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10cc - The Original Soundtrack CD (album) cover




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5 stars [N.B. See my review of 10CC's first two albums 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.]

On their eponymous 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. On their sophomore album, Sheet Music, 10CC had not simply matured, but had already solidly claimed its niche in progressive pop, including having exchanged 50s fun and frolic for serious 70s songwriting: though the humor, creativity and "appropriateness" in every song was still there (and more maturely), the band found its socio-political and pop culture voice, and exercised it with irony, dripping sarcasm and/or sardonic wit. As well, the group had completely mastered the recording studio and production techniques: the sounds, atmospheres, textures and effects that 10CC were creating were different from, but no less creative and "effective" than, those we associate with true "prog" bands, turning 10CC's arrangements into multi-layered, multi-textured masterpieces of sound and appropriateness.

It is important to quickly recap a few thoughts about 10CC. First, if there is one phrase that describes their approach, it is a "sense of appropriateness." That is, every detail of every song - lyrical, musical, specific guitar/piano/bass/drum sounds, sound effect, etc. - has a role to play in the overall "effect" of the song: every word, note, sound and texture is there for a reason; there is never any "filler." Second, 10CC is among the most "intelligent" bands ever (legendary prog-rock radio DJ Scott Muni put them in the same category as Gentle Giant in this particular regard): their lyrics are never secondary; indeed, they are not simply "literate" - often even radically brilliant - but are as important to the overall "sense of appropriateness" as any other element of the song; i.e., they require your attention. Finally, the members of 10CC are among the most underrated musicians in rock. Of course they are not the equal of Yes, Genesis, Crimson, etc. But that would not serve their music. Rather, they are all excellent, accomplished multi-instrumentalists who play to their strengths, Godley and Stewart in particular. Godley is a rock solid, creative and inventive drummer who is always interesting and fun to listen to. And Stewart is, as I have said, perhaps the most underrated guitarist in all of rock music: he can play in any style, and has a mastery over and control of his instrument that is the equal of any guitarist in rock - including the "greats."

On their third album, The Original Soundtrack, 10CC exhibit a comfort level with each other, with songwriting and collaboration, with the arrangements and with the studio that simply defy explanation. This is a foursome at the top of their game, digging even further into their claim on progressive pop, and showing a creativity that is every bit as "progressive" as Supertramp's "Crime of the Century," even if the "concept" here is "looser" than that classic album. In any event, this album is the second of four that I unquestionably consider a masterpiece of progressive pop, and is arguably 10CC's greatest work.

One Night in Paris. With the possible exception of "Somewhere in Hollywood" (from Sheet Music), nothing could have prepared 10CC fans for the sheer creativity of this masterwork. From the opening stereo-surround sound effects of a sidewalk café of a fleabag hotel in Paris, you know you are in new territory with the band. The story, told in three parts, surrounds the visit of an American who is "looking for love" in Paris - which, of course, means he is led to the red light district, and the seedy underbelly of the city. The song moves through a series of "movements" (and chord progressions), all perfectly arranged, and includes some of the band's most amazing (and Queen-ish) harmonies, and a huge "music hall" "finale." There is a reason why even those who only have a passing interest in 10CC consider this their best composition. It is simply stunning. And speaking of Queen, many rock musicologists believe that the "operatic" nature of this piece influenced Queen to write Bohemian Rhapsody (which came out at the end of the same year).

I'm Not in Love. Not just a sappy love song hit, this admittedly overplayed gem is among 10CC's most masterful compositions, showing a control of the studio that few bands can claim. The irony of the lyrics (he IS in love, of course) only adds to the fun of the song. A little known fact: this song has the most individual tracks of any song ever recorded in pop music: there are 22 instrument and effect tracks, and, by the end, 246 - count'em, 246 - separate vocal tracks. (Even more amazing is the fact that there are only three actual "instruments" - an electric piano, an acoustic guitar and a bass drum. The entire remainder of the "foundation" of the song is the vocal "choir.") Nothing like that had ever been attempted before, and only an engineering genius like Eric Stewart could have accomplished it with such control and panache. And if you have not heard this song on headphones, you owe it to yourself to do so. [N.B. In case you're wondering about the opening chord progression, this song was released more than a year before Hall & Oates' "She's Gone."]

Blackmail. With a respectful nod to Queen (this would have fit perfectly on DATR), the story of a blackmailer who gets more (or perhaps more accurately, different) than he bargained for is told over a truly infectious beat, with subtle sound effects (tremolo, guitar harmonics) and some truly tasty guitar work from Stewart. This has always been one of my very favorite 10CC compositions.

The Second Sitting for the Last Supper. This rocked out, angry, dripping with sarcasm anti-paean to Christianity (specifically its failure to end the suffering of poverty and hunger) has another infectious beat, some neat harmonies, excellent piano and organ work from Creme, and a great jam at the end. And despite the biting tone of the lyrics, even this minister loves this one!

Brand New Day. Although it has some really neat piano work, there is only one word to describe this song: bizarre. Bizarre lyrics, bizarre melody, bizarre progression, bizarre effects. Truly one of the band's strangest songs and arrangements - but a very good indication of where Godley and Creme would go with their first solo album, Consequences.

Flying Junk. Opening with a seriously "effect"-ed autoharp, this pun-filled anti-ode to a coke dealer is simply 10CC at their most 10CC-ish, with a deceptively simple arrangement, including some tasty Stewart guitar fills. Best line: "Ooh, he's a snow job - ooh, and his shovel's gonna cover you."

Life is a Minestrone. With a slight nod to Frank Zappa, this anthem to silliness even earned a minor accolade from the master himself. The puns, double entendres, and food and pop culture references fly faster than a speeding bullet in this hysterical pastiche. Just a couple: "I'm leaning on the tower in Pisa, had an eyeful of the tower in France, I'm hangin' 'round the gardens of Madison" (i.e., Madison Square Garden.); "The seat of learning and the flush of success relieve a constipated mind"; and, of course, "Life is a minestrone, served up with parmesan cheese; death is a cold lasagna, suspended in deep freeze."

The Film of My Love. With his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, Graham Gouldman does his best lounge lizard impression in this not-so-subtle ode to sex, told over the kind of cheesy mandolins you hear on Italian gangster movie soundtracks, and, of course, using numerous references to movies and film production techniques. If you haven't figured out the double entendre in the title, consider this line: "A close up of yours, a long shot of mine, superimposed together - I'll zoom in on you with a love that is true." Still don't get it? Let me spell it out for you: "film" = semen.

A hysterical and highly appropriate ending to an album called "The Original Soundtrack."

[Of the two bonus tracks, "Good News" sounds like an experimental demo, and is not particularly interesting. However, "Channel Swimmer" is among the band's best B- sides, a truly pretty song and arrangement with a nice Stewart solo and an ironic twist ending.]

maani | 5/5 |


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