Paul, Sean, Liam and Pany continue our epic four-hour conversation from last week with this exhausted hour tackling Eric Stewart's last musical offerings: Do Not Bend (2003), Viva La Difference (2009) and Anthology (2017).
It's a joy to hear Liam's account of his eight hours in Eric's home studio in France, hearing brand new tracks from the album slated originally as 'My Dear Friends'. This gives a key insight into the premise of the 2003 follow-up to Frooty Rooties. They're ostensibly songs written and recorded about - and for - his friends and neighbours: Norman, Fred, Audrey, Yves, Nettie et al. Perhaps this is why the album struggles to work in a wider public context? But we highlight two songs in particular which do translate better in the world outside Templar Studios. Sleeping With the Ghosts and Set in Blancmange have some real saving graces.
Three of us agree that the follow-up, Viva La Difference, is more successful. This is in no small part down to Eric returning to social commentary for some of his lyric inspiration. 10cc fans will sense familiar territory here, with targets that include financial corruption, injustice, homelessness and racism. Opener Gnomes Sweet Gnomes is perhaps the most successful at hitting its targets, odd as they are. Sixties Prime Minister Harold Wilson coined the 'gnomes' tag to refer to the Swiss bankers who were manipulating the currency market at the time. Eric is both snarling and having fun with this track, we sense. Down By the Palace tackles the gulf between the luxury of the ruling classes contrasted with the poverty of the homeless living in the same borough. The title track champions racial diversity. So in many ways this album is a partial return to form, and this is certainly true of the highlight track We Are Not Alone. Musically, there are echoes of the more interesting production touches of 1982's Frooty Rooties. And this is not just a shallow 'Close Encounters' premise; Eric is pondering big existential questions here, his place in the universe and the depths of his emotions, the macro and the micro. Ultimately, most questions are left unanswered.
You won't be surprised to hear that Sean has a lot to say about Eric's production choices here, especially on the 2017 compilation. He feels that Stewart has simply been a bit over-eager to tinker and tweak at the knobs. Suffice to say that Paul and Sean have really struggled with these two records. We're hugely grateful to Pany and Liam for their positivity and objectivity; we genuinely think that this episode tries to give a balanced view, and praise where praise is due.
Next time round we're thoroughly excited about our conversation with Graham Gouldman about his lesser-known 60s exploits, with his 10cc episode coming quickly on its heels. Happy days!