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10cc - Sheet Music CD (album) cover




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3.70 | 122 ratings

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5 stars [N.B. See my review of 10CC's debut album for important general comments about the band. Also, note that my ratings for 10CC are based on their subgenre, NOT on prog as a whole. Finally, I whole-heartedly recommend the reviews of my fellow 10CC aficionado, chessman.]

On their debut album, 10CC put their collective tongues firmly in their cheeks and created a lyrically and musically brilliant homage to the 50s and early 60s. For the most part, the songs were "simple" but highly effective in evoking the sights, sounds and feelings of that era.

With their sophomore album, Sheet Music, 10CC had not simply matured, but had already found - and, indeed, solidly claimed - its niche in progressive pop. Although the wit and wisdom are still there, they have turned from cheeky homage to socio- politics and pop culture - where their basic focus would remain for at least four albums. As importantly, their songwriting matured into a far broader spectrum of incoming influences and outgoing ideas. And where most of the humor on their debut album was simply "playful and funny," the humor (and irony) here is more often sarcastic, sardonic, even cutting.

As well, they have not only become a much tighter unit, they have also grown more confident as individual musicians and collaborative songwriters. Indeed, they often collaborate in Lennon/McCartney style, with one of them (or one 2-man "team") writing part of a composition, and another (or second 2-man "team") contributing a bridge or other part. This works beautifully, and allows for many permutations of contribution.

Finally, the group has now completely mastered the recording studio and production techniques in such a way that even Klaatu (among the masters of production) paid tribute to 10CC by citing them as the group's most important musical and production influence, second only to The Beatles. The sounds, atmospheres, textures and effects that 10CC created on this album are obviously not the same as those we associate with the production of albums by Crimson, Yes, Genesis, etc. However, they are no less creative and effective in turning 10CC's arrangements into multi-layered, multi-textured masterpieces of sound and appropriateness.

So, what of their sophomore album? It is the first of four that I unquestionably consider a masterpiece of the progressive pop.

Wall Street Shuffle. From the opening fuzz guitar chords, you know that 10CC has gone from 50s fun and frolic to serious 70s songwriting. Possibly inspired by Pink Floyd's "Money" (which came out the previous year), this biting indictment of capitalism has an understated but solid arrangement, including a truly infectious instrumental break. Best line: "You need a yen to make a mark if you wanna make money; you need the luck to make a buck if you wanna be a Getty or a Rothschild." A great opening track on a great album.

Worst Band in the World. With tongue in cheek, 10CC takes on the music industry in this playfully ironic homage to...which band? Ah, but that would be giving it away! Here, 10CC uses musical trickery ("tune up") and lyrical snickery ("Here I am a record on a jukebox, a little piece of plastic with a whole - play me and you play me and my plastic turns to gold") to make fun of jaded rock bands who simply "go through the motions." Some nice Stewart guitar work, and one their best-ever lines: "Up yours. up mine...but up everybody's? That takes time...But we're working on it!"

Hotel. This is 10CC at their most wonderfully 10CC-ish. What seems at first to be a little ditty about island real estate ends up in cannibal country! With one of the most "appropriate" arrangements the band ever created - including some of their finest harmonies, superb sound effects, an appropriately tasty solo from Stewart, and literary and cultural references that fly so fast you can barely keep up with them - this remains one of my absolutely favorite 10CC songs. The cannibals' complaint: "We get American menus with all-American men. We're getting sick of things American - we ate our way through half the Pentagon!"

Old Wild Men. A sort of "companion" piece to "Worst Band.," here 10CC laments on behalf of a band (and who is it this time?) whose heyday has past. This gorgeous ballad includes some of Stewart's and Godley's most beautiful, plaintive vocals, and great guitar interplay between Stewart and Creme.

Clockwork Creep. Oh boy. Where do I start? This is not only among the group's most spectacular, innovative compositions - a plane bombing told from the perspective of the bomb, the plane and a narrator - it also began a series of lyrical and musical "clues" (think "Paul is Dead") spread throughout the group's albums that relates the story of how the band survived a plane crash with the help of a guardian angel named...Mandy. [N.B. All of the band's most common thematic references - planes and airports, phones, islands et al - are woven into this superbly secreted subtext.] A frighteningly masterful arrangement. Indeed, if you had to choose just one song to represent what 10CC "does," this would be the one. The best line is the plane's: "Oh, the gravity of the situation - it's only my willpower that keeps this thing in operation." (willpower = autopilot; I told you these guys were masters of the double entendre.)

Silly Love. With a slight nod to Zep and Queen, 10CC launches this rocked-out love song, with truly great guitar work from both Stewart and Creme, especially toward the end. Pure fun.

Somewhere in Hollywood. Unquestionably one of Kevin Godley and Lol Creme's most brilliant compositions, this pop culture reference-filled song (partly an homage to Marilyn Monroe) has the most stunningly complex arrangement to date. Opening with quasi-symphonic elements, the song has an ever-moving chord progression which segues through multiple sections, including a wonderfully strange outro. Listen carefully for the tap-dancing during the first verse. Best line, re Norman Mailer: "He's out on the patio, with his Polaroid and scenario, and he's armed, and he's dangerous... ly close."

Baron Samedi. A sort of "companion piece" to "Hotel," here we meet the leader of the cannibal tribe. With neat guitar effects, superb harmonies, and Stewart and Gouldman "trading fours" toward the end, this one, like "Hotel," is 10CC at their most 10CC-ish.

The Sacro-Iliac. "Here's a new dance that you'll wanna do." Well, maybe. In any case, this hysterical composition is 10CC at their most playful, and includes some of their most subtly brilliant harmonies. Just plain fun.

Oh Effendi. The sarcasm drips heavily in this biting double indictment of Middle East arms dealing and American cultural hegemony. Among 10CC's best harmonies and lyrics, here is just one, which might have been written yesterday: "Allah be praised, there's a whole new craze, we're gonna shoot up the Foreign Legion, and it's up with the sheik and down with the frog, we're gonna liberate the region." Like "Hotel" and "Baron Samedi," this is 10CC at their most 10CC-ish, and provides a fabulous close to a fabulous, perfect album.

Re the two bonus tracks, "Gismo My Way" offers the very first use of the "gizmo," an electronic guitar effect invented by Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, but is not particularly interesting. However, "18 Carat Man of Means" is without question their best pre- 10CC song, a catchy and satiric little number that pokes a loving elbow at their manager, Jonathan King, and is a perfect transition between the simplicity of their debut album and the more mature writing on Sheet Music. It also has one of their best- ever lines: "My joint account goes up in're drinking Scotch, I'm drinking coke."

maani | 5/5 |


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