“Their run of mid-70s hits were bona fide, pop-literate, soft-prog gold… but warming to their deeper cuts is a far tougher task”: 10cc’s 20 Years Box Set

 10cc - 20 Years box set.
10cc - 20 Years box set.
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Populating a phone’s music library with 10cc essentials is easy. Their run of mid-70s hits were bona fide, pop-literate, soft-prog gold. But as this exhaustive 145-track, 14-disc, all the albums, plus single edits, B-sides and alternatives box set reveals, warming to their deeper cuts is a far tougher task.

As far as 70s bands go, they’re as unsalvageable as a budgie jacket, but as is often the case with repertoires of similar vintage, their signature hits are rose-tinted with lashings of seductive nostalgia. Unsurprising, as this is exactly the purpose for which they were designed; Donna, Rubber Bullets and The Dean And I hark back to an idealised 50s America in the form of sock-hop doo-wop, Jailhouse Rock retread and prom-smooch-to-midlife- breakdown soap opera, respectively.

10cc songs weren’t so much written as contrived; constructed by four multi-tasking musos in thrall to Sgt Pepper-era Beatles, who could all comfortably and confidently sing lead, write and produce. So, while a shared Tin Pan Alley sensibility held sway, complexity, busyness and an overarching air of too-many-cooks battling to make their mark on every single song renders much of their output self-defeatingly hard to hum.

But staying with The Beatles, Kasenetz-Katz bubblegum vets Graham Gouldman, Eric Stewart, Lol Creme and Kevin Godley are all McCartneys. They can conjure up cleverly worded, commercially targeted heartstring-strumming couplets all day long (I’m Not In Love, I’m Mandy, Fly Me), but lack the gritty Lennon passion necessary to truly rock their roll.

They’re also always trying to be funny, and often by using uncomfortable, very 70s stereotypes; 20 Years is a virtual travelogue of unwisely-deployed accents and route one lyrical puns (Life Is A Minestrone, Dreadlock Holiday).

Things simplified after Godley and Creme disembarked in ’76, but Stewart and Gouldman never quite managed to capture the infuriating, imperfect magic of the preposterously ambitious original four-piece.

20 Years is on sale now via Edsel.