It has taken a while, but I have landed on an album that captures 2020.
It was released in 1979.
Walk tall walk straight, spit the world right in the eye
The stronger the wood, the straighter the arrow
The eccentric 10CC formed in the UK in the early 70s, producing off-kilter pop music that sometimes captured the ear of the listening public, especially singles like “Dreadlock Holiday” and the swooning “I’m not in love”. The band comprised two pairs of songwriters, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, and Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman. Each was a singer, writer, and multi-instrumentalist. It was a band full of talent, but with varying musical sensibilities. Stewart and Gouldman enjoyed creating accessible, highly produced pop-rock songs, while Godley and Creme were restlessly experimental. That is an over-simplification, of course, but the eventual outcome was the two teams separating after 1976’s How Dare You! Godley observed, with some sadness, “We felt like creative people who should give ourselves the opportunity to be as creative as possible and leaving seemed to be the right thing to do at that moment.”
The first project of the duo-at-large was the extraordinary 3LP set Consequences. This lavish, sprawling boxed set was released in 1977 and emphatically did not catch the spirit of the times. Critics mauled it, 10CC fans were appalled, radio stations ignored it. Listening to the whole thing again for the first time in thirty years, it’s a slog. Lovely to hear Peter Cook though.
Jumping past the next album, L, we stop on Freeze
I remember buying the LP at a Brashs sale late in 1979. Should there be an apostrophe? The ‘c’ in the family name was dropped to avoid anti-German sentiment during the first world war. Future echoes.
Freeze Frame has a striking cover by Hipgnosis (the design company employed by Pink Floyd for many albums). Two naked people in a blue bathroom. Are they fawn-folk? Or painted in jungle camouflage dapples? She sits rigidly on the edge of the bath. He crouches below, looking away. Her head is excluded, our eyes are drawn to the arched back. The arc of the covenant.
The opening song was a radio single. It fascinated and unsettled me, a disjointed movie of striking images that attack your brain like a virus. Psychotic postcards from “An Englishman In New York”. They penetrated my synapses, those snaps, and they it did again a few days back (or was it weeks?) when I posted a short stir crazy piece at Lonely Keyboards.
Dismembered hopeful My-Lai veterans queuing for sleaze
“Sorry no dogs, no fags, no shriners, and no amputees”
There is calling out anti-semitism and “Jewish Baroque”. Or is it a cultural perspective, that being the background of Godley and Creme? And anger; caustic observation of American consumerism. And humour.
Sexual athlete applies for audition
Willing to make it in any position
On the news the other night, fresh from his bellowing dismemberment of the first debate, the President denied knowing anything about his Proud Boys. The bulletin showed footage of armed men marching through darkened streets. “Jews will not replace us” they chant. I shiver.
Disturbing facts about Nazi splinter groups seen on the news
They’re picketing synagogs and claiming that Hitler
Was King of the Jews
I zone out, going places I would not utter.
You’ve never seen
Strange apparatus, even stranger theme.
My head is spinning; I have to escape Godley and Creme’s New York, but the tune is so catchy and bouncy, the rhyming so clever. NY as a metaphor for the entire country, perhaps for the West. The US is dominating our locked down consciousness. “Random Brainwaves” is the next track. It’s odd. A human but de-humanised voice; disconcerting. Technical wizardry; Phil Manzanera’s guitar. Lots of odd, unsettling images.
Are you deaf? Are you one of the cogs
“I pity inanimate objects” wobbles and stretches; it is deeply experimental pop music. So there is a huge surge of relief when the full-scale rock production of the title track bursts through to end side one. The thumping riff and rolling momentum of this song could surely have made it a hit… unless you read the words.
I asked my mum about the stains in the kitchen
She said, “Bang you’re dead” and truth is stranger than fiction
It’s true. Who could have written this year? What deranged dystopian novel could predict the death of ethics, the rapid descent of a superpower, the minute-by-minute corruption of knowledge by social media, the stalking death of COVID, as anti-maskers blow kisses to each other at protest rallies.
Going up like a body rejecting a heart
Going down like Neanderthal Man in the chart
You go ahead and I’ll follow my phobia down
Ms Connection makes a G&T. I open a bottle of white. The film noir images and granular short stories of G&C continue with “Clues” and “Brazilia”, both of which have crackling contributions from Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera. He’s such an under-rated guitarist. Musically, the album rarely settles into a predictable groove, yet there is a cohesive sound to the music. It’s wildly creative, but it’s the same team doing the wildness.
“Mugshots” has doo-wop backing vocals, a poppy chorus and a kind of nostalgic modernity. It’s both catchy and slightly irritating (remember “Rubber Bullets”?), popping flash-bulb bites of lawbreakers and promenading lawyers. This flows into the LP’s final song, the romantic lament “Get Well Soon”. A young person lies in bed, ill and flaccid, listening to uncertain waves of music beaming in from Radio Luxembourg. Music soothes the patient, drifting in and out of reverie, or fever driven delirium. Fever driven delirium. Directionless minddrift. Fragmented images. Tuning out, tuning in. Sound familiar?
I’m getting better thanks to Luxembourg
But I didn’t stop to thank the radio
Today when I was downstairs eating
Its Ever Ready heart stopped beating
Was it just coincidence, who knows?
Get well soon, get well soon.
But I’m barracking for the virus.