Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Wiseacre Duos, 10cc, Part IV

By late 1975, the distinctive songwriting halves of 10cc: Kevin Godley and Lol Crème and Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman had become somewhat more fractious.  You might well have placed a "versus" rather than an "and" between each wiseacre duo.  The manic stream of consciousness of Godley/Crème was no longer meshing or co-existing as well with the more commercial, popular music instincts of Stewart/Gouldman. Such volatility would lead to an inevitable split, though one more fine album would be produced, 1976's How Dare You!

The tone was even darker, decidedly more downbeat this time out, but the humour and irreverence were just as wicked as ever.  The album is probably their most cinematic, filled with vivid, sometimes lurid imagery that may even rival the songs on Katy Lied, recorded by another wiseacre duo a year earlier.  Themes of schizophrenia, megalomania, divorce, frigidity, one's "first time", it's all there in facetious, meticulously arranged tunes. The foursome were all versatile musicians and songwriters. They used the studio as an instrument itself. I can just imagine the post-production wizardry, especially impressive in the days before computerized mixdown and the like. And rather than hire an army of session musicians, 10cc sought to expand their sound in other ways. Godley and Crème were utilizing a device called the "gizmo", which was a blessing and a curse. Hold that thought.

How Dare You! opens with the dreamy title cut, an instrumental that segues into "Lazy Days", a gorgeous tune that does indeed sport a cheesily placed spoken bit at one point, difficult to say if it was intended as such. "I Wanna Rule the World" is a sing/rant from the point of view of a mini-despot, though examine the insane lyrics and tell me it doesn't sound like the 43rd President of the United States. Eerie.

"Iceberg" is the album's other truly bizarre track, a cabaret style lament of love gone horribly wrong. Hilarious and head scratching, with some great harmonizing and a pig squeal at the end. It will either appeal to your sense of the odd or have you deem it mere rubbish. Also, "Art for Art's Sake", a U.K. chart hit, is a cut on fame and the record biz (with a great jam finale). "Rock and Roll Lullaby" is a doo-wopish rumination on mental illness. "Head Room" is sung by who seems to be a young boy curious about intercourse. "Don't Hang Up" shifts expertly between minor key and up tempo to tell the sad story of a failed marriage. Most filmic of all, "I'm Mandy, Fly Me" with its seemingly porn movie title is about a guy who is saved from a plane crash by angelic, supernatural stewardess.  The mid-section of that tune is just, er, heavenly.

All of the songs have rich melodies and smart ass lyrics, in that great 10cc tradition. It is a sad thing that compromises could not be made for the quartet to remain a unit and create more greatness, but it wasn't to be.  But How Dare You! is a suitable bow, a final gasp of genius before G & C would spur off on a separate career and S & G would trudge on under the 10cc name, though some critics would later dub them "5cc". In our next installment we'll compare the very different paths the men who were 10cc would take.

But back to that business of the gizmo, or "gizmotron." The device, developed by G & C with assistance from a physics professor at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and technology, is a small box comprised of six wheels which bow the strings of a guitar when attached to its neck.  The resulting sound, which boasted a long sustain before decay or fadeout, was very similar to that of a violin, even an orchestra. The gizmo was initially used on the Sheet Music album, and other artists like Siouxsie and the Banshees and even Led Zeppelin would put it to use.

Here are the guys themselves with a little demonstration. They don't make the greatest interview subjects, by the way, and the editing of this piece is a little suspicious.


It is reported that Godley and Creme's increasing interest in the gizmo was, at least in part, the cause of tensions within 10cc that lead to the schism. Whatever the truth, G & C would continue to use the gizmotron on some very ambitious projects to come....

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