|Tom Hull's Old Rock Critic Writings|
What Kind of a Worst Band in the World Is This?
10cc is an English pop quartet. Its members are talented, innovative, experienced. They all write, usually in pairs; they all sing lead. They do their own engineering and production, which is first rate. The bass is always well mixed, and their sense of percussion is perhaps the most complex of any pop group working today. They change tempi in radical ways and, for special effect, resort to unusual instrumentation. Each song is embellished by their mastery of pop artifice, including some of the catchiest things unleashed. And each bears the seeds of its own destruction.
In fact, at least half of each album is sheer dreck; but the funny thing is that it's not always the same half. It depends on how you feel at a given moment, and how much you're willing to put up with. Don Malcolm once remarked to me that listening to a 10cc album is like going through "an annal in the history of British rock plagiarism." Now, that in itself is bound to be an annoyance sooner or later, no matter how innovative the band is in the way they paste up their old glad rags. But the paste-ups themselves are often as not one godawful mess.
10cc has the talent to do that sort of thing; they also have the contempt. "The Dean and I" is that kind of a song; for the last two weeks I've hardly been able to get it out of my mind. It sets up a mean rhythm with a chant of "Hum drum days and a hum drum ways." Enter a falsetto lead, a man telling his kids how he met their mother. A cliche, "But a man's got to do/ What a man's got to do," and the story quickly closes with, "Church bells, three swells/ The Dean, his daughter and me." But the real clincher is an irresistible guitar cadence, leaving you on the floor as they drool, "It's a wonderful world/ When you're rolling in dollars." Slam, bam. The identical same cadence shows up again in "Life Is a Minestrone," and it's a killer.
10cc once wrote a song about being "The Worst Band in the World," but that's not the half of it. They are every bit as rationalized as the Eagles. But they are hardly just another good-natured ripoff. Not only is their music based on beating listeners senseless, their lyrics are special insult. Most concern their obsession for making money ("Wall Street Shuffle," "Art for Art's Sake," gunrunning in "Oh Effendi"); the love/sex songs are about what you'd expect from a band so engrossed in prick-imagery ("Head Room," as in the head of a penis). There are always possibilities for irony in this (irony tending to be an indulgence of the listener). But above all else it's one stock phrase after another, a cliche, a readymade hook, slam, bam, you're had. Did I hear somebody say these guys are for laughs?
This was retyped from an edited manuscript. I'm pretty sure it was published; haven't found the clipping or issue date yet. One curious thing here is that while I recall this piece as being written after 10cc's fourth album, How Dare You?, the piece makes no mention of the album, and (without researching the matter, I don't have the albums anymore anyway, and probably haven't played any of them since writing the piece) the songs cited are mostly from earlier albums, especially 1974's Sheet Music. My memory is validated here by an excised second paragraph in the manuscript:
Sometimes, at least. They do have their moments. Their first album offers "Johnny Don't Do It" and "Donna," which fit the best 1962 pop traditions. "Baron Samedi" and "Hotel," from the ir second, Sheet Music, make rather bizarre use of African and Latin rhythms. Then there's a mandolin-drenched piece of romantic gush from their Original Soundtrack album, "The Film of My Love," that I adore. And their new album, How Dare You, features a whole side of cleverly realized, technically brilliant 10cc bathos. But the other side trips all over itself, including a dumber than dumb instrumental track, a puerile rant called "I Wanna Rule the World," and "Iceberg," which sounds like a Tony Visconti Sparks outtake.
The fourth paragraph also got axed:
For example, a couple years ago a perfect 10cc song came out and went right to the top of the charts. It wasn't "I'm Not in Love," 10cc's own celebration of tape hiss. It was "Black Water," by the Doobie Brothers. But if you change the voices to falsetto, add some mandolin and marimba and maybe a little harp, and toss in an extraneous verse about how great it is to be rich and white and male, you have 10cc. Either way it's oppressive. The hook is prefabricated, the latest tried and true of scientific songwriting. But it reaches out and grabs you, and then something else pops up and slams your head against the wall.