falls in love at first sight in verse one at their first meeting, tries to keep his cool in an '#I'm Not In Love' manner in verse two at their second meeting and realises that it's never going to work by the time of verse three and their final meeting. Though the song's wistful pristine melody and faintly silly lyrics are pure McCartney ('Yvonne's the one I've been counting on...so I said so long Yvonne!'), the idea sounds more like one of Eric's and is at one with his other 'the romance only happened in my head' type songs like 'I'm Not In Love' and 'Shock On The Tube'. Yvonne's a pretty well rounded character for someone the narrator only meets three times though and though she doesn't know anything about the love affair they have that's being played out in the narrator's head, his visions of their future together sadly sound all too real: lots of love and laughter at the beginning before 'the sadness grows into her eyes'. A sad song about aging and losing innocence, there's even a painful middle eight (which is rather lost here but is the best part of the song on McCartney's original arrangement) where Eric laments the fact that he was never brave enough to speak up: 'She'll never know how much I love her, I never got to tell her, I never got a chance to say farewell!' Quite what this has to do with the carnival party going on in the backing is another matter, but the song itself is a good one - far too good to have laid unused since 1986 and another major weapon in my deeply unfashionable argument that the 'Press To Play' era McCartney might just be the greatest solo McCartney of them all. The better the original demo (with Eric on rhythm guitar this time) is out, the better - 10cc's version just can't compare and loses most of the original's innocence. You can't keep a good song down though whatever you do to it and this album is already better than 90% of 'Meanwhile...'
'Code Of Silence' is a sequel of sorts to Eric's 1981 ballad 'Don't Turn Me Away'. The love of his life is hurting and he wants to help her, but she insists on keeping secrets and insisting everything is alright. This lack of trust that he can help her feels worse to the narrator than any problem ever could be and the 'code of silence' between them festers in a most unhealthy way. Though the pair are simply lying in bed in the darkness facing away from each other, it feels like a million miles between the couple and Eric adds a whole host of sound effects to suggest that they're at least a jungle apart (with crickets and frogs provided by one Paul McCartney from his own garden). Eric is good at dramatic slow-burning songs like this one, but after a promising beginning this song never really goes anywhere and in fact ends up going round in circles, with every verse leading to the same chorus which begins 'But a code of silence...' There's no real attempt from the narrator to reach out and ask her directly what's wrong or promise to put it right - he just suffers in silence, wishing she would trust him. The performance too feels suitably detached, with repetitive synth notes held throughout most of the track and the same booming artificial drums every few bars or so, for almost six whole minutes. A few tweaks, the addition of a typically great Eric Stewart solo (or even a chorus that sounds different to the verses) and a shorter edit and 'Code Of Silence' could have ended up one of the strongest songs on the album. Instead it's the track you forget about sandwiched between two of the more commercial moments here.
'Bluebird' is Graham's first track on the album and it sounds lovely, even though it's as silly as any 10cc song when you analyse it (without, in this case, meaning to be silly). Multiple Gouldmans admire a bird they've seen in the sky who they feel can 'teach me how to sing' and is 'the guardian of my soul'. The story then moves on to human and their wish to be as free of responsibility as the birds or something like that, though we never get a real grasp of what's exactly happened in song. Chances are it's the first reference in the album to 'Hyme The Rhyme' Gouldman, Graham's dad who died very late on in the 'Meanwhile...' sessions at the age of 83 and gets a namecheck on the album. Graham promises to 'always be there' for his brother, praises his mother for 'always knowing what to do' and yet for his own courage and support looks up to the bluebird in the sky for inspiration to 'spread my wings'. Like all too many Gouldman songs, it sounds as if the very real and very moving idea in the song got distorted somehow by his inherent musicality - this song is so sure it's a pop song the lyrics just won't go to the dark places the theme hints at and instead of something genuinely uplifting and powerful we get a Hallmarks Greeting Card about love and loss. The melody is very pretty though and the main thoughtful guitar riff has been a thread sewn throughout all eras of his songs for 10cc, making this one of the more traditional and recognisable moments on the album. Graham's excellent triple-tracked harmonies are pretty wonderful too, while Adrian Lee deserves special praise too for his sensitive and subtle keyboard work which augments the main track compared to many on the record.
'Age Of Consent' is one of the strangest songs on the album, seemingly having in more common with the dark, subconscious aura of 'Meanwhile'. Eric's cad of a narrator urges his intended to be seen with him in public even though she's clearly not comfortable with the idea. 'You don't have to be coy' he grins, while the threat hinted in the song is that she's under-age - at least a lot younger than he is - and unable to say no to him. It could be that the she's barely sixteen, the title being a pun on the idea that the modern era is the 'age of consent' and she's now joined it too after the narrator's years of impatient waiting. 'We're here to enjoy everything - everything that the traffic allows!' Eric laughs at one point, after a verse of touching the wine and then touching her. The best gag though: like the girl the restaurant has a 'pretty front - boy what a front!' Note too the heavy lift from The Beatles' 'Dear Prudence', another song about impatiently waiting for a girl to 'look around round round' and enjoy the great things the world has to offer - only this time the things it has to offer sound slightly sleazy. The rather creepy feel of the song is enhanced by the slow tempo and the slow strutting peacock of a guitar riff which represents a complete inversion of Eric's usual bouncy, happy-go-lucky feel. An interesting experiment and certainly one that comes off better than the similar songs on 'Meanwhile...' as it's not just being nasty for nastiness' sake, with Eric's vocal another good one. However it's just so un-10cc ish and so out of left field that you can't quite bring yourself to enjoy it either, with Eric doing rather too convincing a job at playing a dirty old man.
The Eric/Graham co-write 'Take This Woman' is sung by the latter and is the most overtly 10cc song here with 'comedy' lyrics about marriage and everything that goes with it that wouldn't be out of place on 'Deceptive Bends', only not quite as good. Graham's narrator regrets marrying, he once agreed to take this woman - and now all he wants is for someone to take her and lock her away. Oh how our sides split. There are some good details about the eccentric character the narrator has married though, even if the main plot is way off: the first disagreement comes when his girl asks to take her drums to bed ('Your rhythm method's gonna leave me dead!'), the second comes over her eating habits ('Caviar every night is insane!'), the third when he goes round to meet the in-laws (and 'Sees the noose in her hangman's eyes'). A cautionary tale against whirlwind romances everywhere, the pair really should have spent some time living together first so they could find out the worst things about each other first. However all come goods by the end of the song when the pair embrace after a row and their touch 'feels like a million volts!' as the pair remember why they got together in the first place. By the end the narrator is keen, in the single best/worst couplet on the album, not to 'falter' as he remembers taking her down the 'altar'. (astrological note: they clearly have a matching Venus/Mars and not much else in their synastry, so the sexual chemistry is there but not much else). However what could have been a sweet song is undermined by the old 10cc problem of too much thinking and not enough heart. The song keeps switching gears: there's a 'comedy' bass vocal ('And she said...') and at an odd moment at 1:55 when the track falls down a hole and goes from being staccato reggae to slushy romance. Sadly that the reggae is even more irritating and outdated than on 'Yvonne's The One', while the lush orchestra is like the bad parts of 'The Anonymous Alcoholic', only drunker. In short 'Take This Woman'...please, take 'Take This Woman', full of the sort of things everybody thinks every 10cc is full of (but full of traps the band are generally too clever to fall into), I never want to hear 'Take This Woman' ever again...
As for 'The Monkey and The Onion', the song is best described by the expression 'What the???' Graham's collaboration with Tim Rice, it's either a literal song about a monkey peeling an onion and crying until he feels there's nothing left or a metaphor for mankind and life as he cries his way through wishing his life was better before finding he's dead. Either way, this isn't what you'd call a 'normal' song but the worst of it is that this song sounds as if it's the most straightforward pop song on the album. Graham sounds as he believes every word he sings and the strings are the sort of thing you normally hear on number one records, not oddball songs about monkeys and onions (both words are used a lot across the song by the way - and yet neither of them have any natural rhyming words; well 'donkey' I suppose but Graham chickens out of getting that into the lyrics too; if I know Tim Rice this was probably his idea - 'Hey, Graham, did you know there are words in the dictuonary nobody ever uses because they don't rhyme?' It's a surprise this album doesn't have a companion song about a zygote eating spaghetti). As with so much of this album, there's a lovely melody that gets wasted and a far better idea at the heart of this song that gets buried in there: 'Never take my love for granted, yet never put it to the test' Graham warns as it finally looks as if 'Onion' is about to turn into a tearjerker about guilt and promises that makes sense, 'As we run off in all directions nothing's quite the joy it seems'. However what's that next line? 'Too much investigation - you know the rest!' No, we don't know the rest or even what's just come before. I'm definitely getting old now I can't understand 10cc songs, but unlike their usual cerebral tests left for fans to unravel, you can't help shake off the feeling that this track is one big joke - that unravel it as much as we like there's nothing there at the end of it all, just tears from layers of sodding onion. And with a melody like that it could have been so much more!
Fittingly the track that follows that grass is always greener (but the onion is always less oniony) fable is Eric's 'Everything Is Not Enough'. Another very dark 'Meanwhile...' style song about greed and power, you can't quite work out which side the guitarist is on. In many ways it sounds like a confession, especially the third verse where Eric chastises himself for not counting his blessings - he 'feels rough and thinks this can't be me, I'm such a happy guy!' but maybe he wanted the extra fame from being a big rockstar so badly that the poor sales for 'Meanwhile...' shook his confidence. Cleverly that windows of reality in the jungle moment is kept for the lyrics: musically and performance wise this song just oozes cool. Eric is the ultimate rockstar-with-sunglasses-and-a-yacht here, cruising his way on top of a backing track that play so much as swagger. Eric promises that the time is ripe for a change ('So let's go!') but despite this song's big dreams and realisation that 'nobody will love you if you moan all day - you have to play easy to get your way' it's just more of the same from 'Meanwhile...' and though slightly better made it still doesn't sound like the sort of thing 10cc should be doing. Leave the generic songs about grabbing power and trying to sound cool to lesser bands!
The second album highlight is Graham's heartfelt 'Ready To Go Home', another song about the death of his dad with whom he was close. Coping with some un-named tragedy, the narrator finds himself breaking down and pleading to 'go home' - the pun being that he's both ready to face his broken-hearted family and the childhood home that will never be the same and that he's ready to meet his maker and embrace death himself. Closer in style to the last days of 10cc in the glorious 1980s, this is sombre and moving without any need for comedy or jokes. It sounds even less like the style of popstars Wax, but that's what we have on this track with a superb lead vocal from guest Andrew Gold, who with his vocals roughly in the same key as Eric Stewart, was meant to be recording a demo where the guitarist's vocals would go. 10cc were sensible to leave this song intact though: even though Eric is generally the better, more expressive singer he'd have struggled to come even close to Andrew's moving work here which might well be his single best vocal and which fits like a glove with Graham's harmony. The two old friends have never sounded better in fact, which makes you wish that maybe Graham had been recording a third 'proper' Wax album rather than an eleventh 10cc one nobody wanted to make. It's hard not to feel sympathy as the character feels so tired and emotional he 'lays me down' waiting for the next day to come - though whether that is left travelling to a physical home or embracing death is again left unspoken. The song isn't perfect: the 'Wax' style synths are as 1980s and artificial as ever and the lyrics are occasionally over-written ('When the evening shadows fall the time has come'). However it's poignantly written, passionately sung and a lot more memorable than anything else on this album, or in fact anything Graham had written in at least fifteen years. A songwriter himself, daddy Gouldman would have been proud to have written this.
To add to the emotional weight of this part of the album, Graham now talks about living for as long as possible on the sweet love ballad 'Grow Old With Me'. Recalling a promise made decades before, Graham gets a bit treacly as he remembers growing older and closer, bouncing between two different time zones as he zooms from the beginning of the relationship to somewhere near the end. Structured a little like Cat Stevens' 'Father and Son', the main verses are older and slower and more reflective, urging caution and patience, while the faster counter-verses date from the earliest days when the narrator is left in 'no doubt' that he'll be in love forever. Lovely as this song is, it's not terribly original and suffers from not being 10cc enough - in fact in the olden days this is the sort of soppy song the band would have parodied in a 'SSSSSilly Love' type manner. That's age for you though and there's still something deeply satisfying about the lovely slow unwinding of this song, especially the twirl of Beach Boys style harmonies at the end. Gouldman has never sounded this contented in song before and it's lovely to hear, with contentment very much the plus side to bands growing older.
Then again, 'Margo Wants The Mustard' puts the listening age for this album at, I don't know, three? The tale of a middle aged woman who wants to have some fun in her life, she's spreading spice into her life. Quite apart from the allergies I have to anything that mentions Spice because of that awful girl group, this is just a silly song that seems written to sound like 10cc always used to ('Life Is A Minestrone' lyrics set to this album's third go at 'Dreadlock Holiday') without any idea of understanding or properly remembering what those old songs were really like. There's no attempt to really get into the mind of a middle aged beach-goer here, though there is a passing interesting minute when Margo becomes a symbol for 'bottling it and putting it on the whole human race' who are all living well within their means, it's just an excuse to come up with some vaguely funny words and string them together. To be fair the title is funny, once, but after you've read it in the shop or online you really don't need to hear it as the song will go in exactly the direction you think it will from the title. had this song been shorter or played with more energy and had it lost those clichéd steel drums it might have been a lot more palatable. As it is, it's a waste of an energetic Eric Stewart vocal and some of his best guitar playing on the record.
The most 'Wax'ish song on the album, 'Peace In Our Time' is a collaboration between Graham and one-time Lindisfarne collaborator Steve Piggott on a very 1980s sounding song that thinks very deeply yet sounds very shallow. Graham's narrator is searching peace and thanking his creator. However he's doing this while singing against a 'woah-a-woah' pop chorus and a guitar riff that wouldn't be out of place on a Justin Timberlake record. Which is not to say that this song is bad, just that like a lot of 'Mirror Mirror' the music and lyrics are going in two such different directions that it's hard to keep track of how you're meant to be feeling. Though slightly over-written, there's an impressive heart about the words that plead for tolerance and salvation and ask for something, anything to shine a light in the dark (recalling the best song on 'Meanwhile...') There's a sense, too, that the good times are on their way, with the metaphor of centuries of winds blowing some plant life back into the desert a hopeful sign for all humanity. Graham's vocal, though, is more living the la vida loca than living in paradise and there's a sense that someone somewhere was more interested in getting a hit single than saving our souls. Like a lot of these 10cc reunion tracks, a remix one day with all the excess production baggage taken out might reveal a sweeter, stronger song than anybody remembered.
There's no doubting the heartfelt late night lament of 'Why Did I Break Your Heart?', with Eric still guilty for some unspoken deed committed in his wayward youth. His narrators have been gradually becoming more and more sentimental down the years, with this track taking up where 'Memories' and the like left off in the 1980s, with this song inspired by an old box of 'photographs and memories'. Eric remembers when he met his first love so clearly and thought they had 'the recipe for life, the perfect fusion', but he's less clear about when things started to go wrong and why and chastises himself for being in the wrong over something he doesn't want to admit to. The song admits 'we analysed ourselves - it didn't really help', because there was no reason for things to end - they just did - and now Eric needs the comfort he felt the first time round to get him over the breakup. The timeline is all over the place in this song - in the opening verse it's a distant memory, but by the end it feels like a raw wound that's only just happened and which the narrator feels will never heal. Eric's written a better middle eight down the years too. However, it doesn't matter - true love is timeless whether good or bad and the similarity of the verse-chorus-middle eight actually benefits this track which is about the narrator's obsession and inability to let go and move on. It's worth comparing this song to the last great of Stewart romantic ballads on 'Windows In The Jungle' when a couple have just met and the real world keeps intruding on their personal romantic world; this time the real world seems to have won and got between them, but Eric's narrator has never been more focused or single-minded. The performance makes a good song great: Eric soars from grumpy denial to bitter falsetto on this track and has rarely sounded better, while this album's typical use of cold synths works nicely on this track for once, with Eric's warmness and open-ness contrasting with the cold shoulder he's getting from his ex-lover. The end result is one of the very best songs on the album, full of a very real pathos and guilt that's a lot more successful than attempts at screwball comedy or hit records. It's a fine and fitting way for Eric's work under the 10cc banner to bow out.
Graham bows out with a good song too with 'Now You're Gone'. Though like many heartfelt tracks on this album it's been '10ccfied', given what even its own writer calls in the credits a 'dummy vocal' (literally: Graham sings 'D...a dummy' over and over while slapping his thighs), the original core song is another moving one and it's welcome to hear it played simply and acoustically without 'Mirror Mirror's usual production excess. Graham too is remembering a first love, who 'didn't need me, though I needed you' and who read the signals 'wrong', pushing her into marriage before she was ready and failing to realise the relationship was one-sided. Now she's free and happy and he's miserable and more trapped than ever, Graham even admitting that his narrator has 'murder in his mind' at the bitterness he feels though the character never acts on it (the closest he comes is threatening suicide in the last verse; 'No more setting sun 'cause soon I'll be gone'. The hurt in this song comes through loud and clear, whatever daft vocal a second Graham is singing alongside the main one and it's a good contrast set against 'Grow Old With Me' from earlier, with Graham growing old alone. Like many songs on this album Graham could have done more with it, as three minutes doesn't seem long enough to explore this unusual set-up and the song ends abruptly, drifting away on a sudden fade and a 'doo doo doo'. However what is here sounds very good indeed.
10cc's career then ends (at least assuming they don't surprise us at some point with a new album, though after 21 years I'm starting to have my doubts about that...) where it - almost - began. Eric and Graham join forces for a slightly stripped down take on the old warhorse 'I'm Not In Love', a track they began performing in 1992 to promote 'Meanwhile...' as cheaply and efficiently as possible and which their record company loved so much they asked them to make it their next single. Graham for one was horrified ('What do you mean we should publicise the new album with a track from an old one? That's nuts!') but it makes sense as a fond farewell. The version of the track here is often said to be 'similar enough to make you wonder why they bothered' by most reviewers but that's not true: this is effectively the basic Gouldman-Stewart co-write before Godley and Creme came up with the distinctive idea of the 'aaah'ing one-note choir and before Kathy the Strawberry Studios receptionist got added into the mix. Eric sings the song not so much from teenager crush denial as from a knowing wink from old age, as half of a married couple who had to wait a 'long time' but got there in the end. Without so many glossy backing vocals Graham gets more to do too and his guitar is even more central to the mix than Eric's keyboard work. Though simpler and less impressive than the 1976 original (on 'The Original Soundtrack' album if you were wondering), especially the sudden low-key ending which ends not with a bang like the original but a whimper, this version has its charms too, with the charming simple harmony vocals of Eric and Graham all that this song needs to convey the I-love-you-but-I-can't-admit-it vibe of the original. Certainly it's a lot more palatable than what Eric and Graham had been doing to their old 10cc material in concert on the 'Hits Alive' tour...
Overall, then, I'm not in love with this album by any means but 'Mirror Mirror' is a lot worthier of the band name than 'Meanwhile...' had been. The decision to give half the album to Eric and half to Graham is this record's greatest strength and weakness in different ways: on the one hand both men sound much happier and more focussed working separately and this is arguably the only time in 10cc history that Graham gets an equal share of a band album to himself; on the other these songs could have been so much better had the one provided the other with a middle eight or a harmony vocal here and there and 'Mirror Mirror' very much sounds like two solo albums stuck together, which frankly is a waste of two songwriters as compatible as these two. 'Mirror Mirror' is a horribly bland and uneven album at times, with songs like 'Margo Wants The Mustard' and 'Take This Woman' right up there as the worst the band ever offered the world, while even the passable material often sounds worse thanks to the production excess. However at other times this album shines, with four strong numbers ('Yvonne's The One' 'Why Did I Break Your Heart?' 'Ready To Go Home' and 'Now You're Gone') the backbone of what could have been a really impressive attempt to update the old 1970s 10cc sound into the 1990s. Though the concept of the pair of writers 'mirroring' each other doesn't quite come off as things stand here, it's a very 10cc ish idea that might have worked wonders years before (just imagine Stewart Gouldman Godley and Creme getting half a side of a double album to themselves to fill in with whatever they want!) and a far better solution to the 'make an album or be sued' approach than the unhappiness of 'Meanwhile...' In fact, given the fact that hardly anybody involved in this album actually wanted to make it, the surprise isn't that 'Mirror' makes so many mistakes but why it doesn't make more. Though born of perspiration more than inspiration, 'Mirror Mirror' is proof enough that even on auto-pilot 10cc were not just a very very clever band but a very very good one as well.