Neil Innes: How Sweet to be an Idiot review – Serious musicianship and songwriting craft

Reissue of 1973 debut album is an introduction to his jaunty, satiric pop music

How Sweet to be an Idiot
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Artist: Neil Innes
Genre: Pop
Label: Grapefruit Records/Parlophone Records

British musician and comedian Neil Innes died at the end of 2019, and in his passing we lost one of the building blocks of jaunty, satiric pop music. Never fond of the spotlight – despite being integrally associated with the Monty Python team, The Beatles, and pastiche stylists The Rutles – Innes was forever hampered with the "novelty" tag. In 1969, he nabbed an Ivor Novello award for best novelty song for I'm the Urban Spaceman, a sizeable hit for The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, but he longed to record original songs that would direct him (as quoted in the liner notes) "towards a situation where I don't have to be funny".

Now handsomely reissued (with several singles and additional tracks), his 1973 debut solo album introduces the listener to serious musicianship and songwriting craft that matches the work of then-contemporaries Little Feat and Randy Newman. Songs such as Lie Down and Be Counted, Momma B, Fluff on the Needle, and Immortal Invisible point to a talent that was, perhaps, too readily directed to where the money lay (comedic acting and writing).

The highlight, inevitably, is the title track, which is so perfect a Beatlesque pop song that in the mid-1990s Innes’ publishers (EMI) took Oasis to court on the basis of their single, Whatever, sounding, shall we say, ever so slightly similar.

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Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in popular culture