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Rich men make poor record
on 29 June 2012
And I so wanted to love this album...
In 2007 Stiff Records released the single 'Barking Up The Right Tree'/'Freeway' by The Producers, a quintet of pedigree studio-tanned musos and knob-twiddlers including Lol Creme, a musical hero of mine. So what if it registered lower than a flea's fart on the cool-o-meter? It meant a lot to me to hear Creme sing his first lead vocal on record since 1979. To promote the single, Creme, Chris Braide, Trevor Horn, Stephen Lipson and Ash Soan went on a world tour of Camden, playing some great club gigs.
And then it went quiet. The word was the band had changed their name to U.S. or US or 'us', and that Braide had left the line-up.
And then it got loud again in early 2012. With name shorn to Producers, they embarked on a tour of music colleges, prefacing their gigs with Q & A sessions. And, verily, the gigs were terrific. Their remake of Bowie's 'Space Oddity' was a marvel.
So what's the problem with the album? In short: Chris Braide. His anaemic, characterless vocals and insipid doggerel lyrics (prize howler: "Did you wake up alone at the end of an endless night?") ruin the album - or, at least, the songs he 'sings' (if you can call it singing; the vocal tracks have been through all kinds of audio washing machines to remove all traces of warmth and humanity). But he is not wholly to blame; it lays on the shoulders of Creme, Horn, Lipson and Soan, too. In the past five years, did any of them pipe up with a "Hang on, this song is absolute codswallop. Can someone come up with better lyrics than this vague drivel?" When you consider the track record of inventive, imaginative records Creme co-wrote (from the jokey 'Life Is A Minestrone' to the heartbreaking 'Lost Weekend', taking along its way the spiritual 'Desperate Times', the four-minute suspense movie 'Lonnie' and the frankly bats 'The Problem') or the ambitious, acute Horn co-compositions ('Elstree', 'The Plastic Age'), their decision not to dispose of Braide's souffle-brained twaddle is bewildering and self-sabotaging. One gets the impression that no-one was willing to take a tough decision.
Here's Lol's brother-in-law Eric Stewart talking about having written 'I'm Mandy, Fly Me' with Graham Gouldman: "It just wasn't going anywhere. But, enter from stage left, ha ha, the "wicked villain" Kevin Godley, twiddling his moustache, says "I know what's wrong with it. [...] I think it just gets too bland, it just goes on. Your verses and your middles and your der-der-der, they're all going on the one plane. What it needs is someone to go 'Bash' on the side of your head". So we changed the rhythm completely, and we put two whacking great guitar solos in there, in the middle of this quiet, soft, floaty song. Once we'd got that idea in, it just gelled into something else." The problem with Producers is that it seems that no-one was willing to upset the apple cart in the same way that Godley did in the furtherance of the music.
The album is not entirely without its charms, however. 'Freeway' (slightly different from the original 2007 model) is colossal and majestic, driven by Soan's jet-powered supercharged drumming. 'Barking...' (again, augmented with extra instrumentation) is a low-key delight, an optimistic ray of sunshine that slightly helps counteract the woe-is-me, sadness-about-nothing-in-particular Braide bolleaux. 'Garden Of Flowers' is a Horny highlight, with impressionistic lyrics skipping lightly over an accessible progular arrangement. (There's a spunkier alternative take on the bonus disc.) G & C bores such as myself might be amused to find the riff for 'The Flood' from 'Consequences' propping up the otherwise vapid 'Your Life'. And, on the bonus disc, 'Seven' - a kind of Yes-with-a-vocoder piece about dating agencies - is a good song that's actually about something.
The rest of it isn't worth the bother, I'm sorry to report. Yes, I know Chris Braide is the most successful songwriter in the universe and he's won twenty zillion awards, but all those award-winning songs are bally rubbish, too. His work is of such facile wimpitude he makes James Blunt, by comparison, seem like Henry Rollins. 'Man On The Moon' doesn't deserve to share the same song title as the epic tracks by Sugar and R.E.M. A more fitting title would be 'Bozo In The Bin'.
I take no pleasure in writing this review. Lol Creme is a genius musician, truly, truly brilliant (seek out 'L', 'Consequences', 'Birds Of Prey' and all the other albums he made with Godley, ye doubters and naysayers) and Horn, Lipson and Soan are no slouches - although the twits who Frenchified Lol's name as Crème in the booklet should have their nipples soundly tweaked - but this album is a severe disappointment. It's horrible being tough on one's heroes but they should have been tougher on themselves. Perhaps what they needed was a producer...