Monday 17 July 2017

Otis Redding and Carla Thomas "King and Queen" (1967)

You can now buy 'Change Gonna Come - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Otis Redding' in e-book form by clicking here!

Otis Redding and Carla Thomas "King and Queen" (1967)

Knock On Wood/Let Me Be Good To You/Tramp/Tell It Like It Is/When Something Is Wrong With My Baby/Lovey Dovey//New Year's Resolution/It Takes Two/Are You Lonely For Me, Baby?/Bring It On Home To Me/Ooh Carla Ooh Otis

"I'm the only son of a gun this side of the sun!"

Well, dear reader, here we are at last. This week marks our 500th review. Yes that's right, we've had ever so nearly ten years' worth of news, views and music, of madcap videos starring dogs in top hats, of albums that have soared high fallen low or passed into mediocrity somewhere in the middle and of more Spice Girls jokes than they've had reunions. As I write this there remains just fifteen more reviews to go until we've finished the main leg of our journey (don't worry, there are more than enough articles to keep the site going to the middle of 2018 when the first of our spin-off books should, touch Ronnie Wood, be ready) - although David Crosby's is due soon and Neil Young's been quiet for three whole months now so he's surely cooking up a new one, with probably a few others to come before too long to. Even so we're nearer the end than the beginning and it's been a pleasure having you alongside whether you've read every single article on here (we seem to have had a flurry of activity from Russia recently, which suggests either one person is reading a lot or lots of people are still trying to get to the end of the same article - hello if either refers to you!) or whether this is your first arrival. And what better way to celebrate 500 issues and five centuries than a telegram from The Queen?

Ah OK, sorry, got that wrong. Looks as if Her Maj is busy wasting taxpayer's money by doing something more useful to the world (like watching some people on a horse march up and down or opening a factory of her son's Duchy original biscuits or something) so we haven't actually got The Queen. Better yet, though, we've got rock (and soul) royalty in the shape of not just the Queen but The King as well. The King is, of course, Otis and he wears the crown well, even if he's never sounded more a man of the people than on this working class fears and favourites kind of an album. Carla Thomas, daughter of 'Walkin' The Dog With A Top Hat' singer Rufus, is less well known, though she had already released three albums before pairing up with Otis and had already been billed 'The Queen Of Memphis Soul' by collectors of Stax Records, while she'll release her own spin-off solo set 'The Queen Alone' shortly after this one. The result is the only true duets album in the AAA canon (Paul and Linda McCartney's 'Ram' and the Godley-Creme albums don't really cut it as 'traditional' duets albums), which gives us a rare 'first' for our 500th review as well! What was that? You've never heard of this album or Carla Thomas even though you thought you'd bought everything Otis ever made and currently own twelve copies of 'Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay'? Well, nor have most people, with fans generally seeing this album - the last full new release of Otis' lifetime - as something of a cul-de-sac and with only the album single 'Tramp' standing any chance of appearing on any compilation albums.
In truth 'King and Queen' is not a record you need to know or one whose tracks deserve to be heard alongside the likes of 'Try A Little Tenderness' or 'I've Been Loving You Too Long' . Far from being Rock Royalty or two singers at the top of their game coming together, it's actually a rather drastic attempt by Stax producer Jim Stewart to get extra mileage and double the fanbase for two singers whose career seemed to have stalled. Strange as it seems to think it now, Otis was having quite a quiet time after the blaze of his career in the 1965 period, his fifth album 'The Dictionary Of Soul' suffering from the lowest sales since his first 'Pain In My Heart'. Otis, who'd only really been truly successful in Europe till now, hadn't really broken through at all in his American homeland and this was a rather drastic attempt to re-mould his career from a soul singer of passion into the kind of sweet young gentlemen you wouldn't mind inviting into your home. Stax weren't to know - and neither was Otis - that the contract he'd just signed to appear at the Monterey Pop Festival just three months down the line from this album release was going to change his fortunes forever and re-shape him back to what he should be: a wild, tempestuous singer who gave his all. Carla, too, has seen better days since her big career breakthrough with her dad's duet song  'Cause I Love You' (almost as creepy as Frank and daughter Nancy crooning 'Somethin' Stupid' to each other when you stop and think about it) back in 1961 back when she was still in high school.

On paper their combination should have worked. He's a soul legend, creativity oozing from every pore and a workaholic who nevertheless manages to sound entirely natural and unrehearsed, as passionate as singers come. She is, as it happens, much the same, with a sharp-toothed grin that actually reminds you of a higher pitched Otis at times, with the same emotional resonance and the same hard work and talent. There are however a few problems here. One is that the pair are not 'allowed' to sound like their natural selves, so what we get here is a somewhat halting, cleaned-up version of emotion with neither Carla nor Otis sounds entirely comfortable with, a 'chocolate box' version of talent that's meant to be heard raw and edgy. Another is that the pair do have chemistry (despite what some reviewers think), just not the chemistry for these songs. Though Otis and Carla are only a year apart in age (Him by a year) they sound less like husband and wife and more like older brother and younger sister, too similar and too sex-free to truly get to the heart of this collection of songs about husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend or nice girl and stalker. The moment where they sound most at home is when they're playing at being at each other's throats on 'Tramp', where you suspect the take ended in a big giggle after the tapes stopped rolling. Though Otis is 'The Love Man' and Carla isn't far behind their sex appeal has been put on hold for something more 'sweet'. A third problem is that rather than being planned as an Otis and Carla album from the beginning (when it might have played to their strengths) instead Jim Stewart asked the pair to sound like Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell on their successful run of recent duet albums. Well, Otis isn't a Marvin Gaye kind of a singer. Though there is a lot of thought behind his vocals, Otis is more of an instinctive emotional singer than Marvin ever was and you could easily believe that the experienced Tammi was right there with him every step of the way. Carla sounds like what she was - a twenty-five-year-old kid, still unsure enough of her singing career to fit this album around her studies for an English degreeat Washington's Howard University - while Otis goes back to his own younger days in his attempts to match her. These two are great singers, they could even have been great singers together, but not on this material, not sung like this, not in hurried sessions that took place over a few days. I even have a suspicion that the two singers are never in the same room at the same - certainly Carla sounds much 'further away' from the Booker T and the Mgs than Otis does, with far more echo on her voice and the pair don't score off each other so much as try to keep out of each other's way.

Legend has it that Carla wasn't in fact the first choice for the album and wasn't what Otis wanted at all. We don't know who he was pushing for but I suspect it may well have been Aretha Franklin, then at the start of the rise of her fame and who was about to score big with a cover of Otis' song 'Respect', a recording which he had already heard and approved of, correctly guessing that she was going to turn the song into a feminist statement, which his never was. It seems likely that Otis wanted to do more of the same, recording edgy material that meant something, but with his last single the under-rated non-album 'I Love You More Than Words Can Say' peaking at a lowly #78 in Billboard, Otis wasn't the one calling the shots. Stewart probably put the suggestion of Carla to him with Otis comment a dry 'yeah she's from Memphis, I'm from Georgia, I guess that means we can hang!' You sense too that the material was probably decided on before Carla had even been decided on. Otis, not taking this album seriously and perhaps stung by the response to his last few original singles, was initially not going to write any songs for the album - in the end he busked the downright weird finale 'Ooh Carla, Ooh Otis' during a jam session with musician Al Bell. It makes for a very odd end to his album discography in his lifetime (Booker T guitarist Steve Cropper also gets a song on the record in favour for playing on it). Then again, equally unusual are many of the cover songs, which aren't by usual Otis favourites Little Richard or Sam Cooke (the 'safe' cover of 'Bring It On Home To Me' apart) but Isaac Hayes, Lowell Fulson and Jimmy McCracklin. None of these songs sound as if they were written with Otis in mind, never mind Carla, and Redding never sounded more uncomfortable than when singing them - even recording commercials for coca-cola he sounds a lot happier than here. Compared to where Otis had been (the charge of 'Respect, the poignancy of 'You Don't Miss Your Water', the autobiography of 'Mr Pitiful') and where he's going next (the pure heart of 'Dock Of The Bay' and it's lesser known sister song 'I've Got Dreams To Remember') this album feels lightweight and schmaltzy. Singers and material don't connect and - a big no no for soul even more than it is for rock and roll - nobody means what they sing.

So is this album a complete write-off? Not quite. Starved of Otis product and aware that it is his last will and testament as finished, many fans have gone back to this album retrospectively to try and find more in it than was probably meant at the time. They find it too, in the slow burning groove of 'Let Me Be Good To You' which features a snazzy Booker T and the MGs horn part, in the bluesy protest of 'Tell It Like It Is', in the up-tempo mayhem of 'Lovey Dovey' (a far better choice for a first single than the rather irritating  'Tramp'), in the sudden injection of confidence on the guilt-ridden 'Are You Lonely For Me Baby?' where Otis at last gets to do what he was born to do. Whilst Otis and Carla often sound as lost as Donald Trump at a Quaker meeting or me at a Spice Girls concert the MGs also perform their usual magic and make the whole thing seem bigger and better than it needs to. Though the material finds Otis a long way from home, the Memphis Group often finds a way of providing him with a branch to safety, an oh so typical organ lick or drum beat that manages to hark back to past glory days and - if only for a few lines - make Otis sound great again. Guest pianist Isaac Hayes also sounds great on this album, enabling Booker T to sound as if he in two places at once and adding a respectful twinkle to their grit and soul which works a lot better on this material than the singers. Carla too has her moments, professional enough not to get in the way when Redding starts soaring but not content with letting him get away with all of the best album moments and more than holding her own with him. Had the pair had a second shot at this and been able to do songs more to their fancy theirs could yet have beaten Marvin and Tammi and all the other Stax duets teams at work - had they even played a few gigs together first it would have been something.

What's more I love the fact that this album is so very different to pretty much every other duets album around at the time, especially on Stax. Though the pair do revive 'It Takes Two' from the Marvin and Tammi days, the rest of this album is far closer to breakup than it is to being 'lovey dovey', with that song the only other case of the singers acting being 'in love' rather than falling out of it. Instead Otis and Carla both worry their lives away - will their lover get tired of them? Are things getting harder now than when they were first married? Is there something wrong with their baby? is the other lover secretly dreaming of them even though they won't admit it and they've gone their separate ways? Does Otis really dress like a tramp?!?  This feels like an album getting ready for divorce papers, not wedding bells, which might be significant. Most biographies and documentaries say that Otis' marriage (he married young, way before his singing career!) was a paragon of virtue that kept him safe and sane. By and large I should think that's true and Zelda has been the consummate musical widow, overseeing Otis' legacy with a care and love that even Yoko Ono can't match. But was their marriage as strong in 1967 as it had been years earlier? We don't know for certain of course - and it's pointless predicting whether relationships would have got better or worse with time - but there's a definite sense of guilt in some of Otis' interviews, in public and in family, that suggest adultery was at least crossing his mind across 1967. Zelda seems to know about it too and it can't have been easy for her to see her husband leaving for these sessions with a female singer, pretending to have a 'relationship' if only on vinyl. Her response to this period is to write what should have been the first of many Otis Redding songs but instead ends up being an eerie coda, with 'I've Got Dreams To Remember' about a husband who used to be so close but is now so far away. Though not a duet, had the song been written earlier the downbeat theme and sense of regret and guilt would have slotted in perfectly on this album. That song feels like a 'goodbye' of sorts, even before a plane crash makes that a permanent farewell, but this album feels in retrospect like a precursor. Or would Otis have seen the error of his ways, spooked by this album's songs of divorce and remorse, and come home? We don't know, but it makes for a more interesting album and choice of material than this quickly made record perhaps could have been.

However some of the reviews that have been written since Otis' death, which see this album as another masterpiece (if not quite as much of a masterpiece as the other five) are surely a little ambitious, if not misguided. Far from being at the top of his game, the way we know Otis will be in the second half of the year, from Monterey right up to his final sessions during the Autumn, Redding is coasting here by his standards, with only 'Are You Lonely For Me Baby?' sounding as if he's spent any time studying or feeling the songs. Many people have started talking about this as Otis' 'frothiest' record as if that's a good thing; had this been the lengthy career it was meant to be then we could have given Otis a few stars for doing something different, but a frothy Otis is about as pointless as a Spice Girls concept album; they live in very different worlds and there really is no point to the one embracing the other. Plus I find Otis digging deep into his soul (and Carla too I have to say) far more entertaining than hearing them doing second hand cast-offs about casual trivial love when they both know that  real romance is far darker, messier and scary than that. This is the sort of album the pair should have done at the start of their careers, not at the midway point when things were looking bleak and the reception to this record at the time was cool, bordering on indifferent. Only Otis' death and his sadly shortened discography makes us see more than was probably ever meant to be there. It speaks volumes that Otis, desperate to plug this record any way he can and keep his career going, doesn't even consider performing any of these songs at his Monterey performance just three short months later (when this was his most recent product to plug by far) or even invite Carla to sing on-stage once. This was a record you sense Otis was always going to forget and leave behind as soon as possible - it's an unfortunate twist of fate that this record ended up being the final resting place for his catalogue in the end instead, at least until the posthumous releases kept coming (and it speaks volumes too that they all sound more substantial than this, even when we get to the dregs of the barrel being scraped). Still, I would rather have an inadequate Otis than none at all and after you've bought the true 'Otis Blue' five album run before this and the three posthumous records made up of those Autumn 1967 sessions first then you will still need this album to complete your collection and by then you'll be so Otisified that you'll accept anything, even a record that's at best only a third up to standard. Otis never lived long enough to make a bad record and while this is the weakest in so many ways it's not without worth and even with a cardboard crown and a gold-plated tiara Otis and Carla still sound like King and Queen enough to me.

While both Otis' and their own star was fading, Booker T and the MGs looked around for other singers to back for their weekly pay cheques. Eddie Floyd was another Stax Otis-clone and a natural choice and guitarist Steve Cropper in particular struck up a close friendship with the singer. Though 'Knock On Wood', one of their collaborations from 1966, barely outperformed Otis' recent singles with a Billboard peak of #29 (indeed Otis' peaked at #30 as the album's second single). Otis liked it enough to cover it though and he sounds more comfortable with this huffing puffing blustering song than Eddie ever did. The song was inspired by a lightning strike that happened while the two were trying to write a song, with the starting point 'the way you love me is frightening - it's like thunder and lightning!' Otis is all thunder on this song, stretching out his vocal in a 'Love Man' type of way, while the lyric is a good fit for his own songs, full of pleading and longing. Otis' narrator is agonised that he might lose his love and bids us that he's 'not superstitious' but this romance is so precious 'I ain't taking no chances'. As with so many of the songs on this album, you wonder if it's aimed partly at wife Zelda as he tries to get his marriage back on track with the help of Stax. As for Carla, she's barely here, which seems an odd move for the opening track of a duets album and this is indeed the most 'Otis' like of all these recordings.

'Let Me Be Good To You' is my favourite song on the album as it's the best use of Otis and Carla's pure personalities. Over a backing that recalls 'Soulsville 3-5-4-1-7-8-9' Otis sighs in his usual 'Mr Pitiful' voice about how every time he thinks he's on to a good thing his life falls apart, emphasising how he's 'feeling down' and how desperate he is for love. For pretty much the only time on an Otis record, though, his prayers are answered as Carla sweetly, shyly, nudges her way into the song and promises to look after him, telling Otis that she's offering her love on a 'silver platter'. Though Otis doesn't immediately bite and take the bait - setting off for an equally gloomy sounding verse despite the more upbeat lyrics about how 'love can turn a life around' - by the repeat Carla seems to have got through, this oh so typical Otis 'Sad Song' ending up somewhere cosy and content, two lost souls having somehow found their way to each other. As a result it's one of Otis' more moving songs (Carla's too) offering this poor character we've been following for three years now a shot at redemption and peace. So many of Otis' narrators' lives have been made worse by other people's actions that it's just good to hear someone offering to help and this is a rare love song where both sides pledge their love, support and allegiance to each other, both of them scared of being hurt again but prepared to take the risk for the other anyway. The result is perhaps Isaac Hayes' greatest composition (far more than his other famous songs like 'Soul Man' or 'Theme From Shaft'), so it's odd to report that musically he's the 'odd one out' here, his flowery piano tinkles a million miles away from the weight Booker T and co are giving to this piling, preening soul song. Even so it's the best thing on the album by a country mile.

Many fans like Jimmy McFracklin's fun 'Tramp' best, the album's first single that restored Otis back up the charts even before his Monterey revival with a Billboard high of #26. However I'm not sure this song was a suitable choice for either singer. Otis always prided himself in looking smart, seeing what he wore as an extension of himself far more so than most soul singers (Sam and Dave were never this nattily dressed!) Carla was and is a sweetheart, more likely to help somebody than attack them. So why did anyone think that a song about her ripping him for his dress sense was suitable for this album? Alas what probably started off life as an in-joke (with both sides way out of character) has rather ended up defining both of them - the few fans who've heard this song (or seen the music video with Otis as a country bumpkin) have assumed that it's accurate, that Otis was a scruffy mess and that Carla was a nasty piece of work (she's certainly good at acting here, more than convincing as Otis' nagging girlfriend wanting him to better himself). Speaking as a scruffy mess myself I can tell you that Otis was as smartly dressed as they come and some of these barbs really seem to sting! Though neither singer had a hand in writing this track, it wouldn't have been all that well known at the time so as Otis was a 'writer' who often spoke about himself you can see why so many people assumed he was doing the same thing here. It had, after all, only just been released as a single by Lowell Fulson a few months earlier and was hot off the press, but at a peak of #52 few people would have heard the original. My guess is that Otis was trying to give a career boost to a Stax writer he admired and didn't pay too much attention to the words. Alas, though, for these ears at least it doesn't sound like the fun track people describe but a row set to music and a pretty ugly row at that. 'What you call me?' barks Otis out of character. 'You heard me!' slams back Carla with an unlikely sneer in her voice before Otis boasts and tries to impress her with his 'six cadillacs' parked outside instead. The only bit that rings true is when Otis breaks off to say he don't care about what he looks like 'because loving is all I ever knew how to do!' The backing too is like a sea-sick version of the usual Otis template sound with the Mgs sticking to their one groove throughout the whole song that never quite finds a resolution. Only Al Jackson Jr's quite brilliant drumming stands out, smartly smacking and slapping the drum-kit around even when the others drop away to let Otis and Carla bad-mouth each other, mimicking what the pair probably feel like doing to each other about now. For all this song's success and respect, it's an oddly unlikeable recording from two very likeable singers.

'Tell It Like It Is' is another recent, less obscure cover. A single by Aaron Neville released in January 1967, just two months before this album, it would have become one of Stax's first #1s in the general chart had The Monkees not got in the way with 'I'm A Believer' that week. It's another song that seems an odd choice for this pair of singers, slowed down to a crawl and without the same places to stretch out that we're used to from Otis' ballads. The Bar-Keys horn section, indeed, sound as if they're playing in slow emotion while even Otis can't keep this tempo exciting. It's another row in song: with  double entendre that probably wasn't intended back in 1967 Otis tells Carla to stop treating him like a little boy and that she'd be more likely to be comforted during long lonely nights by 'a toy'. Otis is believable when he sings 'don't play with my heart!', but otherwise is having a rare off-form vocal day, 'phoning in' his lead part without really thinking too much about it. Instead it's Carla who shines when she suddenly kicks in after three verses and the song raises its level. 'Ooh Otis' she croons, 'life is too short to have sorrow, you may be here today and gone tomorrow', acting as the full-blooded warmth to his icy aloofness and she's never sounded better than here, tender and sweet and a million miles away from her best known work on 'Tramp!' It's a poignant moment too because of events that will happen less than a year later, but the sentiments work another way too - with his life so short, why was Otis wasting his time singing unsuitable slowed-down crooning songs like this?

Isaac Hayes returns with one of his best but one of his least known Sam and Dave hits, 'When Something Is Wrong With My Baby'. In another of the album highlights, this ready-made duet is given a whole new dimension by sounding as if it's being sung not by two blokey friends but by a husband and wife to each other, each stewing in their own misery and wishing the other would talk to them. Otis knows all about heartbreak and really shines on the vocal, pouring out his heart on lines about he knows his wife is 'feeling misery' but feeling helpless to put it right when she won't talk to him. You sense, from reading around the subject, that this song is his relationship with Zelda to a tee: she withdrawn and stiff-upper-lip and he emotional and fragile, each accidentally stepping on each other's toes not because they don't love each other (they clearly did) but because they don't know how to talk to one another. Carla sounds slightly lost here. She, at her best, is a similarly passionate and emotional vocalist but she's just too young and naturally upbeat a person to truly express heartbreak just yet and sounds as if she's billing and cooing while the lines talk of despair, that 'if he got a problem then I've got to find a way to help him solve it!' Forget the vocals if you like though as the MGs backing on this song is fabulous, especially the gritty rhythm section and the Bar-Keys horns slicing through the tension with a knife. This time around Hayes' own floral piano style is perfect too, adding the 'surface sound' of politeness and societal niceties that lie behind the sudden swaying passion and isolation of what is really going through the two singers' minds. It's a terrific song performed by a terrific vocalist and a terrific band, exactly the sort of thing Otis should have been doing more of on this album.

'Lovey Dovey' is a case of right song, wrong singers, a shouty breezy upbeat number that sounds out of place on this album, especially arranged the way it is with the Mgs doing their usual 'how dare you!' stance and a riff that sounds  exactly like the one for 'Soul Man'. The oldest cover song on the album by some margin, it was a big hit for The Clovers in 1954 and Otis may have recorded it as a nod of the head to label owner Ahmet Ertegun, who co-wrote the track under his pseudonym 'Nugetre' ('Ertegun' written backwards so most people wouldn't guess, though it's not exactly the greatest smokescreen in the world). This is the daft, silly, frivolous song most people take 'Tramp' to be, with two people so loved up and wrapped up in their own worlds that they're talking gibberish, or at least a form of gibberish to get more sexual innuendo past the censors: 'You're the cutest thing I ever did see, I really love your peaches wanna shake your tree!' One of the few places you can hear Otis and Carla singing at the same time, it's clear though how little their voices have in common and neither sound quite right on this track, uncharacteristically shouting. Otis isn't used to singing with carefree joy and abandon and doesn't seem quite sure of what to do, while even Carla sounds 'wrong' on this track, pushed past her warm and velvet tones to something a lot more screechy. The pair don't quite convince as doe-eyed lovers somehow, especially after so many tracks of going at each other hammer and tongs. The third album single, released as one of the first singles after Otis' death, it seems an odd way to remember him by.

Over on side two Otis is back on more familiar territory, spending these January sessions looking back over a difficult year in his love life and pleading to get things right this year. 'New Year's Resolution' seems to have been one of the few tracks written with this album in mind by a whole host of writers including another Stax singer Mary Cross (who might have been a more natural match for Otis than Carla to be honest). Otis is right at home on a track where he pleads, begs, cajoles and promises to do things better next time, getting out every ounce of his guilt and worry on another song that may well have been aimed down the microphone to Zelda back home. Nobody can sing the line 'I'm sorry' and invest it with as much meaning as Otis and his promise that 'Ooh we're going to try harder not to hurt each other again' is sung with a real purr of tenderness and remorse. Poor Carla, naturally so upbeat, is on shakier ground with her verse which seems oddly out of kilter with today's way of thinking ('Ooh I'm just a woman and they sometimes make mistakes too!') Forget the middle verse if you must though, this is still one of the album's more impressive moments. It is, though, sad to think that this brand new year that Otis is looking forward to so much will be his last - one of many spooky ironies like that littered across this album.

The huge success of Marvin Gaye and Tami Terrell's duet 'It Takes Two' in January 1967 is clearly a major influence on this album. However it's a sign of just how misguided this record often is that Otis and Carla are encouraged to sing it, even though it's a track that sounds nothing like the records either of them were making before they got together. Otis as a Mr Pitiful lover pleading his wife not to go, we get - but madly off his head in love? That's a first for an Otis record and he doesn't sound at all convincing. Carla too isn't used to sounding as madly in love as she's asked to here and the chemistry just isn't there. The MGs as well sound clueless on this song, rattled ahead at full steam without the original's finesse, power or sense of wonder. The result is one of the biggest disasters in the Redding songbook that the duo should never have been allowed anywhere near; both singers, after all, tend to sing about loneliness and isolation so hearing them bleat that doing things together is more than double the fun of doing them apart is just woefully mis-cast. They could not have found a less likely song for the pair to sing together. Which is a shame because this Marvin Gaye number deserves better and is indeed one of his best, the original being chock-full of fun and delight and giggles, wrapped up in a sudden squelch of desire, longing and love. The difference is those singers knew how to be silly and frivolous - Otis , in particular, has never known how to be anything other than intense. A big mistake.

Bert Berns is most famous as Jerry Ragavoy's collaborator (writing 'Piece Of My heart' amongst others) though he wrote more than a few good 'uns alone. 'Are You Lonely For Me Baby?' is one of his best and though the song wasn't written for this album it fits it like a glove, being the third album highlight. Otis and Carla are former lovebirds living apart, trying to get on with their own lives and forget the other and move on - but they oh so can't. They still care way too much and though both plead, separately, for the other to forget them and move on they can't, wondering if the other is awake like them and dreaming of what they used to have. Reaching out to a third person whose a mutual friend, Otis sounds guilty as he hears him telling her he's no good for her, sadly agreeing and trying to keep away, though his heart is breaking. Otis is born for these sort of tracks and is wrung through with guilt and remorse with by far his most aggressive and assertive vocal on the album the perfect match for a rocky song that has him carefully climb his way through some key changes onto a major chord - only to fall the way, minor key by minor key, to the bottom. The Bar-Keys lick that laughs at him every time he tries to pick himself up and falls over again is delicious, a perfect arrangement that makes us root for Redding and his determination to move on - even when he's doomed to failure, too much in love to ever truly let his lover go. Carla too sounds mighty fine, at last getting a chance to put her passion and emotion across, equally desperate to put things right but being clueless where to even start. This is what an Otis Redding duets album should be doing - instead of celebrating how things are better when done together, it's a song about how awful and depressing they are when done apart. Superb, with another great Booker T and the MGs backing track that's about as close to rock and roll as the quartet ever came when backing Otis.

Sam Cooke was growing more and more out of fashion by 1967 since his death three years before, with too many modern soul legends to worship to be remembered by all but the faithful. Mega fan Otis, of course, was that faithful fan and you sense that 'Bring It On Home To Me' was a compromise with producer Jim Stewart: 'yes you can do a Sam Cooke song if you must, but only after you've done these other songs we know will be hits and only if you do the most obvious cover everyone else does'. The Mgs change things around compared to most versions of this song: what's usually slow and melancholy (and very Otis) has been sped up to sound keen and upbeat. This works better than you might expect, especially when turned into a duet, with Otis pleading for Carla to come home to him - and Carla agreeing not to leave him alone for long. Programmed here near the end of the album, it might be Otis' secret message to Zelda that they still had a way to go and he was going to put things 'right'; having put up with so many Sam Cooke records playing at home she'd have understood that this was a 'message' from her husband, not a song put here by his record label. It's an upbeat way for the album to (nearly) play out. Whilst it's probably the weakest Cooke cover out there Otis did (Carla sounds way too uncomfortable on a song she doesn't quite understand), Otis' delicious zestful vocal just about makes it work, full of life and joy.

The album's real closer, though, was a surprise. From the beginning this album was only meant to contain ten tracks - the least that Stax could get away with selling and with this album recorded in such a hurry they would have worked out in advance how many songs they could get away with making in that time. But then guest guitarist Al Bell started busking a riff between takes which sounded so very Otis, like 'Love Man' in fact. Otis, who'd spent less time and effort and creativity on this rushed album than any of his previous five, suddenly got inspired and grabbed a pen, jotting down some lyrics that he thought would go down well on a duets album. As it happens 'Ooh Carla, Ooh Otis' sounds like what it is - a song that was written in about five minutes before the tapes started rolling again. Of all of Otis' originals it's by far the flimsiest and is more like a list of clichés, with Otis calling Carla his 'sweet and ice cream' and Carla teasing him for the 'dimples in his jaw'. And yet the recording makes up for this. The only song here written with Carla in mind, this song plays to her strengths - her fizzy upbeat life-loving personality that can't wait to go outside and play. Otis too manages to straddle the line between this being one long in-joke and a song he's emotionally invested in. Unlike the majority of this album you can believe that these two are 'lovers', the chemistry finally kicking in at last on a neat halfway house between their styles: her joy to be alive; his relief at not being quite so alone. It's a dumb but sweet way to leave the Otis Redding songbook during his lifetime and the one track here that would have gone down a storm at the Monterey Pop Festival three months later.

To be honest, though, the surprise of this album is how little here sounds like Otis' setlist at Monterey. This is the sound of a singer on a downward spiral, bullied by his record label into recording songs he doesn't believe in or understand to make the most amount of money out of him in the shortest amount of time. New fans who'd never heard of Otis and who rushed back to hear those great songs like 'Respect' and 'I've Been Loving You Too Long' who, not knowing where to start, simply went with the most recently released album would have been bitterly disappointed: by Otis' standards this album has little heart, few emotion and not much, erm, soul. Carla, too, would have sounded like an anachronism from yesteryear to the 'love crowd' who expected their women singers to be gutsy and feisty, like Grace Slick and Janis Joplin, not sweet and joyous. You can see why this record was only viewed as a 'marking time' album in Otis' own lifetime and why the singer himself was determined to wrestle back control of his career and go somewhere newer (and sadder) with the might and respect of the Monterey crowd behind him (the December 1967 sessions that sadly never were finished before his death). However even if 'King and Queen' is Otis' flimsiest, sloppiest LP, it's not without its moments. 'Let Me Be Good To You' 'When Something Is Wrong With My Baby' and 'Are You Lonely For Me Baby?' are three excellent cover songs where the collaboration works and both singers do what they do best, perhaps the most overlooked tracks released in Otis' lifetime that always seem to get missed off compilation albums - even though there've been dozens of the things over the years with very few tracks to go round them all. Even the worst of this album has excuses - most singers told to record songs that didn't fit in a short time while his collaborator was still busy doing her coursework for her degree wouldn't have got anywhere close to this. Plus the alum artwork is pretty fab is had to be said, with some pretty good likenesses of Otis and Carla turned into playing cards, the King and Queen of Spades. This album might never be the King or Queen of your heart, but with so few Redding albums to collect they are all special and this most overlooked record might well be the biggest surprise, the most oddball one of the lot. No it's not the long lost masterpiece that modern reviewers try to claim - there are too many mistakes, pitfalls and a completely misguided choice of material for that. But all Otis is good, just as most Carla is good, and both singers come out of this album with their heads held high. I'd much rather the AAA be graced by their true blue heart and soul Royalty than the fakeness and smugness than our 'real' Royal Family, that's for sure. 

A Now Complete List Of Otis Redding Articles To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

'The Soul Album' (1966)

'Complete and Unbelievable - The Otis Redding Dictionary Of Soul!' (1966)

‘King and Queen’ (1967, with Carla Thomas)

Surviving TV Footage 1965-1967 plus The Best Unreleased Recordings

Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums 1963-2014

Otis Redding Essay: It Takes Two – The Art Of Melancholy In Soul Music

10cc: The Side-trips of Kevin Godley and Lol Creme 1977-1988

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

Godley and Creme "Consequences"

(Mercury, '1977')

Seascape/Wind/Fireworks/Stampede/Burial Scene//Sleeping Earth/Honolulu Lulu/The Flood//5 O'Clock In The Morning/Dialogue #1/When Things Go Wrong/Dialogue #2/Lost Weekend//Dialogue #3/Rosie/Dialogue #4/Office Chase/Dialogue #5/Cool Cool Cool/Dialogue #6/Cool Cool Cool (Reprise)/Dialogue #7/Sailor/Dialogue #8/Mobilization/Dialogue #9/Please Please Please/Dialogue #10/Blint's Tune

"You may like it, you may loathe it, but you can't dare to ignore... Consequences!" (From the Publicity Launch for the album) or "I need to go home, my niece is on fire!"

'Consequences' is one of rock's greatest ever follies. Godley and Creme, recent inventors of the 'gizmo' string bender, were so enamoured of their new toy that they wanted the whole of 10cc's next album to be full of exotic and genre-defying landscapes of gizmo greatness. For them it represented everything that 10cc needed after four straight albums of variations on wackyness and would break the monotony of write-rehearse-record-promote that was driving the artsy side of 10cc particularly nuts. For both men the last 10cc album 'How Dare!' had been a stagnation of old ideas and they feared the band and their approach to music was in danger of growing old - even though the band were only four albums in and arguably at the peak of their fame and inventiveness (it's worth remembering that even from the earliest days 10cc spent an age in the studio making each album - and had in fact recorded about another three albums' worth together under a variety of different names, so if this seems a little for the 'seven album itch' of boredom setting in suffered by so many then actually no - it's bang on the money). In the eyes of Godley and Creme the new sound of the gismo would bring new creativity to 10cc and enable them to rise about the simple structure of pop, with the pair having characteristically grand visions of epic soundscapes, comic monologues and perhaps, if they were feeling generous, the occasional song. Godley and Creme were art students concerned with the big picture - for them the concept was all that mattered and at the time this seemed one hell of a concept!

For  Stewart and Gouldman, though, music had different priorities. Eric was first and foremost a guitarist and then a singer before he rather fell into the idea of writing songs - mainly because nobody else in The Mindbenders could (at least at first). For him performance was everything and with so much of the planned record taken up with the gismo, where could his voice and guitar fit in? For Graham the problem was much simpler - his career had been all about songs and of all of 10cc he was the one who'd spent the most time honing his craft and writing songs for other people, more often than not to great success. Suddenly Godley and Creme's concept made their favourite roles of performing and writing redundant at a stroke. What's more, while Godley and Creme didn't care much at all whether people bought their records or understood them, both Stewart and Gouldman felt that they owed a little more to their fanbase than that. Until late 1976 10cc had always been a remarkably democratic band with incredibly few arguments given that all four men did more or less the same jobs: they all sang, they all played guitar, they all wrote (in various combinations) and they were all interested in the engineering and production side of things to a degree. Till now a four-way vote and an agreement to never ridicule a song but to offer ideas for 'improvements' instead had kept all four mean creatively interested and emotionally invested in the band. But this new gulf was the big one and the quartet just couldn't find their way around it. Eric and Graham just couldn't bring themselves to make an album that featured so few songs and so much gismo. Kevin and Lol couldn't bring themselves to spend another four months in the studio with nothing to show for it but hits and claim to have 'hated' the last two 10cc songs they worked on (last single 'I'm Mandy Fly Me', which Kevin re-wrote a lot to make it 'interesting' - to his ears at least - and an early version of 'People In Love' later finished off for 'Deceptive Bends' which is 10cc at their most mawkish and Englebert Humperdinck). With neither side agreeing with the other, Godley and Creme demanded to make 'Consequences' as a solo record. Stewart and Gouldman replied that in order to make it they would have to leave the band. And so they did - the consequences of 'Consequences' rippling out for much of the rest of this book.

So what exactly did Kevin and Lol put their foot down for in order to avoid making a guaranteed million-selling album? 'Consequences' was planned as a single album but grew to a triple album in no time as the pair found out they were having so much fun avoiding any rules that had ever been places in the way of record artists. The work reportedly took so long to make (18 months)  that it worked out at an average of a minute's worth of music for each day spent in the studio. Sprawling chaotic and impossible to take in during one sitting, 'Consequences' is by turns one of the most irritating and one of the most creative albums you will ever hear. Sometimes all at the same time. No voices are heard for the first quarter of an hour of the work and even after that there's a lot more of the album's unlikely special guests comedian Dudley Moore and singer Sarah Vaughan on here (the pair tried to get Ella Fitzgerald first and her agent laughed and put the phone down) than there is Godley and Creme. And yet this album couldn't have been made by anyone else: eerie, quirky and deeply intellectual 'Consequences' is a world that works to its own internal logic and at times sounds so futuristic and unlike anything else ever made that you sense the world still hasn't quite caught up with yet. Ironically  the parts that most date it and let the work down are the ones featuring the gizmo, the device the whole album was created around in the first place.

The mother of all concept albums, you're left stranded for at least the first album's side with no idea of what's going on but the plot does unravel from there slowly. The album follows Mr Haig who works as a solicitor and is currently trying to navigate the divorce of two of his clients, Walter and Lulu Stapleton. The office floors are built on the site of old apartment blocks and beneath them lives eccentric composer Mr Blint (who surely is a combination of Godley and Creme) who refused to move and found the offices built around his house (it may be worth noting that the Stewart-Gouldman half's next song as 10cc also found them in a judicial setting for the much more ear-catching 'Good Morning Judge'). Outside the world is at war and for some reason the villains of the piece have been able to manipulate the weather. The first sign of impending doom is an odd one - all the goldfish in the world, trapped for so long in office drudgery, commit suicide. The characters are trapped inside the offices and quaking in fear, but Mr Blint has done a lot of reading in numerology and believes that through music he can turn the weather back to normal and save the world. Well, that's not the totality of the concept - but I bet I'm getting warm! There are, of course, consequences...Paul Gambaccini was asked to write the story for the album's typically mad booklet and seems an oddball choice - you suspect he's far closer in personality and style to the Eric-Graham half of the band, but he does his best anyway re-counting the story in the form of a diary. Or at least the parts that don't involve him laughing at the album's absurdities and his own admission that he hasn't got a clue what's going on for long sections of the work ('I'm going to end up with a 3000 word admission to Private Eye Magazine's psued's corner' he moans at one point, referring to the column kept for pretentious meaningless waffle published in print and sent in by the public).

However, for all it's ginormous plot holes, convenient storyline resolutions and unlikely characters, there is a sort of inner structure to 'Consequences' that makes it always sound as if someone knew what they were doing, even if they didn't always explain to the people making the album. Though the monologues interrupting the songs are a pain when heard in one go, many of Dudley Moore's skits are well written and show an impressive lightness of touch and humour without which 'Consequences' would just be completely up itself. The fact that the duo play a falsetto 'ahh!' every time somebody mentions the word 'hole' (which happens more often than not in this work) for no apparent reason is one of the album's funnier jokes. Better yet the handful of actual bona fide 'songs' on this album reveal an emotion and pathos rare for Godley and Creme's more cerebral work and this album is always at its best when showing us what the characters are feeling instead of simply explaining it (such as the album highlight, the sleepy ballad '5 O'Clock In The Morning' or the mournful tale of regret 'Lost Weekend', both of which stack alongside the very best of Godley-Creme compositions, including their 10cc work). The sound effect-driven instrumentals are impressive too in a gee-I-always-wondered-what-an-alien-landscape-filled-with-thunderstorm-sound-effects-and-a-Hawaiian-guitar-gismo-would-sound-like-on-these-speakers kind of a way.

This isn't an album built for easy listening - but then that was the whole point of the exercise. There's clearly not enough material here to fill out one 'proper' album never mind three and you'll lose patience with this set so many times few fans make it all the way to the end more than once. You may well feel short-changed if you pay/paid the high triple album prices for this album (then and especially now - 'Consequences' is very rare in its complete form) when so much of it consists of Godley and Creme messing about and doing stuff purely because they can rather than because anybody wants them to. 'Consequences' had huge ramifications for both mens' careers they still haven't quite shaken off now despite the five far more user-friendly albums that follow (especially the middle two). It's clearly a folly that no sensible man (or at least a business minded musician) would ever have gone near and it suffers badly from its dammit-all arrogance in the same way that 'Deceptive Bends', released under the 10cc name around the same time, suffers from thinking too much from the bank balance. At the same time though, follies are beautiful to behold and admire, even if you happen to be shaking your head in disbelief at the same time at all the extravagance and the waste that went into something that probably only the people who built it truly understand. 'Consequences' is a truly bonkers album, for several long minutes at a stretch for all the 'wrong' reasons, but it's an often beautiful album too. It's the album Godley and Creme had always wanted to make and were always going to make, though much of their fanbase may have wished they hadn't been quite so set on so many of their visions (especially when, without knowing, this poor LP set ended up being released at the height of punk when things got shorter and people stopped making albums like this - 'Consequences' was always going to be crucified in the music press, but reviews were savage. You could argue that punk was the 'real' threat which the meteorological disasters were standing in for, especially as Peter Cook reputedly turned down a role on The Sex Pistols film 'The Great Rock 'n' Roll swindle' to work on this project, but even for 'Consequences' that seems a metaphor too far and Kev and Lol admit to not noticing punk at all when they were making this epic). A shorter single-LP set 'Music From Consequences' was released a year later, basically consisting of the songs and with one or two sound effect-instrumentals at the end, which is a lot more common to track down and a lot more user-friendly - yet somehow also a lot less fun.

'Seascape' is an opener that hints at much of what's to come - lots of synths, a bit of gismo and not much happening though the song does at least convey a sense of 'life's a beach' quite well.

'Wind' is an early sign of threat which refers to the meteorological disturbances that crop up later in the album. It's another instrumental but with a lot more happening this time - most of it sounding like the soundtrack of some horror film.

'Fireworks' is the sound of two men with too much time on their hands trying to re-create the sound of rockets taking off in stereo. Impressive as it is by 1977 standards, you can't help but think that the old 10cc would have made this the brief overdub on a clever song rather than a minute's worth of self-indulgence.

'Stampede' puts the gismo and our first sound of voices through the production wringer, so that it comes out sounding like R2D2 set on fire with worn-out batteries. There is, would you believe, six whole minutes of this. I sat through them once. Never again.

For 'Burial Scene' Godley threw sand from the top of the control room stairs into Lol's waiting coffin where a microphone was placed. The result sounds much like you'd imagine someone shovelling sand on top of a microphone would sound like, but I'm sure it seemed a good idea at the time.

'Sleeping Earth' is one of the better instrumentals on the album, with a ,metronomic gismo motif overdubbed with all manner of percussion and sound effects. The result is quite hypnotic, even spread across seven minutes, which is presumably why Godley snores loudly through most of it...

At last, the songs. Sort of. 'Honolulu Lulu' introduces us to the lawyer's wife and is apparently sung from 'his' perspective, but the vocal is given over to multiple Sarah Vaughans who sing screechily amongst a choir of Godley 'oh's. The song is more of a parody of the roaring twenties than anything actually interesting though.

A full ten minutes of 'The Flood' is at least nine too many, though there are several moments that catch the ear with an inventive string part (later resurrected for a central part on the 'History' remix album) over what sounds like a dripping tap. Never mind what's going on in the lawyer's office, there's a storm brewing! In Godley and Creme's heads, this long song was going to be a 10cc B-side before the idea got nixed and it wound up being the starting point for this album instead.

And yet nobody's noticed. Instead '5 O'Clock In The Morning' is a gorgeous song about people drift-sleeping their way through their morning routines the same as they do every day with no idea that the world's about to end. Lol takes the lead on this gorgeous song that's decked out in lots of 'I'm Not In Love' style choirs and a sleepy voice that's still so far in dreams thatit seems the toothpaste has turned into a snake ('and it's hissing in your ear, get up, get out of here!') By the end of the song the narrator has a feeling the day that's just opened for business is going to be unusual, but he can't quite put his finger on it as he sleepwalks his way to work. Truly beautiful and one of the loveliest and most undeservedly under-rated songs in the Godley and Creme back catalogue. The duo even appeared on Top Of The Pops performing it, but characteristically 'Consequences' most commercial moment was never released as a single.

In arrives the 'Dialogue' with Peter Cook playing both the hapless lawyer and an interviewing journalist while lots of sonic 'aaahs' go off randomly in the background. It's a clever if rather heavy-handed way of telling us the plot - as much as it is - and rather interrupts the flow.

'When Things Go Wrong' is another of the better songs, with Lol's hapless narrator telling us about the many things going wrong in his life which all seem to be happening to him at once. Lol has never sounded more like Woody Allen on this track, but there's a bit too much going on in the backing track which is chockablock of what sounds like a carnival and keeps getting in the way of the strong main song.

More 'Dialogue' next - nearly seven minutes' worth - continues the plot with Mr Blint putting in his first appearance, confusingly played by Cook again alongside the lawyer.

Thankfully in rushes 'Lost Weekend', a gorgeous track with one of Godley's greatest ever vocals sharing the spotlight with Sarah Vaughan in rather better voice this time around. The song has a slow seductive jazzy feel and features some excellent lyrics of regret and loss, played out as if by two lovers parting at a bar after a night that never quite happened. The lovers wish each other well - and wonder why their lives never quite connected. Another much under-rated gem.

We reach the halfway point with more 'Dialogue' in which multiple Peter Cooks discuss making money out of odds on the Titanic and keeping out of trouble. I mean, the destruction that's about to reduce most of the world to cinders won't dare to come near here will it?!

'Rosie' is one of the lesser actual songs, this time a WW2 parody with 'wrens like strutting hens' and a bar-room saloon piano. Godley reverts to his native Prestwich tones for this half-spoken song.

A minute's worth of 'Dialogue' tells us that The Wall Street Shuffle has hit and the trading has gone down by four years' worth of money. That's the least of the worries of the lawyer and Lulu though.

'Office Chase' is a return to the sound effects, with a Dr Who style synth keyboard noise offset by some sleepy piano as the wind even hits Mr Blint's house.

Four minutes' worth of 'Dialogue' has the lawyer and musician swapping one-liners to no great effect.

'Cool Cool Cool' reveals definitively that Queen stole most of their ideas from 10cc with a pure 'Bohemian Rhapsody' opening leading into a cod-operatic theatrical piece full of lyrics of doom and threat about the world ending that never quite settles down into a proper song.

Then there's an immediate 'Reprise' that's even longer than the original slightly irritating and overlong song, linked with more dialogue including an escaping goldfish that suggests that Godley and Creme had been listening to a bit too much Douglas Adams.

Next there's more 'Dialogue' come sound effects, with Peter Cook getting increasingly drunk.

'Sailor' is another of the better songs, a sleepy ballad that recalls 'Seascape' but which features some proper lyrics this time delivered by a particularly lovely Godley vocal. Like most of the characters who inhabit this world, the sailor only has eyes for his work, not the people in his life. The middle rush of full harmonies is truly sublime.

A full five minutes of 'Dialogue' with Peter Cook at his most Vincent Pricey is heavy going and what little plot there is doesn't exactly move on here.

'Mobilization' features an eerie yet jovial science fiction backing behind some inaudible dialogue and suggest the Earth's defences are moving into range.

Another two minutes of 'Dialogue' finds the characters coming to terms with the 'the end of the world as we know it' and wondering what to do (Lulu's response: 'Oh no, my hair is in such a mess!')

'Please Please Please' is the unlikely scenario of Peter Cook doing a James Brown impersonation as he simply asks the title over and over as the lawyer and Lulu beg for someone to save them in front of two minutes of gizmo fun.

The final pieces of 'Dialogue' offers us Mr Blint's solution - whatever it is, something musical it seems - across nearly six whole minutes.

We end with a full fourteen minutes of 'Blint's Tune', ominously subtitled 'Movements 1-17' which is a piano reprise of many of the better melodies from the album. However good Lol's playing is, however, there's not much sense of urgency here and after spending nearly two hours in the company of these characters it's rather a shame to report that the world is saved simply by some simple piano chords.

'Consequences', then, defies description despite the fact that we've tried to do just that for the last few pages. It's a project hat's dogged Godley and Creme since the day they first proposed it and they've had mixed feelings about their baby and it's difficult birth ever since. For Kevin, it is 'a weird mix of sheer brilliance and utter shit. I could be wrong, it may all be brilliant or all shit or even al brilliant shit. Either way it fried our brains for a while and is impossible to be objective about'. For Lol it was an album meant to be a 'movie for the blind' and it is - full of dialogue, sound effects, gismos, synthesisers but above all ideas, 'Consequences' is a project that sucks you in or blows you out, depending on just how much faith you place into Godley and Creme in their hardest-going moments. Poor as much of it may be, convoluted and over-long, there's nevertheless an impressive streak of courageousness and English eccentricity that makes even the worst moments worth sitting through, while the best moments are right up there with the greatest in this book, overlooked for far too long. 

Godley and Creme "L"

(Mercury, '1978')

The Sporting Life/Sandwiches Of You/Art School Canteen/Group Life//Punch Bag/Foreign Accents/Hit Factory-Business Is Business

"Are you bored? Are you jaded? Has your enthusiasm faded?"

Having discovered that 'Consequences' was perhaps a little (a lot?) over the heads of most record-buying fans, Godley and Creme toned things down for their second album which followed 'Bloody Tourists' into the shops. 'L' is, for starters, rather defensively titled after the idea that Godley and Creme are going to have to re-learn how to make their music palatable for people without Stewart and Gouldman there to help them out and comes with a cover that doubles as the British sign for a 'learner driver' in the Highway Code. Of course, this is only a lightweight 'beginner's' album in the Godley-Creme sense of the word. To everyone else this is still an obtuse, difficult, often incomprehensible and at times deeply weird album that never sits still for an instant, like a hyperactive toddler whose eaten too many fruit gums. The difference between 'Consequences' and 'L' is that, across three LPs, that album could afford to be languid and covered life, the universe and everything in two hours, some of it by sound effects when words weren't enough. 'L' tries a similar idea in a third of the time and often sounds like an album shot in split-screen that's trying to do three or four things at once. All of which means that 'L' is, on the negative side, very very tiring and a little trying when ideas pass by so fast you can't quite hang on to them. However, on the positive side, if you can keep up the pace then 'L' is a complete one-off that's even more original than 'Consequences'.

The other difference between the first two albums is that 'Consequences' was intended as a spin-off album and the split from 10cc only came late in the day when it was a choice between the one or the other and was intended to show off everything Godley and Creme couldn't do with the band. 'L' is very much more of a hybrid, with less humour and sound effects and more music, although it's certainly nothing like anything the pair wrote for 10cc, even at their maddest. Also, while 'Consequences' lives very much in its own little world, 'L' is very much a part of 'our' world and is the start of a career-long effort to show up how ridiculous it often is. However, unlike most of the albums to come, 'L' is an oddly sad and bitter listening experience full of school bullies, music business cynicism and sports-day cheating. Godley and Creme are never the most happy-go-lucky of composing teams, but here more than anywhere else seem to be working through their neuroses: how dare the world tell them they can't do something and that they have to fit a pigeon-hole. That stuffs for pigeons; Godley and Creme are (to borrow a later album title) more birds of prey.

The half-theme across the album is the idea of 'learning a trade' - and how unsuited most people are to it when they get it. 'Why are we waiting?' smirk a crowd of Cremes when Godley the athlete fails to make the grade in 'This Sporting Life' which makes a mockery of why anyone would pay to see people run around a field for a living. More than that, any living seems preposterous, with a middle set in an office where the only 'happy' event is an hour of fire drill outside the building and even The Samaritans aren't in when the desperate narrator rings for a chat. After laughing at life, 'Sandwiches Of You' laughs at love with the couple who aren't really a couple making do with a finger-buffet of each other before the meal they've been waiting for arrives. 'Art School Canteen' is the tale of a bullied, ignored but talented student nobody ever notices and who was never given the encouragement to become an artist even though that was the whole point of the flipping course! 'Group Life' mocks 10cc's overdubbing, repetitive life and ends with where we started with a sad inversion of the line 'Oh Donna, you make me breakup!' 'Punchbag' has a similar misfit beaten up every day in the fourth form for daring to stand out and the worst of it nobody understands or listens, so the narrator feels incredibly isolated and alone. After an instrumental, for good measure, we end on 'Hit Factory' in which every line simply repeats the same thing over and over. There's no joy at all in 'L', just a world where nobody cares and you can never be different because nobody else will listen to you if you are. 'L' is an album about being even at this stage in life (Godley was 33, Creme 31) beginners at life in world that the pair truly don't understand at all. Why does it work the way it does? Why are people so unhappy doing something they're told to do? Why does no one think the same way 'we' do? Why don't people make more fuss and make more of themselves? In short, 'L' is an album that tries hard to make you think it needs medication to slow it down, when all it really needs is a big hug.

If you like Godley and Creme then you need to own this record, which falls a long way short of being their best or their most listenable but is nevertheless perhaps the most 'them' (even more than 'Consequences' in many ways). If you hate Godley and Creme, however, then you'll never ever learn from 'L' what the pair were all about because there's virtually no nod of the head here to conventional musical routes or anything designed to meet casual listeners somewhere around the middle of the road. Everything here is meant to be crazy, unique and bonkers - because Godley and Creme are crazy, unique and bonkers and so is the world, even though they seem to be the only people re-acting to it in the 'right' way anymore. To make the splash such an original piece of art deserved (whether good or bad, this certainly isn't populist and it's designed to make you think more than anything else, so it must be art), 'L' needed to be just that bit quieter, to contain more than just seven songs and to have two more strong songs included rather than the two simple pieces at the end which is just a cop-out way of padding out ten minutes. None of the songs on this album have ever turned on up on the various Godley-Creme sets out there for good reason: taken individually, nothing from this album deserves to represent the best of Godley and Creme. Taken as a whole, though, 'L' is an impressive and much misunderstood, deliberately flawed masterpiece that cleverly describes a world that's got its priorities wrong and our greatest talents end up unhappy working ordinary office jobs while the nitwits of the world make fame and fortune recycling disposable pop. For the concept alone, it's one 'L' of a record and there's never been anything like it before or since.

The seven and a half minute 'This Sporting Life' is the album's tour de force, an epic prog rock piece that makes even Hotlegs' 'Suite:FA' look vaguely normal. A choir of Godleys act as our psychiatrist - are we 'one of those people' (the term is used with disdain) who do nothing but stare at a computer screen all day and let life pass them by, ignoring our full potential? A sea of gizmo guitars enter into the picture to rather prove the point (a sound like nothing else on earth), before Godley rushes out the office to go home desperate to fulfil his responsibilities at speed. Outside a 'freak show' of similar workers rush home so Godley reaches for the phone but the Samaritans who 'know what he's going through' (because everyone is going through the same) aren't in to take the call. A firedrill ends with people urging him to 'jump', but suddenly Godley has turned into Creme and is now an athlete trying to break out the rat-race by running the same path every day. This epic song makes for interesting comparison with Eric Stewart's bookending tracks on 10cc's 'Windows In The Jungle' five years later when his character too is desperate to leave the mundane in the world behind and cut through to the bits that matter (love, basically). By comparison 'This Sporting Life' is way too mad and unmusical to reach the same sporting league, but it's still a fascinating song with more twists and turns than a snake up a drainpipe.

'Sandwiches Of You' is the closest to a 'normal' song on the album, despite a choir of scary falsetto voices, an angry staccato background and a sea of gizmo guitars that sound like scissors cutting through rock. Perhaps that's because it's a spoof love song, in which Lol wants to 'discuss the ramifications of a lasting and complex relationship like mature and responsible people do', but because this is a song about love we get it only in bite-size 'sandwich' terms. There's possibly some double entendres about oral sex going on in there too, who knows.

'Art School Canteen' is my favourite song on the album, a lovely jazz-infused ballad about the narrator 'walking round with his talent hanging out' yet none of the people posing at artists even notices him. Re-designing his beard, listening to Frank Zappa and having sex is what he's told to do but that doesn't feel 'right' so in the end the narrator's talents get wasted and he stops bothering to turn up to the very classes that could save him from a world of drudgery, if only they were taught properly. Though most of this album is angry, this track is just melancholic and Godley's purr is beautiful throughout playing the part of a character he clearly identified with.

'Group Life' is a series of in-jokes that must have confused the hell out of everyone at the time, but luckily for you and me they're a series of in-jokes about 10cc so are worth going into here. Sounding a little like 'Art For Art's Sake', but more menacing, Godley complains about his new-found isolation since leaving the band without even a pencil or a pen-pal. The creative juices flowed in the beginning alright, but suddenly it's stopped being productive as a conveyor belt of 'recording-Grundig (The make of tape machine used at Strawberry Studios)-Dolby (The sound compression system in use in 1978)-Press-Shock-Horror' ends up sucking all the creative juice out of the band. A quick mournful reprise of debut hit 'Donna' (a bitter 'Neanderthal Man' might have been even more apt) is followed by the cry 'Are we crazy? Are we mad? We are!' They are too - this is another of those songs that has everything thrown at it so that your ear keeps hearing new lines all the time. Impossible to listen to, but that's kind of point - those years were impossible to live through and yet still had to be innately musical, so no wonder Godley and Creme are rebelling.

'Punchbag' has Godley trying to fight off a whole bunch of school bullies, detailing all the bad experiences he had at school for daring to be different - and Jewish (this is probably the only song in this whole book that mentions 10cc's near-collective Jewish background). 'What is it about me that draws attention?' Godley sighs as the incidents keep piling up, but he already knows - it's a combination of being weedy and bright, while he also wishes he had 'normal ears and clearer skin'. No dimwitted bully could ever have come up with a song as deep and complex as this song though, which again is kind of the point. Twenty years later and Godley and Creme have got their own back. Well, sort of. I doubt many school bullies were cerebral enough to buy a copy of 'L' and realise the error of their ways somehow, but it's a nice image all the same.

Alas the album goes badly downhill at the end, with 'Foreign Accents' an excuse for some atonal jazz fun with the gizmo and a synth-saxophone. Everything in this song is 'talking' to something else, but no one is listening because they're all busy making their own sounds in a totally different key. Nice idea in theory, but listening to five minutes of this stuff will make you question both your sanity and the amount you spent on this record.

Then again, 'Hit Factory' makes you question your sanity for spending any amount on any record. Built to sound like a steam-powered factory we only get the lines 'we're all working in a hit...factory' over and over, in different keys, while an angular and ugly synth riff plays over the top until the song segues into 'Business Is Business' which is a Frank Zappa version of a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song. That's it. For seven minutes. The point was made after two.

Still, at least 'L' shows that Godley and Creme weren't going to soften their approach now that they had a career of their own to make. Which is good news. Err, I think. Thankfully Godley and Creme will find a way of toning it down just a smidgeon in time of their third and arguably best LP the following year. 

Godley and Creme "Freeze Frame"

(Polydor, '1979')

An Englishman In New York/Random Brainwave/I Pity Inanimate Objects/Freeze Frame//Clues/Brazilia (Wish You Were Here)/Mugshots/Get Well Soon

CD Bonus Tracks: Silent Running/Wide Boy/Submarine/Marciano

"Plastic Santas in perpetual underwater snowstorms"

By the time their third album came out Godley and Creme had had to watch their old pals in 10cc score their only number one hit without them in the band ('Dreadlock Holiday'). By contrast 'Consequences' and 'L' has been cult hits at best, selling to the loyal few rather than the masses. For all their desires to reinvent how people experienced music and do what no one else was doing, there must have been a part of Godley and Creme that felt a little jealous in this period. Certainly 'Freeze Frame' demonstrates a thawing of sorts and is a lot closer to what the pair had been doing with 10cc - actual songs with real lyrics and stories to tell. As time goes by the duo will get the bug for this sort of thing and actually start making pop songs again and end up sounding even more like 10cc than 10cc and fall a little too far down the other side. 'Freeze Frame' though is the aptly named moment in time when the pair have found a happy medium and are able to do both - present music that makes you think but which, compared to 'Consequences' and 'L' still resembles music. Though many fans prefer the big seller 'Ismism' to come, for me this is the ultimate Godley-Creme listening experience, an idiosyncratic  record that couldn't have been made by anybody else that doesn't make that feel like a bad thing. There's even a cover by old 10cc practitioners Hipgnosis  and while the man and woman sitting back to back in a sauna can't compete with  the likes of  'Sheet Music' or 'How Dare You!' it is, like the music, closer to an actual recognisable 10cc cover without being stupidly simple (like the block letters of 'Ismism').

'Freeze Frame' is the first of the pair's albums to be made up of songs rather than suites or concepts, but even so there's kind of two themes running across this record across the two different sides which kind of fit anyway in a Godley and Creme kind of a way. I'm not sure any side that begins with 'An Englishman In New York' can be considered 'normal' but the first is the most musical comparatively speaking. The theme though is that life is never quite what we think it is, following on from the 'distractions' theme of 'L', but this time the concept is explored through songs about things we can't see or hear but which are there working out of sight. That track - Godley and Creme's first hit single - is a dark journey through the world's underbelly as the narrator drowns in a sea of crass commercialism and people talking a 'little bit left of centre'. The locals are 'blind' to just how weird the world they live in is, while to the English narrator it seems absurd and surreal and a little creepy. It's followed by a 'Random Brainwave' as a man's subconscious tries to make itself heard in a world where it's being ignored and 'I Pity Inanimate Objects' which is performed by a singing toaster upset that he can't move like humans do (!) We never hear either our subconscious thoughts or our own belongings talk to us in our day-to-day lives but that doesn't mean that they aren't there, the idea being that both 'shape' our lives far more than we ever let on.

From this point on the album switches gears slightly into trying a series of songs that wonder about the curve of life and whether you can truly tell a person's life from a single picture that records them at one particular moment in time. The title track has Godley aging in different stages as he recalls all the thongs on his brain at the time when photographs were taken but which of course can't be shown because we only have the images. The chorus depicting his paranoias and fears also relate to the theme of the first side. 'Clues' searches for things hidden out of sight that people usually miss as signs of what they were really thinking at a particular moment in time. 'Brazilia' has the theme of 'wish you were here' but the narrator's not really at home as three separate people try and talk to themselves but the others aren't listening, capturing ideas at different points in time. 'Mugshots' is the album's comedy song, a tale of a person whose taken the wrong past in life but whose badness is only a very small part of them, captured forever on their criminal photograph. Finally, 'Get Well Soon' returns to the album's first side of things unseen, with a man dying in a hospital bed to the sound of Radio Luxemborg only to find i the morning that the pair have switched round and that his radio - once so full of life - has had its batteries used and he feels better. What better unseen force working through life can there be than music? It's all about unseen subliminal messages in other words, with humans at the prey of their own neuroses, sub-conscious thoughts and even their household objects.

Despite having a higher quota of actual 'songs' for once and a sorta concept, the most impressive thing about 'Freeze Frame' is probably the groundbreaking use of technology. This album sounds far more ahead of its time than the release date of 1978 should allow and the duo plus Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music invent far more new ideas of making music than either 'Consequences' or 'L'. Always interested in new equipment, the duo put an early bid in for a new piece of technology called a 'harmoniser'. The device was meant to help singers 'auto-tune' their notes to get their pitch better and as such might well be the single worst thing to have happened to popular music since The Spice Girls (who no doubt used it too). However the duo use it, a quarter of a century before Cher had the same idea on 'Believe', to wobble notes out of their natural alignment and to sound other-worldly. 'Inanimate Objects' was recorded in this way, with Godley singing every word at the same pitch originally and Creme manipulating them in the studio and it still sounds way ahead of its time. Ditto 'Brazilia', a collage where the duo plus Phil all improvised their own six minute track and the results were then superimposed on top of each other, with a bit of production manipulation to keep the clashing notes apart and more in tune. Though it lacks the musicality of the best songs on this album, it's an inventive idea and almost works - it's a surprise other bands haven't copied it. All the other tracks feature a whole cornucopia of weird ideas and sounds too, from the 'robot chorus' telling us to 'have a nice day' on 'An Englishman In New York' to the 'drowning choir' of 'Get Well Soon' via the vocoders of 'Random Brainwave' this album is always trying to do something no one has ever quite done in this way before. Unlike the first two albums, though, this time the experiments are being driven on by the songs and ideas and that's absolutely how it should be. The one Godley-Creme album that, in truth, is up to the 10cc banner, 'Freeze Frame' is a gloriously brave yet enjoyable listen that deserves to rank up there somewhere near the highest ranks, frozen in time as the pair's greatest 'Goldilocks' album: not too weird, not too normal. but just about right. Oddly, though, this more commercial album ended up selling less copies than 'L' leading the pair to get even more hit-orientated with the next one, to their artistic cost...

Lock up your daughters, Avon crawling! 'An Englishman In New York' finds Godley so out of step with the bright and madly happy world around him that he even finds himself slowly disassociating with himself as his two vocals walk further out of step with each other. Finding himself trapped between a bunch of fake smiles wishing him a 'nice day' and a 'no way street', the narrator has a breakdown as he lists everything around him that seems false and 'wrong'.  These vary from the silly ('surgical stockings marked his and hers' and a menu for a fake olde English restaurant whose menu reads 'Ode to a burger - by Keats at his worst!') to the sinister ('Disturbing facts about Nazi splinter groups as seen on the news' and 'the ultimate kitsch of a crucifix cross' which Christians clamour to own in a very un-Christian like way). The hint is that they both belong to the same world and it's only a small step from the fakeness of a commercial culture to one that has no heart or empathy. No wonder Godley turns both schizophrenic and homesick during the course of the song. The album version runs around 90 seconds longer than the single version usually used on compilations by the way and features the verse with most of the controversial stuff taken out for radio airplay ('I'm in Snow White and the Seven Basket cases, I'm Happy and Dopey and Dirty in places!') though I'm impressed they left the 'crucifix' verse intact. The single reached as high as number four in the Belgian chart (higher than 'Rubber Bullets' and 'I'm Not In Love'!), which is just weird but the excellent video (Godley and Creme at their most inventive, with a group of scary mannequins stalking Godley throughout) probably helped there. One of the better weirder Godley-Creme songs, this track manages to be very clever without losing the power of their other cerebral tracks thanks mainly to the catchy but indecipherable chorus ('Street alligaotes, big angolophile, will navigate us through a change of style!') Probably also Donald Trump's favourite song, probably for all the wrong reasons.

'Random Brainwave' shows us that our inner worlds are as weird as the outer ones and features multiple electronically enhanced Lols trying to interact with Godley's wah-ohing outer self who just isn't listening. This track features the best ever use of the gismo as part of a very alien landscape that is the creepiest sci-fi movie soundtrack that never was. Ultimately it's a sad song, because  the narrator knows he won't be heard and instead has to watch what mad impulse his 'owner' makes instead, ending the song by 'leaving it to the hands of fate'.

A choir of strummed acoustic guitars ushers in 'I Pity Inanimate Objects', easily the album highlight. Usually Godley-Creme songs are either weird or poppy but this one is both, a catchy song about an object that has the awareness to think but not the means to move. What could have been a comedy, with Godley's vocals put through the harmoniser to sound like 'The Brave Little Toaster' on acid, actually comes out a really haunting song thanks to Lol's show-stopping guitar part which howls with such pain and feedback that it sounds only too real. The lyrics are more than novelty too, philosophising whether objects are disappointed by the decisions their masters and mistresses make to take them and use them ('And how does the room feel about it?') The song finds empathy for the ultimate beings without power (if objects can think anyway), while looking at death and loss as the toaster worries about his fate but decides that ultimately he's better than similarly fragile humans: 'The fewer the moving parts the less there is to go wrong, I worry about these things!' A superb inventive song that shows you that physics really isn't fair and which means you'll never look at your toaster in quite the same way ever again...

'Freeze Frame' itself starts off as a similarly philosophical song and returns to the put-upon bullied narrators of 'L'. Godley is a child again, smothered in baby lotion and with the hum of his Scalectrix still in the air from playtime, but he's terrified by the dark and isn't allowed a nightlight and experiences such horror it stays with him forever. The phobia follows him across his life, going 'up' and 'down' in a number of brilliantly eccentric and often grisly metaphors ('Going up like the corners of Dali's moustache, going down like Man United in the Munich air crash!' and late - as an injoke - 'going down like 'Neanderthal Man' in the chart', just as it seemed like being a certain #1!) The middle of the song is highly inventive, the song pausing on the word 'freeze' like a video that's got stuck, while we get a middle eight from Godley where he gets shot by his mother at night ('because truth is stranger than fiction'), the nightmare that perhaps lies underneath this song's fear of the dark. The adult Godley then ends the song as a broken man whose gone to the other extremes and now so interested in the dark that he 'designs rooms where the light can never get in'. I'd buy a nightlight for your children now if I were you...Another stunning and under-rated track with a production showcase made up of synths (used properly for once as an alien monster rather than as colour), wild drums, guttural guitar and even a nice bit of humming.

Alas side two isn't quite in the same league, with 'Clues' a percussion heavy soundscape made up lots of surreal images that's clearly constructed band-jam 'Neanderthal Man' style but never quite gets going. Lol has found an 'underwater' setting for his gismo, but it sounds too brash for this song of un-associated words that all add up to the 'clues' that a relationship is going wrong. The narrator, though, is in denial, with Lol and a vocoder offering up a creepy 'hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil' chorus line.

'Brazilia' is either six minutes of torture or the greatest art-school music project ever depending how you look at it. In context with the rest of the album it's a chance to explore the subliminal thoughts of Godley, Creme and Phil Manzanera all at once, with all three making up their own tracks with no idea what the other is up to on theirs - just an idea of how long they need to make the track last. In practice it's six minutes of Godley singing 'white heat grey stone', Creme singing 'wish you were here' and 'Brazilia' and Phil getting spooky on the guitars. The end result goes together better than it should (mainly because the three tracks have been altered to better fit musically) and gets quite hypnotic by the end. It certainly beats the similarly experimental passages on 'Consequences' and 'L' but by this album's standards it's heavy going.

'Mugshots' is the closest thing to a 'normal' track on the album, a bouncy three minute comedy that has Lol on the road to ruin: a spoilt child, he runs away with a minor criminal whose name of 'Hubcap jenny' should have been a clue to her way of life and before too long 'there's a mug in the shot!' However Lol's character isn't really the person depicted in his mugshot: the twist at the end is either that he's made Hubcap Jenny off (or she hasn't been caught) or that this is one of the Kray twins. The groaning Godley-sounding judges intoning 'Mugshots' have a lot more life about them than 10cc's contemporary singe 'Good Morning Judge' which Godley and Creme may well be parodying here. Not the most memorable track on the album and more than a little confusing (especially the end, which fades almost all the way and then returns with a loud guitar burst for no particular reason), but like most of the album it's brilliantly performed.

The album then ends with the slow-burn of 'Get Well Soon' in which Godley gets ready to die with his faithful radio tuned to Radio Luxemburg at his feet. A guesting Paul McCartney joins in on the gorgeous 'Ram' style backing vocals (though you can't actually tell it's him). Godley wallows 'like a zombie' in the sad reggae tunes he phones in as requests while putting down lucozade (he's right, it's fowl, guaranteed to make you ill) and letting chocolate buttons 'limbo under my tongue'.  After a few songs on 'fabulous 208' Godley's narrator begins to wonder if he's the only one alive and the only companion left in the whole world is his radio. Throughout the night the radio ticks away, signalled by what sounds like someone beating out a rat-a-tat on a radio and in his feverish state Godley believes it's the only thing keeping him alive. By the end of the night his batteries are dead but he is alive, saved by the power of the music. There's a lesson for us all in there somewhere...

So ends one of the most brilliantly inventive albums in the 10cc canon, as quirky as 'Sheet Music', as musical as 'The Original Soundtrack', as clever and production-fuelled as 'How Dare You!' and as emotional as 'Windows In The Jungle'. 'Freeze Frame' is more inventive than the duo albums that came before it but so much more disciplined and easy to listen to. What a shame that the poor sales for this fascinating album led Godley and Creme to re-discover the pop song for the three albums that came after this. 'Freeze Frame' proves, once and for all, that music doesn't need to be popular to be good and remains Godley and Creme's crowning moment of indefatigable genius, more than worthy of re-discovery from 10cc fans usually put off by all their quirky cleverness. For once nothing here is unlistenable and most of the album comes close to brilliance.

Godley and Creme "Music From Consequences"

(Polydor, '1979')

5 O'Clock In The Morning/When Things Go Wrong/Lost Weekend/Cool Cool Cool/Sailor/Rosie//Sleeping Earth/Honolulu Lulu/The Flood/Burial Scene

"Blowing one too many of the pages of your paper over, pulling on the sails of your Catamaran"

Following the inevitable non-sales of the triple-Lp by an untested partnership that was being slated by the critics, Polydor urged the duo to have a second think and released a 'reduced' version of the colossus album that sold rather better. On the plus side the album contains the four songs from the album you really need to own: '5 O'Clock In The Morning' is beautiful and fragile, 'When Things Go Wrong' is noisy and fragile, 'Lost Weekend' is beautiful, fragile and haunting and 'Sailor' is just haunting. On the down side you get absolutely no sense of what 'Consequences' is really about (if indeed it's about anything): there's not even a line of dialogue, few of the instrumentals and the songs are well out of order. In truth, past the four songs, you won't like the rest of the album much, even on diluted form ('The Flood' for instance is cut right down to size) but for those who won't or can't buy the full set think of this as an excellent EP with lots of curious bonus tracks and you won't go wrong. Much improved as a listening experience, but so badly diluted as a concept and its sprawling, everything-goes tone was after all the whole point of the original project. 

Godley and Creme "Ismism"

(Mercury/Warner Brothers, October 1981)

Snack Attack/Under Your Thumb/Joey's Camel/The Problem-Ready For Ralph//Wedding Bells/Lonnie/Sale Of The Century/The Party

CD Bonus Tracks: Power Behind The Throne/Babies/Snack Attack (Extended Version)

"Is the room ready for Ralph is the room readied for Ralph have you readied the room for Ralph is the room ready have you readied the room?... oh forget it I'm going to the Notel Hotel..."

There's a sea of opinion out there that will tell you 'Ismism' is the only Godley-Creme album out there that matters. They're wrong. Actually 'Ismism' is the only Godley-Creme album you don't need, despite being their biggest seller and containing three of their biggest hit singles. Actually arguably this album matters less because it was their biggest seller - it's the one Godley-Creme album that someone else could have conceivably thought up and as such is pointless even compared to the 'what the???' response to the likes of 'Consequences' and 'L'. With even the halfway house of 'Freeze Frame' failing to sell the pair knew that they had to change something in order to keep their contract with Mercury. So we get something that's a Godley-Creme 'ish' (ism?) record without being quite as outrageous or original. Half the album is made up of spoof pop songs (so well made that few people discovering Godley-Creme for the first time realised that they were intended as spoof pop songs), the other half is what the average music fan in the street would consider 'arty' ideas. On the one hand this album was exactly the success the duo needed - it made them big again after they were in danger of being forgotten (so big that they got their own joint compilation 'Changing Faces' with 10cc out of it, in which they take top billing) and enabled them to make more music. The trouble is, this album killed off the idea of them making any more 'art'. There's less to ruminate on here than even the 10cc LPs, never mind the earlier Godley-Creme ones and while 'Ismism' is sometimes the band's funniest LP, it's lost that sense of a vast canvas of life and is too busy laughing at easy targets like adverts, marriage commerce and posers at parties instead of the dead-behind-the-eyes look of New York or what it means to be alive. If 'Consequences' was a triple album in terms of scope, then this one is barely a single.

Still, at least the pair have found a way of increasing the musicality in their work so that at least it sounds better than the first two albums, if not the third. 'Under Your Thumb' is a very early example of a song that manages to be performed entirely electronically (except for Godley's voice) and it sounds remarkably fresh, certainly compared to other younger songs from later in the decade. 'Snack Attack' has so much going on it sounds like a production powerhouse - it's just a shame that the song it supports is so empty. The cute ting-ting of 'The Problem' would make a fine instrumental if Godley hadn't insisted on reading out an impossible maths equation over the top of it. 'Sale Of The Century' and 'Wedding Bells' are spot-on production parodies of typical slow and fast songs about marital problems clogging up the charts in 1981. 'Joey's Camel' updates 'Baron Samedi' with all the new technology invented since 1974. 'The Party' is technically brilliant, with criss-crossing party conversations above a synth-riff that sounds like the background music played at every interminable party I've ever been to (the 'I'm Not In Love' style vocals reduced to being used simply as a doorbell is also a clever touch). 'Ready For Ralph' is also brilliant elevator music with its tinny synths and parping saxophones, whatever maid Godley is spouting about over the backing. Unfortunately, whereas 'Consequences' was based on the gismo and  'Freeze Frame' was based on guitar, 'Ismism' is based around some very 1980s soul-less saxophones. And regular listeners know how I feel about soul-less 1980s saxophones, most of which is unrepeatable. At least when the saxophones aren't playing this *sounds* a good album though.

Analyse it any more than that, though, and 'Ismism' just isn't that funny or that clever. Godley-Creme used to break so many musical boundaries that even they couldn't always explain their work but the songs on this album are one-sided in the extreme. You know where each of these songs are going from the first line - in fact the monotony may well be the point, recalling the themes of the last two albums about pop being mass produced factory fodder and there being more to life than meets the eye. 'Consequences' and 'L' are about the bigger picture, while 'Freeze Frame' is about the hidden picture; by contrast 'Ismism' is the smaller picture in close-up, with details about camels and parties and getting the room ready for Ralph which are snapshots of life that don't really teach us much (except the tragedy of 'Under Your Thumb' perhaps). Perhaps that's why the album cover is a 'pointillist' one, made up of lots of tiny dots that spell out the band and record name. How on earth did 'Ismism' become such a runaway success when the contemporary and rather brilliant 10cc album 'Ten Out Of Ten' (released just a month later) got ignored? This one certainly doesn't get ten out of ten, maybe a one for 'Under Your Thumb'. If I were you I'd buy the singles on a compilation and skip this one entirely.

The single version of 'Snack Attack' is actually quite funny. Godley' has had his jaws wired and cannot eat any solid foods, while he's haunted by the smeels of cooking speeing in from the air conditioning next door. He's feeling hungry and the hunger pangs won't let him sleep, so he hallucinates about all the meat he's eaten and starts talking in slogans and McDonalds adverts, rapping them out like he's a New Kid On The Block with every possible word that ends in '-ac' from 'Big Mac' to 'Jack Kerouac' whether they make sense in context or not. Sadly the song quickly becomes a long list of foods. On the very different album version, though, 'Snack Attack' is played more like a tragedy, with Godley sounding upset and guilty and the backing track menacing rather than manic. It really doesn't work at all well, especially drawn out to seven long-sounding minutes and a few exasperating saxophone solos over the top.

'Under Your Thumb' charges in like an express train - actually the best thing about this song is the intense turbo-fuelled synth backing from Lol which really does sound like a locomotive at speed. Sitting in the back carriage, Godley sees/hallucinates a woman committing suicide by leaping off the train rather than being 'under your thumb', though we never learn who the thumb belongs to. It turns out she's a ghost, her body having been found the day before and Godley reads about it in the paper he has with him when he tries to steady his nerves. This is one of those songs that makes no sense when you analyse it (the narrator doesn't do much to stop her when he thinks she's 'real', nor does he re-act the way most people would when seeing a ghost), but sometimes it's best not to analyse these things. At least 'Under Your Thumb' has a punchy shoutalong chorus and an inventive synth-only backing way ahead of its time, even if the lyrics are a bit suspect in places.

'Joey's Camel' is the rather out-of-tune tale of a naive innocent middle class white man exploring Egypt with the help of some local servants and writing the song as a letter to his mother. 'How did you escape?' is the tag  line, but we never find out - instead we get a Boy's Own paper version of antics in the desert that's far below Godley-Creme's usual standard. It's also a little bit wrong: Egypt never had cannibals did they?!

'The Problem' is never actually meant to be solved. It's a spoof of one of those 'if a man travelling at two hours passing another man...' questions so beloved of maths test papers. And that's it for four whole minutes, with the punch-line after hours of travelling on various modes of transport (sorry if I spoil it) being 'how long would it take to run the bath?' The backing is more interesting than what's happening up front, with a nice funky synth-bass riff and some nice guitar and drum work from real instruments for a change.

The track quickly segues into 'Ready For Ralph' which recycles the same tune at a slightly faster speed and features Godley asking over and over whether the room is ready for Ralph, Roy, Rose and - just as we think we've sussed out the alliteration - Barry. Godley gets lost in this tongue-twister and even coughs badly at the 0:50 point, but you can barely hear what he's saying anyway those saxophones are just way too loud!

'Wedding Bells' is a spot-on parody of the Motown songs Godley and Creme's pre-10cc bands like Grumble and Frabjoy and Runciple Spoon always seemed to be spoofing. Godley's vocal is super-smooth though and only the daftness of the video with its oh-so-perfect choreography gives it away, plus a few clever lyrics such as Godley admitting he was 'only window shopping' and 'there must be a way of dropping these wedding bells'. A nice melody should really have been saved for a much more substantial song than this, but it's good fun all the same with a chance to hear Godley-Creme delivering the polar opposite of what they normally do.

'Lonnie' is a noisy song about growing old. The title character has just seen his face in the mirror and the lines on his 42-year-old face.  At the time Kevin was 36 and Lol 34 but funnily enough folk hero Lonnie Donegan was 41, so is this a sly comment on rock musicians hitting middle age when they once hoped they'd die before they got old? Then again, this song is set in 1963, on the day before Kennedy was assassinated to be specific, but there's no link between that and this confusing spoken-word-with-saxophones piece.

'Sale Of The Century' is a fourth music spoof, this time parodying the unlikely team-up of quiz shows and gospel music. Godley wants to know if his significant other would buy his heart at the sale of the century, a quiz show in the UK presented by Nicholas Parsons. It sounds like a bargain to me but he gets no bidders except some more treacly saxophones.

We close on the torturous seven minutes of 'The Party', a song that's designed from the outset as an uncomfortable listening experience, but of course that don't make it any easier to listen to. Godley and Creme clearly don't want to be here, make painful small talk and accidentally insult the host and most of the guests and try to get themselves out of various holes. The best part comes when every second person through the door is called 'John' and a choir of women announce 'darling!' in the background, closely followed by a chorus full of popping champagne corks. Godley gets more defensive as a man at the party comes up to him to tell him how to write: 'I don't like your songs very much, it's too aggressive and butch' and tells them to 'write themselves a hit or three, like I'm Not In Paris or The Dean and Me'. However from that part on this arty party goes exactly where you think it will and is too close to the truth to be funny. Excuse I'm gonna be...gonna be...So long Rick...

'Ismism' is a little like that - it feels like being at a party that's gone on for far too long with a host that won't shut up and making uncomfortable  small talk when you were hoping for riveting debates about bigger issues. 'Ismism' is a little show-off that's got nothing really to show off about but keeps trying to attract your attention anyway and coming so soon after 'Freeze Frame' feels almost embarrassingly safe and empty. Quite a few of the people who bought this album off the back of the hit singles couldn't stand the rest - and yet there's quite a few Godley-Creme fans out there who feel the parodies rather interrupt the flow. Surely though they're both wrong - this is just unlistenable on both halves. Never mind poor Ralph, this album clearly wasn't ready and is as close to unlistenable as you'd imagine a whole album of filler to sound like.  

Godley and Creme "Bird Of Prey"

(Polydor, '1983')

My Body The Car/The Worm and The Rattlesnake/Cat's Eyes/Samson/Save A Mountain For Me//Madame Guillotine/Woodwork/Twisted Nerve/Out In The Cold

CD Bonus Tracks: Welcome To Breakfast Television/Samson (Dance Mix)/Golden Boy (Single Edit)/Samson (Promo Edit)/Golden Boy (LOng Version)

"Where did the meaning of our love get lost in pointless cabaret?"

'Birds of Prey' is an improvement, of sorts, but Godley and Creme sound more like pigeons nibbling at the toes of greatness than the birds of prey they used to be. The songs - and they are all 'songs' this time, not monologues or logic problems or whatever the hell most of 'Consequences' was all about - have moved backwards a bit, away from the digital synths of 'Ismism' and back towards a more 10cc sound, making this the band's most 'musical' album. The level of writing has improved a notch too, bookended with two very inventive songs  - the a capella song of ageing 'My Body The Car' (think The King's Singers on acid and holding spark plugs) and the vocoder-ised nightmare of isolation  'Out In The Cold' (think Kraftwerk after listening to too much roaring twenties jazz). Both songs are overlooked amongst Godley and Creme's canon as a whole and certainly have a lot more going on up top than any of the songs from the last album. They're the real birds of prey here, top-notch songs quite unlike anything else that don't give a hoot about whether you like them or not - and no, there is no reason why this album is called 'Birds Of prey' that I can see (something about the strong preying on the weak perhaps, but that happens on two songs on this album, not all nine. Does that count as a link? Well, this is a Godley-Creme album so anything goes, but honestly who knows).

The problem, is the rest of the songs aren't in the same league. Following on from songs about singing toasters that can't move and phobias infecting adult life nobody else would write, all we get are bland songs about a prisoner dreaming of escape and the umpteenth AAA song about a race-horse. Admittedly we do we get a love song about a guillotine, but that's about as weird as this album gets and Godley-Creme's stabs at being conventional don't even match the level of 'Under Your Thumb' and 'Wedding Bells'. After a two year gap, it's a shame that the duo couldn't come up with more than three-quarters of an album of filler material  but that's basically all this is. This is also, worryingly, the only Godley and Creme album without a theme (at least that I can see), more a series of vignettes that should have been a collection of singles instead as they don't really fit together on record that well (though the theme of betrayal and loss crops up a couple of times). Perhaps Godley-Creme's new interest in videos was taking up too much of their time? That's where the oddest of the pair's cover artworks comes from by the way, a dominatrix whose part invisible standing in front of a wardrobe. No, me neither. At just 37 minutes (that's just over a quarter of 'Consequences') this is also way too short.

Godley's narrator has been driving around in 'My Body The Car' for 36 years - which suggests that Creme mainly wrote this song (he was that age but his partner was 38). Kevin puts in a great performance, though, on a witty extended metaphor about having one careless owner and needing an MOT. It's worrying to learn that Godley is 'leaking oil' (he should get that seen to pronto), but the worry about going in to the doctor's for a check-up being like taking your jalopy to the garage is spot-on. The backing is sublime too, continuing Godley-Creme's desire to do something different with voices by have them singing the entire backing track via a bunch of vocal noises which do sound very much like a car going through the motions. An excellent track without any need for repairs anywhere.

I'll be honest with you, I really don't understand 'The Worm and The Rattlesnake'. Admittedly I'd be lying if I said I understood more than the bare basics of 'Consequences' as well, but at least it felt as if I wasn't meant to know what that album was about. This track, though, is dressed up to sound poppy and contemporary with a tale of a 'Garden of Eden' where they play 'Bert Weedon' and the inhabitants can get up to all sorts of naughty things as multiple Adams and Eves fall in love. Is this what mankind was up to before he was ejected? If so, where's the apple? Paradise ain't what it used to be.

Remember 'Johnny Didn't Do It?' from the first 10cc album? Well Johnny's in love on 'Cat's Eyes' ('though it was only slumming') and it's another forgettable 50s rockabilly spoof. This one has an 80s makeover too that doesn't suit it one iota and a questionable lyric that borders on stalking as Johnny follows his bosses' wife home - big mistake!

'Samson' is perhaps the most commercial song here and is a traditional sounding song about a race-horse with very untraditional lyrics. Confusingly there seem to be two Samsons, a father whose an 'easy ride' and a son whose a champion racer. The latter saves his rider, Delilah, from a rattlesnake lurking in the bushes and they have a baby (?!) before he gets put down. Well, horses for courses I suppose. The backing sounds like every other horse song ever written, from The Byrds' 'Chestnut Mare' to Paul Simon's 'One Trick Pony' with a similar plodding gait.

The closest thing to a hit single from the album, 'Save A Mountain For Me', is wretched. Godley and Creme have been listening to too much Righteous Brothers and Jailhouse Rock and come up with a tearful dramatic ballad about a prisoner breaking rocks who wonders if there'll be any of the world left to break up when he gets out. Godley performs an excellent vocal but the melody is unmemorable and the lyrics a little clumsy by the pair's usual standards.

'Madame Guillotine' is an unusual re-telling of The French Revolution in modern-day terms. I've never heard of one written over a pulsing synth-beat for starters or told like a cowboy film before. The narrator knows he's going to meet his doom as he spies on what his ex is up to and shoots her lover dead. For a second song in a row, the prisoner can hear the singing from hell opening up beneath him. Musically this is one of the better songs on the album, with a tense and atmospheric  string part that's more effective dramatically than anything on 'Mountain'. Lyrically, though, this is just weird.

'Woodwork' is a Michael Jackson-soundalike dance song (yes, a dance song!) about a shy man whose just gone through a split and found himself stronger through independence than his partner is, so back she comes crawling out the woodwork. This is one of the better songs on the album, with some distinctive vocals and a fast uptempo beat unusual for Godley and Creme. This is also one of the simplest songs they ever made.

'Twisted Nerve' is the most inventive song by a country mile, with Godley crooning over a repetitive pulsing synth beat that must have sounded way ahead of its time in 1983 (it still sounds a little bit ahead of our times now). The best Kylie Minogue song...well I was going to say that she never made but no, scrap that, her songs are awful - this is just the best Kylie Minogue song, sultry and danceable but with far better lyrics. You see, this sultry sexy song is really a sequel to 'The Sacro-Illiac' from 'Sheet Music', with the exotic poses the narrator's lover is pulling due to her bad back rather than anything erotic. Alas after a funny first verse this song gets boring, talking about a girl who realises her boy doesn't love him and it plays on her mind.

The album then bows out with the powerful 'Out In The Cold', a production master-class as an only-just recognisable couple of Godleys tell us about the night he was thrown out of the family home after a row. This song is the epitome of isolation and alienation with Godley not even recognisable as human as everything in his world changes. Includes the memorable line 'Now I'm just a broken piano that no one wants to play'. The saxophones from 'Ismism' return but are thankfully more sparingly and better used this time around.

Overall, then, 'Birds of Prey' has a lot more going for it than the better known 'Ismism' ever did but it still falls short of what the earlier albums were doing (yes, ok, 'Consequences' and 'L' fall far short of what they could have been but they were aiming for such heights even an early fall moves them quite far down the pantheon of long-players). Caught somewhere in the middle of Godley and Creme's rise as inventive artists and fall as commercial sell-outs, 'Bird Of Prey' needs at least three more decent songs to be recommended and could do with losing a couple that are here as well. But when 'Birds Of Prey' pounces, it can still take your breath away. 

Godley and Creme "The History Mix Volume One"

(Polydor, '1985')

Wet Rubber Soup/Cry//Expanding The Business-The Dare You Man-Hum Drum Boys In Paris-Mountain Tension

CD Re-Issue ('History Mix Plus...') Bonus Tracks:
Cry (Single Edit)/Love Bombs/Snack Attack (Single Version)/Wet Rubber Soup (Single Edit)/Golden Boy/Light Me Up/Golden Boy (12" Mix)

Godley and Creme celebrated twenty-five years in the music business (they dated it from their meeting at art college) with a bizarre mish-mash of loads of their old tracks broken up, thrown in the air, cellotaped back together again and fused back into new songs, whether they fit or not. The result is, on the one hand, very clever and way before it's time and beats the 1990s trend for sampling and The Beatles' similarly-conceived (and equally pointless) 'Love' album by another fifteen years. However, as a listening experience it's horrific and like one of those jigsaws where the pieces don't fit but have been stuck together anyway. Without any main song going on underneath we just get lots of random words going pass and it's more entertaining to try and work out where they come from than actually listen to this album. 'Minnie Mouse has got it....up!' 'Hum drum days in a hum drum ways' and the 'aaahs' from 'I'm Not In Love' float past, based around bass riffs lifted from 'Rubber Bullets' and some orgasmic screams from one or other of the videos Godley and Creme directed down the years. It's enough to make you dizzy and not in a good way. Perhaps thankfully there never was a 'volume two' despite the ominous subtitle, perhaps because Godley-Creme only made one more album together after this one before having a falling out. Nice self portraits on the inner sleeve, though, with Godley and Creme resembling The Goons.

The album's one saving grace though is, of course, 'Cry', a stunning piece of emotion that stands out amongst all the rest of the clever-cerebral thinking like tears at a game of poker. Clearly following on from the songs loss on 'Birds Of Prey', Godley admits that he's moved to tears by a recent breakup and the root of it is a misunderstanding that breaks his heart and makes him wanna cry. Though amongst the pair's simplest and most direct songs, this is also amongst their best with a passion and drama that demands everything from Godley from a deep sarcastic grumble to a falsetto cry (actually a lot of falsetto cries that get higher in pitch at the end, the only characteristic Godley-Creme touch in the whole song). Lol's synth-heavy backing also sounds impressively warm and tender for a collection of instruments that are largely digital and un-real, with the push going into the last verse truly exceptional. The pair's best-selling song by some margin, the single was definitely helped on its way by the inventive video which merged faces of a whole cast of extras into each other to emphasise the universal appeal. This is Godley's baby though and he's never ever better than here. What a shame, though, that it doesn't appear on a proper album but is lost in between some cynical re-tread of 'Business Is Business' from 'L' and a mind-numbing five minute repeat of 'Big Boys Don't Cry' from 'I'm Not In Love'. The extras are particularly good on this CD though and make for an excellent mini-album if you ignore the main course, especially the moody and magnificent single 'Golden Boy' which deserved to do even better as the follow-up to 'Cry'.

Godley and Creme "Goodbye Blue Sky"

 (RCA, '1988')

H.E.A.V.E.N./A Little Piece Of Heaven/Don't Set Fire To The One I Love/Golden Rings/Crime and Punishment/The Big Bang//10,000 Angels/Sweet Memory/Airforce One/The Last Page Of History/Desperate Times

"This ain't no Goddamn special effect, it's the last page of history!"

Typically, Godley and Creme have finally worked out how to combine their vision with something that's actually listenable on their final album, but it was finding that path that effectively broke them up, 'Blue Sky' is very different to the five albums that come before it, working on different levels depending how deeply into things you want to go. For most casual listeners who only knew the band from 'Wedding Bells' and 'Cry' this is a solid collection of hummable songs with Godley in good voice and Creme in good instruments (without a synth in sight), full of catchy choruses and the glossiest production yet. For deeper fans, though, this is a welcome return to the idea of something that bit bigger than mere pop songs that ran through their early work, being nothing less than a collection of songs pondering mankind's possible futures and whether we're all going to die in some horrific accident of our own making. Though casual music fans just hear the cute choirs of angels and the laidback melodies, those who like to find deeper meanings in music get to hear the scary things God is telling the angels as he creates a world he knows is doomed and if you're paying attention you can hear the countdown to our imminent doom across the album. This goodbye to our blue skies is either as pretty or as pretty dark as you want it to be and works well at being either, or both.Though there are moments of wacky 10cc-style fun here ('Don't Set Fire To The One I Love' borrows back from wannabe pretenders Beautiful South what they blatantly stole from Godley and Creme) and we also have the first ever Godley-Creme love songs that don't need a dictionary to be understood, generally speaking we're back to the sort of songs no one else in their right mind would cover. And that's a good thing, honest.

Especially because no one else would have taken such top 40 radio ideas and given them such quirky arrangements. By 1988 everybody, even ex-Beatles, were using the synth sound the duo had pioneered so characteristically Godley and Creme go to the other extreme and become one of the few acts of the era using real, live, warm 'human' performances. This is the great era of the Godley-Creme music videos (when they worked with everyone from Duran Duran to Frankie Goes To Hollywood to The Beatles comeback single 'Real Love', via Paul McCartney's 'C'mon People') and they were particularly impressed with a trio of singers they met at a Paul Young shoot. Though unknown singers at the time, all three would go on to find fame in the 1990s dance band 'Londonbeat' and add a touch of soul and gospel to these tales of religious  dogma still being played out in the present day. The three singers even get the a capella opening track 'H.E.A.V.E.N' to themselves, sounding like 10cc's very own Ladysmith Black mambazo. The other signature sound of this album is the sea of harmonicas played by five separate players (including future 'sixth Oasis' member Mark Feltham) who are used in a very distinct and unusual manner. The initial plan was to have one soloist playing one part per song, but when he asked Godley and Creme which harmonica out of his set of different keys and octaves they wanted him to bring, they hatched the idea of having the harmonicas playing en masse, stacked up to sound as big as the Biblical ideas covered in the lyrics. As far as I know no other album has ever used that sound in quite the same way and while it doesn't always work (the harmonicas play on everything bar the a capella opening and sound shoe-horned in at a couple of places), it gives 'Blue Sky' a unique and unusual sound quite unlike anything else. Frankly, Godley and Creme should have discovered this trick earlier and made a string of albums like these with, say, a sea of tubas and a girl band on their next release.

However, there was no record after this one. Godley and Creme had spent a very intense decade together, following a pretty intense decade in and out of various bands (including 10cc) before that and spending their time between intense video shoots and record productions (both notorious for lots of waiting and long periods with nothing to do) was getting even to their friendship. Though neither has really talked about their split, it seems a deep one with both men refusing to be in the same room from the point after this album's publicity juggernaut stopped rolling to this. 'Goodbye Blue Sky' was a hard album to make, with lots of elaborate arrangements and a re-think over the instruments partway through, while the many guest artists cluttering up the album gives less and less to Lol to do while Kevin takes up even more of the spotlight (it's a real shame that Creme doesn't sing on more of the duo's records - he did, after all, have more top 40 10cc hits with his vocals than Godley, even if most are agreed that Kevin has the more natural voice). The pair aren't just saying goodbye to the world on this album, then, but each other and in places it's as if there's an extra layer of sadness and finality even beyond the point where the world is about to be destroyed and it's all our fault. For all the misery across the album, though, like 'Consequences' the final encore turns things around and 'Desperate Times' takes a sad song and makes things better, showing us that things are never final and people can always change. After all, the title waves goodbye to 'blue sky' times, it doesn't actually say what comes next (we're meant to think it's storm clouds, but maybe it's a rainbow?) even if the feeling across this album that 'we're doomed!!!!' sadly seems to be rather prescient for the post 9/11 age (even if it made the album feel very out of step wat the time when contemporary albums celebrated the thawing of the cold war). So far the world has listened and started behaving (though who knows what will happen with Donald Trump), but sadly Godley and Creme haven't taken their own advice and the closest they've come to working together since is being interviewed for the same TV programmes or newspaper interviews - albeit from different continents. 'Goodbye Blue Sky' is nowhere near good enough to risk ending a longstanding friendship for then, but at least all that creative tension is at least put to use across this album.

Overall, 'Goodbye Blue Sky' is missing that one strong standout song that can turn a good album into a great piece of art and though no other album sounds anything like this one, it is probably fair to say that most tracks on it do sound like each other, just with varied tempos. It's not as inventive or imaginative as 'Freeze Frame', nor probably quite as musical despite the high production values and surprisingly high quota of choruses (when did Godley or Creme even write a chorus last?!) However 'Blue Sky' ticks all the major boxes: it's a very consistent album with no bad tracks, it's beautifully sung and performed, is easy on the ear but cuts deep into the brain if you let it while following a strong concept to a natural conclusion in a style that no other act was ever quite brave enough to pull off. Everything was falling into place: this should have been a re-birth, not a death. But then perhaps the biggest lesson of the whole album is that endings are inevitable and often even beautiful.

'H.E.A.V.E.N' spells out a capella loveliness as George Chandler, Jimmy Helms and Jimmy Chambers combine to lovely effect as they remind us about our 'purpose here'. The afterlife has never sounded more beautiful and hopeful and yet the message is ignored. An ear-catching opening, although it's more than a little odd that neither Godley nor Creme appear on their album's opening track at all.

'A Little Piece Of Heaven' is as middle of the road Godley and Creme ever got. A smoochy song that wouldn't be out of place on an Andy Williams record, it has a touch of the Riviera about it and an unusually straightforward lyric about falling in love. However there's still a typical lyrical twist: after the honeymoon period a 'mystery man' breaks into their home and causes distance between the couple, something Godley wants to put right. A lovely tune and a great use of lots of different harmonicas can't escape the feeling that Godley-Creme should be delivering something a little bit deeper than this piece of fluff, especially on an album about the end of the world.

'Don't Set Fire (To The One I Love)' is good advice everyone should follow. Godley's narrator has heard that the world is about to end and wonders what he'll do - sit in the garden and watch the wildlife? Go to church and pray? 'Sit in the garden and kiss my ass goodbye?!?' Realising that all he wants is for his loved ones to be safe, he realises that everyone everywhere is wishing for exactly for the same as everyone the whole world over asks 'why-y-y-y-y-e-y?' The pearly gates are closed to the mass influx, as nobody took any heed of the angels' warnings, but ominously 'the other place is still open'. A noisy, aggressive backing track could almost be described as fun without the words with the Londonbeat boys turning in some chirpy backing vocals against a tough posse of harmonicas.

'Golden Rings' would be a mega-hit for somebody - but not for Godley-Creme, at least not performed like this. Realising that the world is never safe and nothing is for certain, Godley buys his love an engagement ring to prove that their love at least is there forever. So far so normal, but the mixture of harmonicas and doo-wop is deeply unusual and there's a typical middle eight twist too where Godley stops, in horror, with visions of himself as a house-husband doing all the chores ('all the live-long day!') The couple break up and go their separate ways, proving that their relationship wasn't that permanent after all, but she keeps the ring as a momento because their love was. I thought love was a minestrone myself.

'Crime and Punishment' may well be the best song, a powerful and angry seven minute epic that starts in Latin and claims that on judgement day no one can ever hide. 'We thought the end would never come - but it's coming now!' roars Godley as the Londonbeat lot chant like a mixture of a chain gang and old testment prophets. You'll never harmonicas in the same way after hearing the mass of eerie parts on this record too. An unusual lyric for a usually most irreligious band, but there's no joking in this song - this is deadly serious, for perhaps the only time in the entire Godley-Creme canon.

Side one ends with the blistering retro rocker 'The Big Bang' (well you can't get more retro than the creation of the world really, can you?) Godley gets all Alexis Korner as he literally plays God and creates the universe and 'you and me' . 'The Lord was cooking with a smile on his face' when he created the Earth apparently and handed the task of making man to the Devil, but he's not taking any blame for what goes wrong: 'It's all the fault of that ass in The White House down there!' For all the importance of the lyrics, though, this is all good fun and no other song in history has included the pre-solo lines 'take it, God!' with quite so much relish.

Over on side two God is sending '10,000 Angels' with 10,000 devils close behind as they try to shape the world. Godley is called a liar but says that it's true and not just a trick of the light as everyone says - 'they used to be stars' and are 'playing gold guitars!' The most gospel track on the album is made more bearable thanks to an extraordinary harmonica solo from Feltham that's played at top speed and makes the song bound along with real urgency and energy. The tune is rather lovely too, sounding rather McCartney-ish in its scope and roundedness.

'Sweet Memory' is a rather drab song by past standards, a treacly pop song about a lovely time that's locked into Godley's memory-banks and he can't quite get to it. Given that this song shrieks top 40 hit in a way that no other Godley-Creme song ever does (even 'Cry', commercial as it is, isn't a 'traditional' sounding hit), it's a surprise that this song never was a single. It is all rather forgettable sadly, which is quite ironic actually given that the song is basically about memory loss!

'Airforce One' updates 'Clockwork Creep' with a tragi-comedy about the imminent end of the world and the increasingly desperate attempts to contact the President (Reagan in this era) and ask if he's ok. After all, he wouldn't really blow us all up to Kingdom come for his own ego would he? Godley-Creme are clearly influenced by their video for Frankie Goes To Hollywood's 'Two Tribes' here, with a tale of how stupid pressing that button would be: who wants to win a world with 'no breathable air?' The backing is more circus than anything else though, funny but also rather unsettling and creepy. This is usually the point in horror films where something nasty happens...

And so it proves, with 'The Last Page Of History' a stunning near-finale, wrapping up all loose ends and seeing the end of the world. Godley's heading down a road, at the end of a long shift in isolation, wondering why everyone is going the other way. There's a big black mushroom cloud in the far distance, but given what he's been doing all day there's a knowing in-joke as he assumes they're shooting a music video. 'I got to get back to town!' urges Godley, while the Londonbeat posse warn him 'There ain't no town to get back to!' With a riff nicked from 'La Mersaillaise', the French National anthem (you know, the piece The Beatles improved on in 'All You Need Is Love'), this is a cheeky song that laughs at our final end (Godley-Creme may be onto something here, seeing it panning out like a reality TV show of people grinning for the cameras, with a cameo from a truck of harmonica players breaking into a solo). Sly, sarcastic and deeply dark, there's still a sense of real loss underneath this track best summed up by Godley's desperate plea, 'But I'm famous, I'm rich!' to which the backing singers reply 'No, you're one dead sonofabitch!' After making us laugh for five whole minutes the song basically tells us off for laughing - this isn't a special effect, you know, it's the end of mankind as we know it. This isn't funny, truly, this is horrific

Godley-Creme's catalogue then ends with 'Desperate Times', an uncharacteristic Elton John-ish piano ballad about how the way we've been living is 'wrong' and we have to change before it kills us. Though the song sports another lovely melody the lyrics don't quite have the same power and we're so used to hearing Godley-Creme up to some double meaning that it's hard to take this song and Godley's fine vocal at face value - especially when the backing singers come in just so and the harmonica solos are just that bit too blues (though again Feltham is terrific). Again, though, this is serious: the world's about to end, it's no laughing matter and more fool us for thinking it would be. ]

Overall, then, 'Goodbye Blue Sky' is something of an anomaly in the Godley-Creme catalogue. More sombre than most, more thoughtful and a lot more mainstream, it also manages to cover ground that no other album would dare try - the unique backing, the themes of God and the president destroying the world between them out of pique and what would really happen if someone launched a nuclear attack makes for an album quite unlike any other. Though this record is far from perfect and at times feels a little too obvious for a band who once brought us weirdo triple LPs and damn the 'Consequences', it's heart is in the right place and there's a lot more heart than brains on this record for once, as we get themes of love, loss and fear rather than the usual cerebral crossword puzzles and musical art installation pieces of old. Just because you liked the others doesn't mean you'll like this one because they really are different and liking this one really doesn't mean you'll like the others. But there are far worse ways to say goodbye - to both the planet and the artists. Unbelievably there will be a four year gap before we hear from anyone involved in 10cc again, a period of time unbroken even by a compilation...


'How Dare You!' (1976)

'Meanwhile' (1992)

'Mirror Mirror' (1995)

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

Non-Album Songs Part One 1972-1980

Non-Album Songs Part Two 1981-2006

Surviving TV Clips, Music Videos and Unreleased Recordings

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

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

10cc Essay: Not-So-Rubber Bullets