Welcome to L. The convoluted carnival rides like “Rubber Bullets” and “Life is a Minestrone” were just appetizers, it turns out. The real hijinx happen here: songs about suicide and being beaten up as a kid. When the most commercial song on an album is called “Sandwiches of You,” expect anything but normal. In fact, the second album from Lol and Kev is so standoffishly strange it will send all but the most adventurous 10cc fans packing off to “Dreadlock Holiday.” If L has a guiding principle, it’s art for art’s sake. Apparently, the pair felt confined by 10cc, and since their exit they’ve been on a mission to show how their big ideas couldn’t fit in their old band’s little britches. The closing stab at M.O.R. (middle of the road) music sums it up: Godley and Creme wanted to stay as far away from “safe” as possible. I didn’t appreciate L immediately. I wanted the melodic mischief of “The Dean and I,” not the internal (and sometimes inscrutable) griping of “Group Life.” But the album is an amazing accomplishment for two people. (More amazing is the fact that Lol and Kevin were still talking to each other after such a painstaking process.) To those convinced that Godley and Creme are the unsung heroes of art rock, L is for Lemme Show U Sumthin. “The Sporting Life,” “Sandwiches of You,” “Punchbag” and “Business Is Business” each have their moments. However, they’re sometimes nothing more than moments, separated by minutes of discomfort. Assuming the weirder experiments of 10cc weren’t weird enough for you, and you’re willing to sacrifice melody to get the weirdness, then L is for Love. Otherwise, stick to 10cc.
Kronomyth 4.0: PRISMISM. The second “solo” album (i.e., not credited to 801) from Phil Manzanera enlists the help of familiar faces including half of Split Enz (Tim, Eddie and some guy named Neal), both Godley AND Creme (who were surgically joined at the hip at this point), 801ers Bill MacCormick and Simon Phillips, and former Roxy musicians John Wetton and Paul Thompson. Of course, the question on most people’s minds is “How much does this sound like Roxy Music?” and the answer is “Not nearly as much as it sounds like pre-Frenzy Enz and G&C with better manners.” K-Scope mixes in a few instrumentals with mostly songs featuring slightly prickly and sometimes silly subject matter, rarely trying the same thing twice but not as eclectic as Robert Fripp’s Exposure, for example. Eno’s early albums were more extreme, the Enz more openly tuneful; a cross between G&C’s L and Wetton’s Caught In The Crossfire seems like a reasonable place to plot this. The Roxy references are felt mostly in the guitar work (Ferry’s old license plate, “CPL 5938,” is even namechecked in “Numbers”) and the presence of saxophones in the mix (courtesy of Mel Collins). Tim Finn takes lead vocals on four tracks, though I’ve never found him to be a suitable mouthpiece for other people’s ideas. Bill MacCormick and brother Ian (a music journalist) provide songwriting support, and Bill’s two turns at the microphone (“Gone Flying,” “Walking Through Heaven’s Door”) might be the two best tracks on here. John Wetton’s vocal cameo on “Numbers” is a low-key performance that neither excites nor disappoints. K-Scope was apparently mixed quickly to make way for Roxy’s triumph my fanny return, and marks the end to Manzanera’s mid-Siren/Manifesto dream. The 801-era albums are all probably worth owning at some point, assuming you’ve already acquired all of the proper Roxy releases and Ferry/Eno albums aforehand. The closing “You Are Here” is especially interesting, and points the way toward the instrumental solo album, Primitive Guitars.
As much as the quirky music of 10cc prepares you for Godley and Creme, the pair suffers from a commercial blind spot that’s baffling or frustrating by turns. They’re capable of writing brilliant snippets of art pop, sampled throughout the record, but insist on subverting their pop sensibilities to wild experimentation. “Random Brainwaves” (one of several tracks featuring guitarist Phil Manzanera), “I Pity Inanimate Objects” and “Get Well Soon” (with Paul McCartney of all people on backing vocals) scratch at the door of greatness, but when the door’s opened they run in the other direction like puerile pranksters. Even with all this, Freeze Frame is more commercial than their first two records and set the stage for the far superior Ismism (a.k.a. Snack Attack). The exotic arrangements are built by treating (or torturing) traditional sounds: vocals are stretched like taffy, guitars are shrouded in effects, and all manner of odd percussion is tossed into the salad. Compounding the confusion are inscrutable lyrics and strange narratives; “Brazilia (Wish You Were Here)” might be about the effects of greenhouse gasses or nuclear destruction, “Freeze Frame” appears to be about a person suffering from some phobia, but pinning any of this down is near impossible. For that reason, “Mugshots” is one of the few tracks that doesn’t escape recollection; it’s pretty catchy and has a storyline you can actually follow. Given the daunting nature of their limited catalog, Freeze Frame is one of the better Godley and Creme records, but it’s still a hard one to warm up to, even after repeated plays. On a different note, the nonverbal credits on the picture sleeve are appreciably clever.
Finally, a Godley & Creme album that doesn’t feel like a Q-tip being poked into your brain. After a steady diet of defiant and restless art pop, the pair return to their roots (i.e., 10cc) with clever narratives and throwbacks to ‘50s music. Snack Attack (released in the UK as Ismism) actually generated two UK Top 10 singles: “Wedding Bells” and “Under Your Thumb.” Drawing its inspiration from doo-wop, “Wedding Bells” rekindles the pair’s love affair with ’50s music, as does “Sale of the Century.” However, they’re the only two tracks that haven’t been rigged with some sort of booby trap. “Under Your Thumb,” “Joey’s Camel” and “Lonnie” are dark narratives, not unlike the old pulp fiction short stories you’d find in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The remaining songs defy easy categorization: “The Problem” is a mock math/logic problem set to music, “The Party” is a rap disguised as party chatter, “Snack Attack” is a libidinous litany of foods delivered from a delirious dieter, “Ready For Ralph” is about absolutely nothing. If it sounds like the pair is up to the usual tricks, they are, the difference being the music. The short attention span that sabotaged earlier songs has been sublimated this time, with the lyrics getting the lion’s share of attention and the music pushed to the background, perhaps castrated but awfully catchy. It’s almost a light version of art rock/funk (think Robert Fripp’s League of Gentleman on a much milder scale), silly yet somehow thought provoking. If that sounds like a description of 10cc, you’re getting warm. It’s more like 10cc distilled to half its essence, but by focusing on what they do well (which wasn’t sprawling art rock), Godley & Creme deliver an album that 10cc fans can finally enjoy. No longer running away from their legacy, the pair embraces their past with a perfect match of pop music and smartaleckiness.
Kronomyth 5.0: BIRDS A CAPELLA STICK TOGETHER. I thought Snack Attack/Ismism was the best thing they’d done since Sheet Music, so the followup was bound to disappoint on some level. I think I’m more disappointed that Birds of Prey didn’t get an American release. The music of Godley and Creme is admittedly an acquired taste, but if Sparks could get an American distribution deal, I don’t know what the objection could have been to Kev and Lol. Their last album benefitted from two terrific songs, “Sale of the Century” and “Wedding Bells.” Nothing on Birds of Prey is so catchy. Instead, you get an immaculately produced album of mostly electronic pop played almost entirely by Godley and Creme (Guy Barker purportedly adds trumpet on “Save A Mountain For Me,” which seems odd since “Out In The Cold” is the only song with horns on it). Kev and Lol are DIY samurai; on the opening “My Body The Car,” they don’t even need instruments. Despite a sharp sense of humor (the bonus track, “Welcome To Breakfast Television” is hilarious), Godley and Creme have a dark side, and many of the songs on Birds of Prey are dark: jilted lovers, opportunists, dead horses and murderers figure prominently in the cast of characters. Their last album had some of that too (“Under Your Thumb,” “Lonnie”), but it also had sweetness and silliness to offset the darkness. Without those spoonfuls of sugar, Birds of Prey leaves a slightly bitter taste in my mouth. Of course, most of the G&C albums are difficult on some level, so fans of the pair’s perfectly produced pop-art aren’t as likely to mind. Ultimately, Birds of Prey is a few shamma lamma ding-dongs shy of their best work, though the sharp lyrics and occasionally catchy choruses are still the marks of taloned minds.
The remixed version of “Cry” became their biggest US hit, and a clever video featuring one of the first examples of “morphing” faces no doubt helped the succinct, catchy song make commercial inroads. The flip side, “Love Bombs,” is an excessive percussive excursion that will be familiar to anyone who’s heard Andy Partridge’s dub experiments (and lived to tell the tale). As to the different versions below, let me clarify: the “single remix version” (3:55) and “album remix version” (6:30) both appear on the G&C album, The History Mix Volume 1. The latter is thus often referred to as the “extended version,” but it’s simply the longer of the two “album” versions. The “12 remix version” is the real extended version (or what we’d typically call the “extended” version in these parts), clocking in at 7:25 and available only on the 12-inch singles. Zadelp?
Kronomyth 7.0: GOODBYE GODLEY AND CREME. The human voice and the harmonica figure prominently on Goodbye Blue Sky. Since the doo-wop send-up of “Donna,” Godley and Creme have shown an uncanny facility for beautiful harmonies (with the inevitable lyrical wrench thrown in for good fun). Although this would appear to be a concept album about Armageddon, Goodbye Blue Sky is the most straightforward album they’ve made so far. It’s sweet, melodic, even conventional—at least as conventional an album as Godley and Creme seem capable of making. The vocal support from Londonbeat’s George Chandler, Jimmy Chambers and Jimmy Helms and the harmonica playing of Mark Feltham and Mitt Gamon nearly steal the show. The a capella opening will recall their last album, but that album was preternaturally dark. This album is more optimistic and sentimental; Godley and Creme believe the world can be saved (although I wouldn’t read a religious conversion in the text). The obvious winners here are “A Little Piece of Heaven,” “Don’t Set Fire (To The One I Love),” “Golden Rings” and “Sweet Memory,” some of the catchiest songs they’ve written since “Wedding Bells” and “Sale of the Century.” All of that said, the vocal harmonies and harmonica are layered on pretty thick on this record; initially, I found them a distraction. After you get past that, though, you’ll find it to be their most accessible album since Ismism. It is also, unfortunately, their last album, as the pair were now focused on film and video production, but a classier exit you couldn’t ask for.