Even to 10cc fanatics, the early spin-off works of Kevin Godley and Lol Creme seemed challenging. Perhaps there was a strain of resentment – we wanted the art pop band back together, not two times 5cc. And while Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman were dazzling us with Feel The Benefit, this more technology-fascinated pair gave the impression of disappearing up their own gizmo. 1977’s triple concept album Consequences, with appearances by Sarah Vaughan and Peter Cook, was as out of step with punk as is conceivable, and critically panned. (Many now deem it a masterpiece.)
Yet the pioneering duo bounced back, as their former colleagues faltered, with the stream of six albums collected in this box set. They found a way to marry restless experimentation with their pop gifts. They still didn’t achieve much chart success outside the classic singles Under Your Thumb, Wedding Bells and Cry: 1981’s Ismism was the only album to break the Top 30. And perhaps we didn’t give them the respect they merited, perceiving them in the 80s as hotshot A-list video directors who made wonky albums in their spare time. But hearing this music now, their psychic grasp of where the form would go is incredible. They were prescient in stirring up electronic funk and spoken word with the dark wit and wordplay with which they’d graced their ex-band. You hear then-topical tinges of Trevor Horn, Tom Tom Club and Grace Jones in these tracks, but every time you relax they sideswipe you with another creative curveball. This box should come with a sticker – ‘Warning: your jaw is agape.’
They make ideas fun. It helps that they’re both lovely singers, lulling you into the shadowy sociological satire beneath their surface sweetness. L deals with depression and art school peer pressure; Freeze Frame (with Phil Manzanera and Paul McCartney guesting) may be guilty for inventing the vocoder. Asked if they’d used Eno’s Oblique Strategies here, Godley laughed, “We used dope strategies. There’s only one card. You use it as a roach.” Ismism is consciously cohesive, birthing the first two hits as well as The Party, a kind of miniplay. Birds Of Prey is streamlined synth-pop with existential lyrics, while History Mix is a glorious, bonkers attempt to blend their entire career into one mad mash-up. Creme was claiming they’d left the music biz a decade ago when their eclectic swansong Goodbye Blue Sky came out. Their brains were too peripatetic to settle in one genre, or indeed medium. That’s a given. The surprise is how much this body of work works your body too.