Monday, May 26, 2008

Album Review: Ismism, Godley & Creme (1981)

After the debacle that was Consequences, Godley & Creme's creative peak was captured on their two subsequent albums L and Freeze Frame. Their fourth album Ismism represents the beginning of their descent into mid-career mediocrity - it's not a terrible album, but it departs from their usually high standard.
Structurally, many of the songs follow the Remain In Light-era Talking Heads pattern of looping a bass and percussion section for the entire song and changing the other parts around it. This works very effectively on Joey's Camel and The Party thanks to quality lyrics, but just sounds repetitive on Snack Attack and Lonnie.
Some of the lyrics are just plain filler. The Problem is a recitation of a fictional maths problem 'If a man, A, who weighs 11 stone leaves from his home at 8:30 in the morning in a car whose consumption is 16.25 mpg etc.' ad nauseum - sure it's produced excellently and segues impeccably into the next track but who cares? And after that lovely segue into Ready For Ralph, the lyrics somehow get worse! 'Is the room ready for Ralph? The room is ready for Ralph, Ralph, The room is ready for Ralph etc.' One wonders why they bothered using lyrics at all.
Snack Attack's lyrics are slightly better, but just come across as amateurish proto-rapping with Godley's delivery being just plain annoying in some phrases.
Despite all these criticisms, this album actually delivered two UK top-ten singles for the duo, Under Your Thumb and Wedding Bells which are both excellent pop songs. Under Your Thumb is a pulsing yet mournful electropop tune while Wedding Bells is a motown pastiche with great melodies and great vocals.
Joey's Camel is the interesting tale of venturing into the desert to find the tablets of the ten commandments, finding them and then facing certain death. Obscure yes, but one of the best examples on this album where both the music and lyrics are interesting and compliment each other well.
During their tenure with 10cc, Godley & Creme were particularly adept at crafting 60's doo-wop and Beach Boys homages/rip-offs such as Donna and Rubber Bullets. So why is their doo-wop homage/rip-off from this album, Sale of the Century so bloody awful? This is so poorly conceived all it serves to do is seriously pull this album's average down.
The album closer The Party is a brutally cynical swipe at the vapid world of show-biz parties and music industry bullshit and is one of the few examples of subject matter on this album in which the duo actually had first-hand experience. Lyrically very funny ('You're a cocksucker Michael, You are what you eat David'), musically falling somewhere between Talking Heads and Ween, it's an excellent point to finish the album on. The boys were obviously a bit pissed off about their fall from grace and the remaining duo of 10cc finding a career taking their old band's name and making bland yacht-rock for 70's commercial radio. One of the characters in the song urges them to 'write yourselves a hit or three like I'm Not In Paris or The Dean and Me'. Well, they got two hits out of this album and a few decent tracks amongst excellently produced filler, but it just doesn't come close to the quality of their first three albums.

2 comments:

djethell said...

What? No download link? :(

Dave M said...

I've had "Joey's Camel" going through my head for three days!
I used to play it late at night on a radio show I programmed on CBC.
I share most of your comments on the lp. Kind of reminds me (sadly) of when Frank Zappa's albums started to lose my interest, around '74. A genuine (innocent?) sense of humour turns into rants and personal gripes.
But we had so much great music from both parties so I'm not complaining.