Their fourth album in as many years, by How Dare You! 10cc had mastered the art of balancing the conflicting demands of big hit singles with fiendishly clever art-rock albums. As commercial as glam rock, but still cleverer than the vast majority of prog-rockers, their formula worked, but it never made them any less ambitious or experimental.
Listening back to How Dare You! forty years later, it’s evident that 10cc were approaching critical mass at this point in their career. Their smartly produced intelligent pop had few peers beyond America’s Steely Dan and Sparks, but there was little escaping the fact that moments of the previous year’s Original Soundtrack had sounded like they had started to head towards a holding pattern. Perhaps there was only so far you could go balancing commerce with art. In fact, hell, why not write a song about that very concept? “Art for Arts Sake” was just the latest in a string of slick hit singles for them, however, when you hold it up against their earlier triumphs, for some reason it just didn’t sound quite as much fun. The same went for the other single on How Dare You! as well, as “I’m Mandy Fly Me”, which, although an accomplished slice of commercial soft-rock, slightly paled in comparison to what went before, despite the ambition of its multi-part arrangement.
Multi-part arrangements are a recurring feature throughout How Dare You!, which given the success that Crème, Godley, Gouldman and Stewart had enjoyed with them previously, is no great surprise. Taken as a whole the album displays the quartet’s undeniable skill at crafting ambitious pop that never went too far and stopped short of the pomposity of progressive rock. Well played, skilfully arranged and expertly produced, How Dare You! does everything you want a 10cc album to do, and it does it extraordinarily well. The thrillingly melodramatic “Don’t Hang Up” is worth the entrance fee alone.
Despite all this, I can’t help but get the feeling that in pursuit of sneakily clever studio pop perfection, they took their eyes off the joys of the well executed simple pop-single in favour of further experimenting. Listening back with the benefit of hindsight, it’s now tempting to hear Godley and Crème gradually upscaling their art-rock ambitions throughout How Dare You!, perhaps leaving the more pure-pop orientated Gouldman and Stewart to yearn for simpler and more accessible arrangements. It’s almost impossible to not listen to How Dare You! as the last hurrah for the original line up of 10cc, as the quartet would subsequently split in half, with Godley and Crème departing to experiment with gizmotronics and pop videos, while Gouldman and Stewart would continue on with the 10cc name, balancing ambitious pop with more straightforward offerings like “The Things We Do For Love”.
How Dare You!, no matter which way you slice it, is yet another clever slice of art-rock, done with a sense of style and well-placed self-confidence that few others had the ability to pull off. Roxy Music in particular, didn’t get anywhere close to being as subtly clever as 10cc did at their peak. Even the artwork is purposefully mundane in a cheeky effort to wrong-foot any non-believers (and they pointedly didn’t need to drape glamour models across their album covers to increase their popularity). While it may not be the band’s definitive release, How Dare You! is still an entertaining listen and proof, if any were needed, that 10cc were a genre all of their very own.