One of the annoying things about brilliantly obscure and hard to find music is how brilliantly obscure and hard to find it is. From the liner notes: “In nature, there are neither rewards nor punishments – there are Consequences.” ~ R.G.Ingersoll, 1833-1899
This promotional poster by
Philip Chudy turned out to
be disturbingly prescient
The other day, I was transported to a surreal yet somehow comforting place I hadn’t been in years. No, I didn’t drop acid or hit the clubs on ecstasy, I borrowed a turntable from a friend so I could listen to their exceptionally rare vinyl copy of a brilliantly eccentic triple album released in 1977 called Consequences. Somewhere in the obscure soundscape between seventies art rock, the hallucinatory audio comedy and Joycean satire of Firesign Theatre, the silliness of Monty Python, the otherwise non-existent art form Jazz Opera, and Bubble Gum Pop lies the unique experience created on this album by Lol Creme and Kevin Godley. You’ll be forgiven for never having heard of it; although it is in a way a masterpiece of its era, in this case “its era” means the days of lush and meandering exploration of sound and story in the form of a rock opera. The term “rock opera” doesn’t really do it justice though; it is in fact often referred to by its die-hard fans as a “movie for the blind”. Aside from the relative obscurity of its creators (something I’ll get back to below) and its daring and experimental approach, the release was probably more doomed to obscurity by the timing of its release. One of the more popular sounds in 1977 was the dull thud of dinosaur rock finally stumbling to its death, a sound only subtly masked by the sound of aging white guys hitting the studios to churn out the year’s biggest hits like The Grand Illusion by Styx, Billy Joel’s The Stranger, Point Of Know Return by Kansas, and that death certificate of rock and roll, Foreigner. At the same time, groups like The Sex Pistols, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Blondie, and The Ramones were signaling the wave to come. Even if it weren’t so peculiar, it stood little chance of getting listened to at the time.
All the same, I’ve never understood the obscurity of the duo that created Consequences; you would probably know them best from their time with the British pop group 10cc when they produced the band’s biggest hit I’m Not In Love , or long after they left the band, from their club hit of the late eighties Cry (both videos below). But especially in the years between 1977 and 1980, they produced a series of utterly brilliant recordings (like L and Freeze Frame) which fused the musically sophisticated jazzy quirkiness of Frank Zappa with hook-laden excursions into almost Beatles-esque psychedelia, all framed with lush production and vocal harmonies that were later more or less cloned by Queen with much greater commercial success.
One of the most compelling things about Consequences is that it creates an eerie feeling of pre-existing backstory. As weird as its vocal characterizations (delivered by British actor Peter Cook) are, there’s a familiarity to it all. If you’ve ever seen the equally obscure film Buckaroo Banzai, you may have some sense of what I mean. And there’s a similar reason for this sense of stepping into a story that was going on before you got there; much like the writer of Buckaroo Banzai had gone through dozens of iterations of the script before it finally got picked up, Creme & Godley spent thousands of hours in the studio reworking the material. In fact, the release wasn’t originally intended to be a three disc, two hour epic; it started out as a promotional single for the guitar gizmo they had invented, aptly named the, uh, Gizmo. The rather fascinating expanded story of how this all happened can be found in Mr Blint’s Attic.
And if I’ve piqued your interest, now I have to apologize. Although the album was remastered and re-released on CD in 2000, the versions available on Amazon right now are over $200.00. If you’re prone to do so, you can probably find a torrent though, and although the medium hardly suits the “ambient radio theater” format of the material, all six of the full-length segments can be found on YouTube starting here.
You may know Godley & Creme from their eighties club hit Cry …
…or their influence on 10cc’s I’m Not In Love. Try to ignore the mullets and cheesy video montaging.
Here’s a clip where Lol Creme talks about their device the “Gizmo”