Album Reviews


XTC - Virgin Remastered Series

I'm a self confessed XTC nut so the release of a "remastered" series of their output while with Virgin is a source of celebration for me, although not financially! XTC are the last great "English" band evoking all that is best in our blessed isle. (Blur) Andy Partridge is one of the few individuals in the last twenty years to try to produce something different with a guitar. However, in partnership with Colin Moulding, he stands out as a great pop songwriter.

White Music (1977) is art house punk par excellence. Short punchy riffs and a spot of melody amongst the attitude, as with "Statue of Liberty", a song bizarrely banned by the BBC for containing the line "and in my fantasies I've sailed beneath your skirts". It also contains a frenzied re-working of "All Along the Watchtower" and, my personal favourite, the classic "This Is Pop?". This album will always hold a dear place in my heart as it was the first LP I bought in my first week of college. Ah, memories! This reissue contains seven bonus tracks, mostly single B sides but make sure you listen to "Science Friction", the first XTC single and "Traffic Light Rock" which was only available on a Virgin 10 inch sampler LP.

8/10 (if only for sentimental reasons)

Go 2 (1978) was that difficult second album with the band starting their journey from punk to intellectual pop. "Meccanik Dancing" is staccato pop while "Battery Brides" is a forerunner of today's ambient vibes. "Red" is a raucous guitar thrash set to make you mosh and "Beatown" a classic slice of guitar pop. Overall, this album has a little too much experimentation to make it a personal favourite. However, the one bonus track, "Are You Receiving Me?" is almost worth the cost of the album on its own.

6/10 (7/10 with the bonus track)

Drums and Wires (1979) opens with the one track everybody (well everyone over thirty) knows, "Making Plans For Nigel". It is the first XTC offering to reveal their mellower side ("Ten Feet Tall") and also the smaltzy "When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty". The album ends with the band in more dangerous mood. "Scissor Man", with its broken beats, sounds like a return to the punkier days and "Complicated Game" is a slow burning emotional rollercoaster ending with Mr Partridge screaming his heart out. The three bonus tracks are of top quality. "Life Begins at the Hop" is a pop masterpiece and "Limelight" and "Chain of Command" were originally on a bonus 7-inch with this album.


Black Sea (1980) Is XTC hitting the big time with the hit singles "Generals and Majors", "Towers of London" and "Sgt Rock". This is their most accessible work with not a duff track in sight. "Respectable Street" and "Love at First Sight" are amongst my all time XTC faves. However the last track, "Travels in Nihilon" is experimental XTC, a dark almost threatening piece with a pounding drumbeat as a backdrop to a wall of noise. If you only buy one, this is your beginners guide. There are three bonus tracks of which "Don't Lose Your Temper" is the standout.


English Settlement (1982) is a pastoral XTC that spawned their biggest single hit "Senses Working Overtime". A double album, it has that feeling of quirky Englishness that bands like Blur have tried to emulate. "No Thugs in Our House", "English Roundabout", "Ball and Chain" and "All of a Sudden" are my selected standout tracks but there is plenty else to enjoy. "Fly on the Wall" shows their pop quirkiness and "Runaways" the sense of melody and harmony that has become their trademark. If you like English bands to sound English, this is the one to go for.


Mummer (1983) sees XTC established as purveyors of gentle thoughtful pop. The opening three tracks "Beating of Hearts" (which uses a Byrds like 12 string guitar sound), "Wonderland" and "Love on a Farmboy's Wages" are about as good as it gets. The latter is a pastoral delight that evokes Thomas Hardy rather than Foot and Mouth. This is their most acoustic style, which is understandable as drummer Terry Chambers had left the band by this time and was not replaced. One slight carp is that the album seems a little lightweight until the closing "Funk Pop A Roll" with its driving beat. The re-master contains six bonus tracks, but don't get too excited. The quality is not great (with the possible exception of "Jump") and these tunes have "die-hards only" stamped all over them.


The Big Express (1984) was a novelty on its original release, the album sleeve being round in the shape of a railway engine wheel. It also sees a slight dip in form. There are still some great tunes like "Wake Up", "Reign of Blows" and "This World Over" and there aren't any tracks I could say I don't like but the overall feeling was still disappointment. However, XTC slightly off form is still better than most and it's still worth adding to your collection. It also contains three bonus tracks of average quality.


Skylarking (1986) features the production talents of the great Todd Rundgren and the album bears his stamp in its sound and feel. The psychedelic "Grass" demonstrates the quality that should have gone into the later offering "Oranges and Lemons. "Earn Enough For Us" is a pop masterpiece that evokes the lyrical style of Squeeze's "Up the Junction" and "That's Really Super, Supergirl" and "Another Satellite" are the other standouts. It's a good one, but you can't help feeling that, given the talents involved, it should have been better.

8/10 (if only for the one bonus track "Dear God" which I'd say was one of their best and was a minor hit as a single in the USA.)

Oranges and Lemons (1989). Hmm. This one seems to be the one the rock critics regard as their best work. It merges XTC with their alter egos The Dukes of the Stratosphear, incorporating the latter's parody of psychedelia. The thing about parody is it's a joke and I don't think this one works. There are two superb songs in "The Mayor of Simpleton" and "King for a Day" and there are some decent tunes in the rest of the opus but it just doesn't hack it overall. I've tried to like it for eleven years now . . . and I'm still trying. However don't take my word for it, give it a try. No bonus tracks.

5/10 (because the two I mentioned are really good and "The Loving" is worth a listen).

Nonsuch (1991) was the last Virgin release and shows the boys back on top form. "The Disappointed", "Dear Madam Barnum" and "Then She Appeared" are all top tunes and the album shows a breadth of songwriting styles that Mr Partridge and Mr Moulding have achieved through working individually and together. "Wrapped in Grey" is also worth singling out as a mellow piece of mature Tunesmithery. As a curiosity, another great song "The Ballad of Peter Pumkinhead" was covered by the Crash Test Dummies and featured on the soundtrack of the movie "Dumb and Dumber".


I hope that a few of you youngsters out there will be tempted into buying some of the above, or at least downloading some. I regret that seeing XTC live is no longer an option after Mr Partridge had some sort of breakdown in 1982 and swore never to tour again. A great shame this, as they were a great live band. What are they doing now? Still working and have released a couple of albums in the last twelve months after a hiatus since 1991 when they have been in dispute with Virgin Records. Check out Wasp Star, their latest, and the three or so minutes of pop perfection that is the song "Stupidly Happy".

Good listening!

Author: Mick Round

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[Thanks to Mosher]