Sunday, January 27, 2013

10cc's "Tenology" Box Set Reviewed

10cc's Tenology box set
I was going to review Tenology, the 5-disc 10cc import box set retrospective released last November that I gave to Amy for Christmas, but Amazon reviewer "containsnopartofmyname" beat me to the punch. It's a pretty good review and fairly spot on in its assessment that the later, post-Godley & Creme split 10cc songs weren't up to the high standard set by the full quartet's fantastic four album-run (not to mention their chart-topping singles run) during the years 1972-1976 (10cc, Sheet Music, The Original Soundtrack and How Dare You?), and that the highlight of this set is the inclusion of an all-region DVD (finally!) of rare concert performances and music videos (if only so fans could finally see exactly who was singing or playing what parts in this overly-talented band that featured four singer-songwriters who could play just about every instrument). So here it is, and ta to the reviewer! Oh, I added the bold texting to highlight what I thought were the author's most cogent points; inserted pictures; inserted relevant hyperlinks; added my own parenthetical thoughts inside brackets:  [...]); and embedded some video clips that reenforce this reviewer's quite astute (and correct) observation that 10cc were a great live band (if ever in doubt, check out the 10cc in Concert CD that captured their 1975 "King Biscuit Flower Hour" performance - at the peak of their powers - at the Santa Monica Civic Center).

A Fitting Testament to the Worst Band in the World
by containsnopartofmyname

10cc was the first band with which I was obsessed. I was about 12 and already had Deceptive Bends, The Original Soundtrack and How Dare You. But the twentysomethings at the record store at which I spent my after school hours all told me that Sheet Music 'was *the* album I needed to hear. At the time, neither of 10cc's first two albums were available in the US, so it had to be ordered out of the exotic JEM import catalog. I looked at the track listing. What could songs with titles such as 'Clockwork creep', 'Silly love' and 'Hotel' possibly sound like? I had to wait weeks and weeks before the album finally arrived to find out. And the advice I was given was right on. Sheet music was and is the definitive 10cc statement. Great tunes, gonzo (but smart) lyrics and hooks, hooks, hooks. Still one of the great lost pop/rock albums of the 70s, at least in the US.

10cc - Sheet Music (1974)

As I got older, my musical taste expanded. Punk/New Wave. But 10cc was a constant. Bloody Tourists was pretty good. Yeah, Look Hear? was disappointing. (Really disappointing.) But I remember listening to 'We've heard it all before', 'Power of Love' and 'Don't ask' (from their next album, 10 Out of Ten) over and over again at college, even if they were nowhere near as 'cool' as the likes of REM, Echo and the Bunnymen and Big Audio Dynamite that then dominated by collection.

10cc's "reunion" LP. Windows in the Jungle (1983)

I remember stumbling across Windows in the Jungle at a local record store. It came wrapped in the loose plastic bag (as opposed to shrink-wrapped), the sign of an IMPORT. I wasn't really thinking much about 10cc at that point, but bought it almost on reflex. And I remember the disappointment of the hookless, virtually Gouldman-less, long, sad attempts to ape Steely Dan. It was the last 10cc album that I would buy for almost a decade and the last one I bought for more than that. (Meanwhile... is the only 10cc album I've never owned. Never felt like I was missing anything. The less said about the shameless, cynical Mirror Mirror - which I did unfortunately purchase - the better.)

10cc - Mirror Mirror (1995)

Over the years, I've remained a music obsessive. My taste has deepened and widened. Hip Hop, Reggae, Brit Pop, Indie...anything with above average smarts, a bit of edge and hooks (always hooks) still catches my ear. And I've refused to be stuck in any particular era. But my appreciation for 10cc has remained. The original 72-76 era was woefully undiscovered in the States. Only 'I'm not in love' made any impression. But it's just about as strong a run as any band had at that time. Up there with the likes of Roxy Music and Steely Dan (though all three bands only share a certain cool, cynical detachment). Why is 10cc not remembered as well? Perhaps because when they fell off, the drop was so sheer (spot the reference 10cc-heads). They definitely became less loved critically after Godley and Creme left. And not without reason. Despite the relative successes of Deceptive Bends and Bloody Tourists, the band lost almost all their edge. They became known as pop lightweights, not without reason. And their biggest hit from this period (though, again, not in the US where it stalled outside the Top 40) 'Dreadlock Holiday' has not aged well. (Hey, most of us didn't know much about actual reggae in 1978.) Even as they re-expanded the band, the insecurity in Gouldman and Stewart became audible. And, as happens, they flogged the horse for too long.

Yet I continued to think of 10cc fondly. I bought the various, often-botched CD re-releases. I even found (what turned out to be) a Russian bootleg of Look Hear? on ebay, which I bought hoping it somehow was better than I remembered. It wasn't.

But the quartet of the self-titled debut, Sheet Music, The Original Soundtrack and How Dare You have all continued to sound as good as they ever have. (Give or take a few tracks here and there on the latter two.)

So all of this was in my head when I saw there was a 40th anniversary box set. Initially, I was pretty excited. That was quickly diminished when I saw the track listing. There was very little there that a hardcore 10cc fan hadn't already owned, often having purchased the songs more than once over the years. Even the b-sides and rarities weren't all that rare, having been appended to the aforementioned CD re-releases. [Of these bonus tracks that came out on the CD reissues, my personal favorites are "Channel Swimmer," the "Life Is a Minnestrone" B-side included on The Original Soundtrack CD reissue; "I'm So Laid Back I'm Laid Out," the "People in Love" B-side included on the Deceptive Bends CD reissue; and "Hot To Trot," the "The Things We Do For Love" B-side included on the Bloody Tourists CD reissue.]

So why did I (or *you*) need to purchase most of these songs for the 3rd/4th time? For me, establishing that Universal had the good sense not to region lock the DVD (meaning it would play in North American players) is what did it. Mostly, the opportunity to see the brief 'BBC In-concert' performed live by the original quartet.

Which brings me, finally, to Tenology itself. Are there any revelations among the 4 CDs and 1 DVD? Not many. Am I glad I purchased it? Absolutely.

For starters, in terms of presentation, Universal actually showed 10cc and its fans a good deal of respect. The box is nice and sturdy, adorned (as is only fitting) with a new Storm Thorgerson design. [The box set design really is wonderful - each individual disc has neat ephemera filling in the picture of the 10cc membrane!]

Head Trip: Storm Thorgenson's cerebral design for 10cc's Tenology

Inside, you're first presented by a hardcover (!) book. The book is really well done. In the absence of a good 10cc biography in print, it's nice to have contemporary reflections from all four of the original band members on the (72-76) history of the band. And, yes, that's the emphasis. Gouldman and Stewart, while proud of Deceptive Bends, are no less aware than the rest of us of the dipping quality, particularly after Bloody Tourists. In addition to the short(ish) recap, filled with (as of this writing) recent quotes from all four, the lyrics to every song on the box are included. Right off, this made the set feel like a good purchase. Beneath that, a die cut 'well' holds all 5 discs. The discs themselves come in those thing, cardboard holders. But unlike some I've gotten, these are actually well sized. You don't have to dig the CD/DVD out, inevitably scratching/scuffing them. They slide out nicely.

As to the contents, well, if anyone is still reading, you're either a masochist or a truly hardcore 10cc fan. What you get is almost all the tracks (with an exception or two from each album) of the first four albums, spread across Discs 1 & 3. It's a mish-mash of album and single edits, occasionally mislabeled on the box. (For instance, the running time of Look Hear's 'One two five' suggests it's the almost interminable album version. Mercifully, it's actually the single edit.) Disc 2 starts with a high (heh) in 'Dreadlock Holiday' and slides all the way down to the singles from ...Meanwhile. Consequently, it's the least essential of the discs. And that's probably being kind. I imagine this one will be the one most of us will come back to least. The only two things on all three discs that I hadn't heard before are the (Voodoo Mix) of 'People in Love', indeed covered in a swampy morass of vocals and other sounds. And, for me, preferably to the Adult Contemporary version of the song that was the band's last hit (reaching 40) in the US.

10cc - "People in Love" (Voodoo Boogie Mix)

The other 'new track' is called 'The recording of 'The Dean and I'", a BBC (?) audio documentary detailing how the song was, well, recorded. I didn't make it through all 7 minutes myself. On Disc 4 are the b-sides and, I must say, 10cc knew which songs to throw away. Okay, that's harsh. These are definitely, for the most part, lesser songs of the eras they represent. But some of the 72-76 cuts are at least interesting. And Stewart made sure they all *sound* fantastic. In fact, the productions on some of these are among the most interesting, as Stewart either wanted to make up for the less stellar songwriting or just tried out things he couldn't on the albums proper. For my taste, only 'I'm so laid-back, I'm laid out' (B-side to 'People in Love') is one I'd put on a mix. Unusually funky with a great vocal from Gouldman, it's easy to hear this a song that simply didn't fit musically onto Deceptive Bends, rather than a song that just wasn't good enough. Everything sounds good. Nice and bright.

Finally (you can exhale), the DVD. Clearly, the highlight is the above-mentioned concert-ette from '74. Seven songs, starting with 'Silly Love' and running through songs from the first two albums, ending with a jam (for 10cc) of 'Rubber Bullets' that, in seemingly typical BBC fashion, is faded under the credits. For a band so richly produced, with four vocalists, two of whom possessed truly unique vocalists (Godley and Creme) its astonishing how good they are in concert. Mostly, that they could reproduce the sounds on those albums so closely.

 [I've included videos from the BBC concert below.]

10cc - "Silly Love" (BBC Concert 1974)

10cc - "Wall Street Shuffle" (BBC Concert 1974)

10cc - "Rubber Bullets" (BBC Concert 1974)

(A side note, the audience for this show could only be called 'live' in the sense that most of them, presumably, had pulses and breath. Like most BBC audiences for pop shows from the 70s, they look they were either tricked into attending the taping or are there as some form of punishment. At the end of a really beautiful version of 'Fresh Air for my momma', they cut to a couple who look they may have been awaken from a nap by the smattering of applause around them.)

[Click here to watch "Fresh Air for My Mama." (Embedding disabled by YouTube.)]

No, 10cc was not the most dynamic live band. They had no image, don't always seem that interested in each other being there and lack a focal point....but just listen. The rest of the DVD is filled out by assorted, usually mimed, appearances on a variety of televised pop shows. Most of these don't beg watching more than once. There's also a handful or so of promotional videos, most of which aren't that different from the mimed pop shows. The videos for 'Dreadlock Holiday' and 'One two five' are mildly interesting for being early versions of the kind of conceptual-lite things that would appear the first couple of years on MTV, but a few years before MTV existed.

10cc - "Dreadlock Holiday" (TOTP)

Otherwise, you're not liable to come back to most of these either. [Though the cheesy, dated MTV narrative story-style music video for "Feel the Love" - with a sexy couple playing tennis in short shorts - bares repeated viewer as a video oddity!]

10cc "Feel the Love" Get it?

The quality of the video is mostly fine, especially considering the age and source material. For the most part, they look like good standard def video. The promo videos look a little less good but, again, all things considered, they're fine. [Come to think of it, the promo video for "Good Morning Judge" is pretty amusing, too!]

So that's Tenology. Would it have been nice to have some genuine rarities? More demos and such? Absolutely. But they may no longer even exist. Did it need solo Gouldman and Stewart or duo Godley and Creme? Probably not. Frankly, most of the former was pretty forgettable (Yeah, Animalalympics included.) And the latter really needs it's own box. Or least two good discs that do a damn sight better job of getting G&C on CD then Renaissance did with their muddy releases of Consequences and L.) *you* need it? If you somehow made it all the way through this--and, holy crap, I've just looked at the preview and seen how long it is--the answer must be yes.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

So I was looking for this 10cc bootleg and...didn't find it.

But I (ironically) stumbled this awesome blog post you built around my Amazon review of Tenology. How cool.

Thank you for the shout out and the good work. I look forward to checking out the rest of A.D.

7:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not anonymous...Brian

7:59 PM  

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