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WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN AND LOL
on 18 April 2014
'Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera has told Uncut he considers Lol "one of the two most brilliant musicians" he's ever known, "the other being Kevin Godley".' - Uncut magazine, issue 27, August 1999.
Theirs was an alchemical relationship, two very conflicting temperaments who creatively dovetail-jointed for over 20 years to produce a body of musical substance daunting, almost terrifying, in its brilliance. Yes, of course, there was the occasional clunker along the way, a false step, a dead end, but that's the price to pay when abiding by the code of the (m)independent - neither wear a uniform nor uniform be. Their lows were sub-oceanic but their highs were stratospheric. Deaf to the foghorn of fashion, immune to the record company whip, they defiantly ploughed their own furrow, perpetual (Pop) art students applying and enhancing the sonic palette of possibilities in the recording studio to their strangely co-individual vision. The boffins of bop.
The intensity of their collaboration was fuelled by cannabis. Stories abound of their having a football-sized lump of dope in the studio which would be constantly, and enthusiastically, referred to during recording sessions. The upswing to their adherence to chemical alteration was that the music they produced could not have been created by any other composer/musicians. The downside is that they have very little memory of actually making their own records. I had the pleasure of meeting Creme and Godley - separately, of course - a couple of times and found that, when asked about specific recordings, they would have no recollection of the circumstance or that they couldn't remember the song in question at all. Their minds were blown in the process of making mind-blowing music.
Like a master painter dedicating himself to his canvas and forsaking all else, G & C obsessively applied themselves to the making of one song at a time, and never abandoning it for the next one until it was satisfactorily completed. (This particular working method was anathema to The Boomtown Rats who were driven half-insane when G & C produced their 'V Deep' album.) A consequence of this methodology - plus their resistance to being tied to a set sonic template - is that, despite each song having its own definable character, it was often the case that structurally/musically/lyrically/contextually/conceptually it would be markedly dissimilar from the rest of their catalogue. This approach is hunky dory when hearing their individual albums - 'Consequences', for example, has as its unifying core a pre-rock'n'roll compositional attitude and the grand piano as its centre-staged instrument; 'L', beneath its Carl Stalling merrie melodies, is held together fast by its incisive, acute lyric attack and its bravura deconstruction of pop formulas; and so on - but the task of assembling a career overview (to whit, a compilation album) takes on a schizophrenic Jeykll & Hyde character. How does one find a balance? Will the inclusion of a harsh, clattering, seemingly tuneless experimental piece enhance or negate the presence of a melodic soulful ballad?
It's a problem which Daryl Easlea, compiler and essayist of this latest G & C collection, has obviously struggled hard but, to these lugholes, fallen short of solving satisfactorily. It's not simply that this 18-song CD replicates 10 songs from previous compilation 'Master Series' and almost the same, but not quite, 10 tracks from the 'Images' collection. And it's not that there are a couple of carpet-eating faults - '5 O'Clock In The Morning' very quickly fading out and thereby robbing us of its exhilarating conclusion; 'Sandwiches Of You' (the first appearance of a track from the masterpiece that is 'L' on a greatest hits album) sounding ever so slightly slower and lacking in the higher tonalities. And, no, it's not even the presence of 'Submarine' and 'Power Behind The Throne' (the former being an instrumental version of the latter). It's more the twin matters of overfishing from the same small pool and the track sequencing. Granted, the segue from a cappella 'My Body The Car' to the crashing 'Freeze Frame' (with its gigantic guillotine hi-hat slicing) is a masterstroke, but having three slow-paced songs almost in a row (the instrumentally-spare 'Golden Boy', 'H.E.A.V.E.N./A Little Piece of Heaven' and 'A Lost Weekend' only slightly interrupted by the swifter-but-still-mellow '10,000 Angels') brings proceedings to a stuttering halt.
Some artists' back catalogues can be happily pruned and assembled into greatest hits packages because they have chosen not to stray too far from their chosen path. Steely Dan, Nick Cave, Bob Marley, The Ramones, Roy Harper, ABBA, Roxy Music - the music they were making at one end of their career is not so bent out of shape and unrecognisable at the other. It's a different story for the likes of Elvis Costello - Exhibit A, your honour, his 'Extreme Honey' collection which, rather than displaying his gifts in a myriad of musical genres, came across as maddening, insufferable dilettantism. Godley & Creme, like Bob Dylan (albeit for different reasons), do not lend themselves readily to the compiler's scalpel.
The dream Kev & Lol collection for this olden boy would be a box containing all of their post-10cc albums - 'Consequences', 'L', 'Music From Consequences' (because it has a couple of different edits/mixes), 'Freeze Frame', 'Ismism', 'Birds Of Prey', 'History Mix Vol. 1', 'Goodbye Blue Sky' - plus an additional disc scooping up singles and b-sides (so we get the guitar-solo-free edit of 'Sandwiches Of You' - YES!!!!), another disc of stuff from the vaults (Phil Manzanera said that he had recorded a whole album's worth of experimental music with them - three tracks of which appeared on 'Freeze Frame'. IT MUST BE UNLEASHED!!!!!!), a DVD of their videos coupled with TV appearances (there was a 30-minute show called 'Puttin' On The Ritz' featuring them recording 'Birds Of Prey', plus in-studio promos of them miming to 'Mugshots' and 'Freeze Frame' from 'Whistle Test', PLUS 'Mondo Video' and - ohhhh - just throw everything in there), their book 'The Fun Starts Here', their (unfinished?) unpublished novel 'Bulls***', plus a song-by-song discourse by G & C (strap them to chairs and force them to listen to everything so we get a definitive remembrance). Is this asking too much? Or am I just an old wild man waiting for miracles?