1974's Sheet Music was 10cc's sophomore effort and for my pound note, their best. A flowering of eccentric creativity and a myriad of styles, this album goes far beyond the debut, encompassing several genres: pop, rock, C&W, R&B, experimental, ballad, mock ballad, etc etc. It is an endlessly eclectic listening experience. What continues to strike me is how timeless it sounds, how the lads' creative use of the recording studio as an instrument itself has lent to music that never feels out of date.
Out of the 10 tracks, 8 are stellar, one is decent, and one is ambitious but an overblown failure:
1. "The Wall Street Shuffle": Written by Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman, this track sends up the capitalist market system and the vipers who exploited it to rise to the top. Howard Hughes gets a mention. A hit single in the U.K., it boasts some good digs but the last verse runs out of steam.
2. "The Worst Band in the World": Lol Creme and Gouldman in one of the several cross-polinations of songwriting (recall that Stewart and Gouldman had the more commercial instincts while Creme and Kevin Godley were more daring, experimental). This is a self-acknowledging song in the "biting the hand that feeds" genre. A great, caustic tune that proclaims, "Up yours! Up mine! But up everybody's? That takes time!...but we're working on it!"
3. "Hotel": This one is pure Godley and Creme, a very curious tune and my fave one on this album. Elements of calypso, Motown, doo-wop. Unavoidably boppable with lyrics that may be considered as from the point of view of Yanks or their mockers. Great tune.
4. "Old Wild Men": This is the "decent" song, a mellow lamentation on aging rock stars. It sounds reverent but knowing G & C, it's likely rather a savage parody. It's not bad, with quaint sounding keyboard effects and fuzzy guitar, but mild and undistinguished.
5. "Clockwork Creep": You could accurately call this one a novelty song, with its twisted story of a conversation/pleading between a jumbo jet and the bomb in its cargohold set to detonate. The tempo is rapid with its plinkity piano, and absolutely right to tell this breathless tale. Another prototypical G & C..."but we're gonna crash, that's for certain, the pilot is too busy flirtin'..."
6. "Silly Love": Apparently, this was a tribute/parody of Paul McCartney tunes (the guys were big fans), and Creme and Stewart's lyrical dance is hilarious. Great heavy guitar by the songwriters. Stewart gets to use his funny falsetto, too.
7. "Somewhere in Hollywood": G and C wrote a few epics during their time in 10cc. This is the singular dud: a joyless, overlong, obscure, not especially interesting piece about Tinseltown that has moments of inspiration but just doesn't work. Several 10cc songs are smug, but here the composition is just annoying and dull.
8. "Baron Samedi": Even though it was recorded in the early 70s, this track (by S & G) could sit alongside the Eno sessions of Talking Heads albums from the early 80s. Amazing percussion and ingenious transitions throughout. The song conjures visions of the voodoo subplot of the James Bond film LIVE AND LET DIE, which came out just before this album. Coincidence?
9. "The Sacro-Iliac": Droll number by G and G that addresses the old inevitability of aging, though more specifically the aging one's attempt to be hip, a depressing notion attested to by anyone who's watched middle-agers trying to be cool.
10. "Oh Effendi": Solid guitar work on this biting political track by S & G. As you listen to this stinging attack on relations between the West and the Middle East, you'll realize how little has changed. This song has almost a country feel, with vocal stylings to match, creating a bizarre incongruity that will either impress or leave you cold. Either way, this track, like most of Sheet Music, is bloody genius.
What a deliriously imaginative album! My favorite of theirs. Next time, we'll speak of the next album, the one with their most famous track. A track that finally cracked the American Top 40. We'll also get a little deeper into the process of the songwriting.
To Be Continued.........