You think you know what to expect. That bloke who had some hits in the seventies with his band and a couple more in the eighties with his mate, has made a solo record. I know what you’re thinking: He’s probably flicked through his Rolodex, roped in a bunch of his famous pals and squeezed in some studio time between exaggerated reminiscences and really long lunches.
It’ll be full of songs that look back at a past that never was or blearily squint at a future that will never be. It’ll be easy on the ear and will sell enough vinyl albums to buy him a new set of wheel trims for his Bentley. How wrong you are.
Kevin Godley’s first solo record in a recording career which started in 1964, sounds quite unlike anything he’s done before. Or indeed, like anyone has done before. Rather than calling up a bunch of the usual suspects to collaborate with, he went to Twitter and asked if anyone fancied sending him something to sing over. From the 250 replies he received, he picked 11. Those 11 tunes became “Muscle Memory.” Spoiler alert: None of them sound like “The Dean and I.”
On “Muscle Memory”, Godley resembles a cross between Salvador Dali and Larry David. He’s pissed off and grumpy, but is bursting with creativity that sticks out at crazy angles and flies off at tangents. If you thought some of the stuff he did with Lol Creme was a little outré, this will turn you inside out.
The good news is Godley’s voice is remarkably unchanged. Here’s a Pop Fact: Despite having the best set of pipes in 10cc, he never took the lead vocal on any of the hits. How weird is that? In 2020, his trademark vibrato is intact and he hits all the notes just like he did in the dusty parts of the seventies.
The other good news is that all the songs on “Muscle Memory,” put that voice in the middle of everything. On “One Day,” a cold cynical, look to the future of pop music, he manages to make words like “algorithm” sound beautiful. “I can’t wait” he sings; “Can you?” You know he’s lying just by the tone of his voice.
If you want carefully ordered compositions, made up of verses, choruses, and beautifully modulated middle eights, you’ll leave dissatisfied. Instead, Godley uncurls melodies over these tunes, which dodge and dart into unusual places, often avoiding the kind of conventional, linear format we’re all used to.
“Expecting a Message,” the album’s opening track, combines what The Young People call “glitchy beats” with a stream of consciousness lyric that Beck would die for. It’s clear from the outset that this isn’t going to be easy listening. Did I mention he was pissed off?
“Ghosts of the Living” floats a set of just plain nasty lyrics over a gently pulsing, trip-hop backdrop. “They’re always dying to see you / To see you die.” Nothing is giving Mr. Godley much joy, it seems, but at least he has the good taste to tell us about it in an interesting way.
He’s certainly not happy with the POTUS. On “Bang Bang Theory,” the 45th president gets a pretty severe kicking. After sharing his catalogue of wrongdoing with us, the Prez asks “Have we gone too far?” “No Mr. President”, he replies to his own question. Even the drum machine sounds angry.
You’ve got to go back to Godley and Creme’s 1978, misanthropic masterpiece “L”, to hear Godley in a mood like this. “Business is Business” from that record is reprised in “Cut to the Cat” on “Muscle Memory.” Media buzzwords collide with each other over a robotic pulse, as a demented marketing executive argues with himself about how to make scenes of degradation appealing to the mass market. “Everybody loves Grumpy Cat – R.I.P,” he says. Do they? Do they really?
Only on “All Bones are White” does the album falter slightly. Despite having all the ingredients that make the rest of the record so great, it just falls short of the mark. A minute shorter and a few B.P.M. faster and maybe it would work.
Fortunately, it’s followed by “Periscope”, one of the records standout tracks. Shockingly, it’s almost a traditional song, with Godley turning in a soulful vocal line and a heartfelt lyric about a man who’s withdrawing from everything. It’s at this point, you remind yourself that Godley has just done one of the best vocal performances of his life at the age of 75.
How many times have you bought a solo album from a member of a band you love, only to listen to it once and then diligently file it away, never to be played again? This is not a pale photocopy of another band or another partnership - this is something new and full of invention and surprises.
You will either love it or “tut” disapprovingly and move backwards into the back catalogue. The truth is that Kevin Godley, at a time in his life when he should be curating legacy releases of the hits he had a lifetime ago, has made a strikingly original piece of work. Risks have been taken. Preconceptions have been shattered. His work is done.