Neil Innes – How Sweet To Be An Idiot

Innes - How Sweet To Be An Idiot

I have said this before, but now it is true more than ever: The world needs an idiot with a duck on his head and a piano

In a sad irony, the opening track of Neil Innes’ last solo album, ‘Nearly Really’ was called ‘Old Age Becomes Me’. Alas, that was not to be as he left us aged 75 on December 29th only a couple of months after that final album was released.

Before his untimely death, he was also working with Grapefruit Records on the definitive and much needed reissue of his debut album, ‘How Sweet To Be An Idiot’. This album is shock full of Innes’ carefree charm and warm humour, and, if you have a bit of patience with the first few songs, it offers up some absolutely cracking Beatlesque pop songs.

Squeezed in between higher profiled releases he was involved in from both Grimms and Monty Python, it seems the album got lost in the shuffle. 

In fact, it almost feels as if Innes himself didn’t really focus on it all that much; to me it seems that the LP almost plays out like a rehearsal session. It starts with a short and wonderful vignette, as if just to state what the album really will be about, but then all of the original A-side of the album is filled with what feels like warm-up material, a boogie, a blues number and so on. The band, however, are hot from the get go and Ollie Halsall in particular is a delight to the ear.

But then comes the original B-side, and here we have the actual album, one pop wonder after the other. Fittingly, the side begins with the title track, and what a masterful song it is; starting with the heartfelt lyric about the idiot, then changing tack and turning into something from Sgt Pepper. 

And frankly, every track on the B-side is brilliant. My favourite may even be the somewhat shuffling ‘This Love Of Ours’, sounding a bit like an outtake from the Wings album ‘Venus and Mars’ if that album only had been recorded two years earlier.

Unfortunately, as if Neil had somehow forgotten how short and LP is or how many sides it has, the whole thing then ends all too quickly, tellingly with ‘Singing A Song Is Easy’.

I say tellingly, because intentional disregard of quality control is almost a hallmark for Neil Innes; he was so talented and inspiration came to him seemingly so easy, that he took it all just as it came. That is also why he (allegedly) described the album sessions himself like this: “If a track didn’t happen after four or five run-throughs we dropped it and went on to another one.”

If someone had been there to exercise stricter control, things would most likely have been different. When Innes a few years later made the Rutles album, he had to mimic the Beatles’ quality standards, hence that album is great from start to finish. So great in fact, that in the end lawyers forced him to hand over the song writing credits to Lennon & McCartney, despite none of the songs actually copying a Beatles song in any technical sense. It sounds crazy but it is true.

But this reissue also has a quite worthwhile set of bonus tracks, consisting of singles from the 1973-75 period.

I for one am very glad to get to hear “Music From Rawlinson’s End”. Although it is an instrumental track, I am a bit of a sucker for anything and everything connected to Vivian Stanshall’s Rawlinson’s End project!

The disc also contains a couple of other single tracks that I didn’t have; and the greatest find among those has to be ‘What Noise Annoys A Noisy Oyster’, which shamelessly rhymes “oyster” with “moisture”. Pure genius!

You need an idiot with a duck on his head and a piano. Maybe you just don’t know it.

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