Andy Partridge, XTC and The Arrival Of Greatness

by Craig Thomas

I have a friend in America who a year ago was as dimly aware of XTC as he was about the sex life of the Pomeranian Dwarf Hog. Recently - and it was in the form of some sort of confession - he felt moved to tell me that he now actually preferred XTC to Steely Dan.

This is significant for a couple of reasons. Firstly the bloke is a real Dan head and the band really do chime in with all his east-coast sensibilities. For him, listening to Black Cow is to have his whole weltanschaung reflected back at him on a plate. Loves all that dry, laconic wit like you wouldn't believe. The second point is that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are arguably the second best songwriters of the modern age in America bar none. As I said earlier, this is so if the music is your thing, though their lyrics in their cynical, detached way are literate, humourous and deeply admirable.

The right to sit on the Monarch's throne is Brian Wilson's. Rivals for the honour of sitting at his right hand there are many. You have Dylan - but his importance is almost entirely for his lyrics - early Band, the mid-seventies greatness of a couple of Little Feat albums. For wit there's Randy Newman, Paul Simon for his melancholic richness and emotional intelligence and James Taylor if you love sweet folk with an occasional soul and rhythm 'n blues twist. There is Joni Mitchell, the supremess of modern song poetry with an ability to re-tune her guitar so as to throw great melodies and a terrific command of harmony at you. The northern continent (Joni is Canadian as were 4/5 of The Band) has also produced writers of tremendous quality and influence: Neil Young and Tom Waits for example. David Crosby could have been a great contender too had he not had such a penchant for shoving all his money and most of his talent up his nose.

Outside of the song, Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart have also made a considerable impression on British musicians and writers ever since their pioneering work hit the scene (this is not to forget for a second that none of these would have produced the colossal amount of music they have without the blues, rhythm n blues and soul of Black America and then the white indiginous folk music of Woodie Guthrie,Hank Williams and others). But anyhow, Steely Dan, whether you believe they're the finest practioners of the modern songwriting art or not, is his favourite band. Or was.

This fellow is also a lover of jazz and has a passionate thing for bluegrass, so he hardly needs the likes of you or me to intrude into his listening habits with a band with a twenty-odd years track record. The music of Andy Partridge (principally), and Colin Moulding has though, invaded his mind and his soul or if you will, blasted a hole in the careful assemblage of his typically male mental parade of musical champions. It took about a three and a half months of frantic, yet judicious cross-Atlantic postings. See, two blokes from Swindon, a nondescript town in the twighlight corridor of industry and chalky farmland due west of the capital, have produced a quantity of music that can do this to a hoary old listener, scrambling up to the top of the pecking order of his choices to a position of ultimate supremacy. Yet here's the thing. Every time he thinks about it, he shakes his head and says to himself, a year ago I'd never even heard of them. Where did the hell did they come from? (from Swindon, obviously).

What makes the XTC torch carrier shake their head too is the thought that this outfit is also as good as unknown in their own land. They know that Andy Partridge, residing there still in his hometown for most all the year - he is resolutely not a musical performer - can walk to his local shop for a paper or a bottle of milk, or sit there in his favourite drinker without anyone being aware that there sits the greatest songwriter and record-maker since John Lennon and Paul McCartney used to show up at Abbey Road studios on an extremely regular basis in the sixties.


If you're in the wrong mood you can easily drop into a miserable 'send a strong letter to The Times' frame of mind about this, questioning the very values upon which our precious western society is based. It then helps if you happen by accident to sit in front of a documentary on Schubert, supposedly the greatest writer of song in all human history, and learn that his music was completely unknown to the wider world throughout his short lifetime. Such is life; such is western society. Plus ça change, and all that.

One also begins to ponder what may well be an eternal truth about music which is that vast commercial success usually cuts the artist off from the cord connecting him with the celestial forces which produce great art. For the history of XTC has been the history of class struggle between the artist and the towering might of the record company. Signed to a bad, bad contract from the off in 1978 as the four piece from Wiltshire rose through the surface of the swamp of hundreds of post-punk groups to the attention of the industry, success with charting singles and critically lauded albums never translated into decent money. What turned financial struggle into semi-penury for three quarters of the band in the early 80s was the inability of the Partridge psyche to accept the insane rigours of the album-tour treadmill. His nervous system went kaput and XTC immediately became a studio band only, a position from which they've observed the outside world ever since.

There are tempting parallels here with the two groups which Partridge's bears comparison with: The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Brian Wilson's nervous system also broke down, first in 1964, under the pressure of an over-demanding workload, both physical and mental. The Beatles, as everyone interested in their story knows, also gave up the concert stage for the studio-factory. This comparison with the two greatest producers of music of all time is a suitable leaping off point for a discussion of XTC's music, for although the latter is a lousy fit in terms of the timeline of popular music, in terms of quality, they fully deserve to fit into a holy triumvirate of music creators. Their albums of the late 1980s and 1990s contain the most musically profound and profoundly satisfying work of anyone operating in the pop-rock area since Wilson's mid-Smile collapse in late 1967and The Split of 1969.

There is though, a substantial historical difference that separates Partridge (and Moulding, who is the lesser of the two writers by a distance) from his great predessors. Whereas Brian Wilson and Lennon & McCartney burst upon the scene as young tyros: Wilson barely out of his teens in '63 and the Liverpudlians still only a year or two past voting-age, Partridge as a creator of great music served a much longer apprenticeship. It is fascinating, though futile, to dwell for a few minutes on whether, had he been born contemporaneously with his musical peers, he would have made an impact on popular music of any scale. At first sight it seems as though the facts of his early career don't fit this grand comparison, but rather jar. XTC never had a number one single nor album. They never did and never have made the 'big breakthrough' in any recognised terms. The young Partridge and Moulding were only nearly-pop stars, failures where Wilson and his group of brilliant harmony singers, and Lennon & McCartney's The Beatles were outrageously successful. These Sixties Gods also share the historical virtue of having more or less invented modern music as we know it. Could Partridge have established himself as a writer and record-maker had he too been born in the late-1940s?

The answer would be 'sure, why not?' The case against would be built upon two things: the slowness of his early career and more importantly, I think, the fact that he only began to write brilliant songs and create great music in his thirties and crucially after he had fully absorbed the whole recorded output of The Beatles, the early solo work of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and the halcyon years of The Beach Boys. Surely, then, he was too reliant on the greatness of others for his own output.

The case for the defence confidently asserts that the genius of the two non-pareil groups of the sixties did not exist in its own pocket of isolation. Indeed, Brian Wilson created what he did because of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, while similarly, Sgt Pepper and subsequent Beatles music was not possible without Brian's Pet Sounds or indeed his earlier works. Pet Sounds itself was only possible because Brian had his head knocked over by the brilliant consistency of Rubber Soul. It is very easily to forget that no music exists in the pod of an artist's own head space, that cross-fertilisation is constant and crucial.

How Partridge would have fitted into the world of the sixties is, in reality, anyone's guess. He would have much in common with Lennon and McCartney though. Like them he was untrained and untaught, was born with the germ of musical greatness inside him. Like them he was working class (though much is made of Lennon's bourgeois origins these days, father Freddie Lennon was your classic prolatarian ne'er do well) and possessed the great drive and determination characteristic of many with huge talent from beyond the gene pool of the so-called elite. This is where the discussion stops, however. For the Partridge admirer, though, it is awfully hard to discard the thought that he would have thriven in the headiness and brilliance of the London scene of the mid-sixties; that to have been caught up in the starburst energy of the times wouldn't have seen him up there and out there with Jagger, Richards, Davies, Townsend and The Beatles. So, to have been born later might actually have been a burden for Andy Partridge. He came to the fore on the wave of a new surge of energy but that force contained a negativity that cannot have been entirely helpful. Further, his peers, though talented up to a point and their primal energy and drive entirely admirable, were second rate. The wave was stale beer to the Champagne of 1964-5 for someone who was always going to do more than make an earth-shaking noise that would destroy the complacency of the English rock n pop biz.

Somehow it seems completely prophetic and apt that this youth-Partridge was known to all and sundry around him as 'Rocky', after McCartney's 'Rocky Racoon' which for a while he played constantly to friends and anyone at college who would listen.

Whatever. The facts are these: Andy Partridge was obsessed with music as a teenager, flunked school, played in teenage bands and was an essential component in one which had enough energy, spunk and talent to get chased by a few well known record companies. Gradually, an edgy, nervously challenged music mellowed and developed, more like a great curry than a fine wine, into a serious and intelligent one. Their sound consisted of acoustic and electric players: non-writing Dave Gregory was a thoroughly skilled guitarist and handy keyboard player; Colin Moulding played more than proficient bass and had an apparent knack of writing good, hooky pop songs; Partridge could play good guitar, and sang with a distinctive voice, full of character and depth. The key to the growth of their music was the imagination and exploratory energy and intelligence of the two writers, especially Mr P.

By 1980 they were on the verge of significant commercial success after building a reputation as a live band of considerable weight and skill. They had just produced a critically acclaimed album, Drums and Wires, an effort that clearly showed their ability to write music with would liberate them from a new wave cul-de-sac and send them to the lands of the universally and highly admired, musical pidgeon hole irrelevant. Then the commercial catastrophe. On tour in Los Angeles, after a severe psycho-physical episode at a Paris concert hall which all-but completely incapacitated him, Partridge refused to continue. Because he couldn't, because he didn't want to be racing round the world like a performing puppet. He went home, in effect mid-nervous system breakdown, and began a road to recovery.

Fortunately this involved continuing to write music. In the eighteen year period between 1982 and 2000, he made eight legitimate albums with and as, XTC and two mini-albums of Sixties pop pastiche. It was in 1989 that he or they, released the record which showed to anyone prepared to notice, that he had, perhaps finally, perhaps at last, achieved greatness: 'Oranges and Lemons' was released.

Did the financial struggles of these years turn talent into sublime skill? Now off the treadmill and with a reservoir of pain and grievance to nurse or tap into, and an oasis of time in which to dip the bucket, Partridge wrote better and better songs, and in the studio, conceived and delivered increasingly well-thought out and well-executed pieces of music. 1982's 'English Settlement' saw a move away from pop into a new hybrid of styles, among them folk which was even more pronouned on the following year's 'Mummer.' The fact that thousand upon hundred of thousand punters were not going into record shops to buy them led to more awkward attempts to arrive at some sort of commercial landmark of recorded music: the one which would place them where, say, The Police had been and Dire Straits were now. The search for the perfect producer - Partridge was considered too autocratic to be trusted on the bridge of the boat by the other two - may or may not have moved the band forward. 1984's 'The Big Express' was loud and bombed. 1986's 'Skylarking' can be written up as 'the saga of Todd Rungren and Andy Partridge'. Approved by the critics, it failed to stir, or more likely reach, the listening public and made two thirds of the band miserable. Partridge and Rungren fought each other, Moulding tried to quit. Virgin Records' place in all this was to maintain the band on a miserable, not to say inhumane royalty rate and chronically under-promote the band and its music. With Partridge still implacably refusing to walk the stage walk they could all too easily fold their arms disapprovingly and concentrate on other bands who were more than prepared to gad about the world making the corporation a shit load of greenbacks.

Ironically or embarrassingly, either side of these traumas they made two short records of pretend psychedelic pop. The red faces were not because the music produced was lamentable, but that they outsold the previous two XTC albums. Dukes of Stratosphear 2 XTC 0. In the case of most bands, such a confusion of contingencies would have unleashed a drastic realignment of the band's resources and direction. But XTC carried on regardless. Two years on from the release of the two Dukes minis as one Compact Disc in 1987, XTC released a work of seventeen tracks. Instead of being just another XTC album, it was 'Oranges and Lemons.' If you want to go looking for the best English music since 'Abbey Road' up to this point, and the best songwriting, place your weary soul and exhausted backside on something soft and journey no further: it's right here.

Music is, I know, like the sublime, in the eye of the beholder. But if you want to dissect, pull apart music and start examining it for its strengths and weaknesses, technical and otherwise, it is possible to come up with some sort of rank order. You might try to start thinking of music as furniture for a while. Look at what skill has gone into its design and then its crafting. There is wood texture, there are joints. There is decoration and quality of finish. We might not all like the end product in our front room, but we can still accept and admire the quality of a great piece of work. For example, I would never listen to a U2 album out of choice, but I would agree that The Edge is a highly skilled and imaginative operator of the guitar and that their records are terribly well made*.

*I also think The Edge should have stopped wearing hats trying to kid us he's not bald about ten years ago.

Much of 'Oranges and Lemons' is made up of great music, superb songs. It has taken years as plodding teenagers mastering the basics, then a lift to a degree of competence commensurate with performing on a stage, then a ten year recording career for the makers to get here. Long years of painstaking rehearsal and often painful recording have in the end though, done their job. The skill and skills required to craft tremendous music have been practiced and practiced. They've developed like muscles, tendons become used to stretching and twisting any way you need. For all the lack of national recognition, the rows strewn across the place with record company nit wits and each other, the marriage difficulties and ill health, musical development, progression, flowering has taken place. They spend days, weeks, months in the studio with a hot producer/mixer. They won't know it yet, if ever, but the magical thing is happening. They are in the process of making truly great music. There is time here only to talk at length about one track: a single which disappeared down the sewage system faster than the time it took for anyone to notice it was there. A song which it's composer, Partridge, seems to have little time for. Fine. Track 2: 'The Mayor Of Simpleton.'

This is a song which not only belongs in a essential text book on how to write a song and then how to arrange and present it, it's inclusion would actually flatter the text book.** Rhythmically it just appears to be a medium-fast 4/4, 'common time' as it's called. In terms of pop writing this would be with perfect justice as around 99% of pop songs are to be found in this, practically bog standard time signature, as omnipresent in the genre as a beer to a serious US biker.

However, when you go de-constructing the best music, especially what sounds superficially simple or straightforward, its effect is produced by deploying the unorthodox. This we have here in abundance.

Firstly, you'll find that there isn't a drum track to listen to as such. Listen closely and you'll only hear a snare drum, squarely up front in the dead centre of the mix, and a loud tambourine doing the job of a hi-hat (which is only subliminally present) playing eight notes a bar and driving the whole piece along. There are few frills or breaks from the drummer, just an occasional emphasizing of a musical and lyrical statement using the snare and an additional crash cymbal. Boring? No. Someone in the studio knows, or has sussed out that the unchanging nature of the percussion part gives the whole track tremendous forward propulsion which impacts on the listener in a big way.

To further the point concerning unorthodoxy, there isn't a bass drum to listen to, which breaks one of the most fundamental rules of pop/rock music of all. Neither is there a bass guitar track to speak of for much of the time. Moulding's bass is there in every bar but in the introduction and the verses it's used as a lead instrument to announce a key melodic figure of the piece. Elsewhere the bass part is superbly rich in tone, and works fabulously providing the percussion track the rest of its power, its muscle, its essential bottom layer. This is the work of not only intelligent studio practitioners, but experienced ones.

Once this tour-de-force foundation is in place, there is every chance of a great piece of music being made. What then of the other two pieces of jig saw: harmony and melody?

The chord-structure of the song is as simple as Three Blind Mice with a twist. Without the twist, it's not going to be a great piece of art, even though the apparent two chord simplicity of the verse no doubt helps to make this a rare event: a great piece of happy music. Partridge's expert knowledge of chords, built up over time, enables him to give the song a crucial change of gear at the end of the chorus. The device is a fairly simple one, taking the song - suppose it was written and played in the key of C - out of the root key (C) into D minor via an A7. The movement from major to minor (or vice versa) has been used countless times in the history of western music because of the fact that its sound produces a cerebral reaction, no doubt biochemical, which is very satisfying. Without it here, the song will have been bland; with it, it's a different story. He uses the technique again in the bridge, but to lesser effect. However, the rest of the song is so great, it's a terribly minor blemish. It helps too that Partridge's vocal during this middle nine bars is typically passionate.

For almost all the piece though, the song is just four major chords, mostly only three and it takes a great writer to get away with it and one with a great melodic sense. Partridge proves that he has it now in spades. To do it, someone between the three band members and the producer, Paul Cox, had two bright ideas: firstly of putting in this bass melody instead of Moulding holding down the chords at the bottom of the song and secondly of having Dave Gregory's guitar playing a nicely inventive picked figure which only suggests the simple chords we think we should be hearing rather than plonking them onto the table in the obvious way most other bands would. The effect on the ear is subtle and keeps the ear pricked up or perhaps stroked. It follows one of music's apparent golden rules: if you want to be great, avoid the obvious. And if you need to know why that is, it's because the obvious produces the bog standard. When working on a Partridge song in 1989, this is axiomatic. Years ago his ears alone (probably) taught him this.

The composer is further assisted by another considerable talent: in both verse and chorus his ability to create great melody is all over the listener's ears. Most remarkably, the melody line is almost trapped within one single octave. However, because the composer has a great natural sense of how to use rhythm to augment that line, here, via various vocal bends and sways, great use of triplets and an ability to work off Moulding's bass guitar quavers, it emerges as an absolute triumph. The chords might only be dressed up junior school ones in a short trouser combination for much of the time: Partridge however has an ability to hear, to create an inventive flow of spirit-raising melody. This is way beyond the laughable Schubert, one of our elite's most outrageous cons from the last century.

So, even though the man himself has dismissed 'The Mayor of Simpleton' as being superficial, 'too simple', he's doing down his own work and taking his own enormous talent and songwriting know-how for granted (this doesn't matter to us of course: this attitude produces a loss for Andy, not the listener - though it perhaps explains why he is making records and most of us are not- it can help never being satisfied).

There are three other very good reasons why the composer shouldn't denigrate a wonderful piece of writing and recording. The singing on the track is Partridge at his best. He hasn't a beautiful or conventionally noteworthy voice - he has rarely sung with a suggestion of vibrato for example- but often it's devastatingly attractive. He sings in the American style - apart from the 't' in university instead of a 'd' on the last consonant - and to superb effect here on both the verses and the choruses, which see him moving into the upper register where his singing is full of character, control and clarity. It's neither warm nor cold, soft nor harsh. Perhaps its best feature is the fact that it sounds entirely unforced, never trying to manipulate the listener. It's the sound of a completely honest musician and probably honest bloke; someone in the studio always just singing their nuts off and doing nothing less than their absolute best, distracted by nothing in the world outside. So in the end what we get sounds entirely natural, something capable of carrying the emotional content of the song with exceptional directness. No small attribute.

Secondly, in the vocal department we also some really fine counter melody harmony composing, something he probably learned from the work of Brian Wilson. It's just used twice on this track, between the lines of the second and third verses but it works wonderfully: a falling run of notes that sounds uncannily like a pealing of wedding bells if you pick the notes out yourself on an instrument. This device, aurally very exciting if well executed has been much underused in popular music since the late-sixties and although one accepts that it's one which may be a piece of particularly subjective judgement, it is hugely to Andy Partridge's credit that he uses it on this song and elsewhere on 'Oranges And Lemons.'

Which connects us to the third and final reason: the song's lyrics. Partridge has also pointedly dismissed these in print, but from the point of the critic and punter he's way, way out. He may not be able to relate directly to the protagonist when he tries to tell us he's basically stupid, which the composer is a long way from himself indeed, and in the end lyrically the song might be emotionally negligible. However, in writing the words for 'The Mayor Of Simpleton' he proves himself to be a great lyricist in that he uses them and selects them to brilliant effect. There are many examples of superlative, unusual rhyming which by the by build the imagery of his extended metaphor outstandingly.

Take the last verse:

'if depth of feeling is a currency then I'm the man who grew the money tree'

Or an earlier verse,

'I can't have been there when brains were handed round or get past the cover of your books profound'


'Well I don't know how many pounds make up a ton of all the nobel prizes that I've never won.'

If not every line is a peach it's doubtless only because the song didn't mean all that much to him personally. Even then, seemingly workaday parts of the lyric are peppered with great single lines, phrases and images: 'learned degree', 'when logic grows cold and all thinking gets done..'. And just listening to him getting away with phrases which on paper look cumbersome and unsingable: 'never been near a university' and 'crossword puzzles that I just shun' one justs laughs and admires the man. The composer would also do well to remember that the essential message of the song does stand up: we are all of us, bar none, no matter how stuffed full of school certificates and 'learned degrees', capable of behaving and going about our business with the most alarming stupidity. We are all Mayors of Simpleton.

However, in songs, lyrics are far more than what we read on the printed page: they have an extra dimension. As well as thinking about any meaning the lyric has which connects with our lives, our brains process the sound of the words. Much of the time they have no effect on us beyond their literal meaning, but if the artist is good enough the sound of the word itself and the way the word conjoins with the melody smacks into a part of the pleasure centre of the brain. 'The Mayor Of Simpleton' has a stock of these: the way the word 'university' is split into seven sung sections, with marvellous vertical elasticity at the end of its musical phrase, 'when logic grows cold and all thinking gets done..' (again) sung over those languid triplets, the sliding 'learned degree' (again) and 'money tree' (again), the luscious chopping rhthym of 'getting one'. The repeated refrain of 'Mayor of Simpleton' itself has a wonderful warmth and a softness that is so pleasing too (try singing it to yourself when you get half a chance).

The effect of this sound of words may or may not have been produced accidentally but it's more than likely that a writer such as Andy Partridge, whether cognisant of the fact or not, chooses words for much of the time because they sound 'right' when he sings the new song through. Indeed, at the pen and paper stage he will have edited and eliminated other single and combinations of words which don't please his musical mind, which failed the inspector's test. In this particular case it's beyond dispute that it's his flowing gymastic melody lines and his easy, natural sense of rhythm as a singer which produces the said effect, providing the piece with one of its biggest strengths.

Finally. Even if Partridge himself were trying to use 'The Mayor Of Simpleton' to convince a jury that he was not a great songwriter, there is another place where his pedigree would lose its disguise. This is where we hear him trying to finish the song. It's a fade out, but it's a fade deluxe, a five star workout and another object lesson in the art of song writing. A little over three minutes into the song, three verses, four choruses (one strangely following the bridge before moving into an extra third verse - there's nothing like twisting the arm of the rule book behind its back so it screams with pain when you're becoming one of the greats) and a bridge all done and neatly polished, he moves into a coda, repeating a line about being upstanding for his mayor which he used in the counter melody. But instead of doing what the other nine hundred and ninety nine writers in the trade would do: repeat this to fade, where we think we know exactly how this ditty is going to leave us he produces this little conjuring trick: on the next 'mayor', three quarters into the musical and lyrical line he holds the 'mayor' chord and leaves it hanging and hanging, when by rights and our ears it should be changing to the next word and chord.

It gets better. It's a new chord, with a new base line underneath and a new three part vocal harmony holding 'mayor.' But the next part of the trick is that you can't pin down the chord. If in the key of C it should be an F chord on the word 'mayor', but it's such a wild variation with another wriggling melodic bass line and an extra layered harmony singing 'please be upstanding for the Mayor of Simpleton' turning up to really put the boot in, it appears as if there is no chord, just this fat trickling of waterfall sound teasing and pleasuring your ears. The richly harmonic chiming guitar figure is even further out than it was before: more added to the trick. And cannily, the percussion track hasn't moved; it's as rock solid and as driving as it's been all along, no doubt the thing which prevents us from being unsettled and disturbed by the aural event. We don't want this if we're supposed to be part of this scene where some female is being warmed by the arms of the mayor.

This endpiece separates the amateur from the professional or moreover, the mediocrity from the master. It's a piece of thinking which shouldn't be beyond the wit of most writers, but somehow, it is: how rich would we all be if we had a tenner for every repetitive fade out we have in our collections?

So Mr Partridge can say what he likes: fact is, 'The Mayor Of Simpleton' is indisputably great music. It's a song of such rare stature that you can put it on practically every day and be immediately uplifted and quietly pleased with life all of a sudden; as soon as that snare smack attacks you before the sparkling metal of guitar and the wandering melodic bass rush at you as a prelude to Andy telling us with those rolled and curled 'r's that true enough, he's never been near that university. In what passes for my collection, it's almost unique: it sits there on the shelf like a pleasure weapon. I know that any time I want I can put it on and all of it, words, singing, instruments and music, the whole sound of it is actually going to put a smile on my chops and take me on a short journey to Happy Planet. And when you're battling through the rigours of middle age, that is one huge thing, man.

A final point about 'The Mayor Of Simpleton.' It's not even the best track on the album.


After 'Oranges and Lemons' XTC made one more album (another huge one if difficult to deal with for the first few years, 'Nonsuch' in 1991) before they felt compelled to go on strike to try to break the Virgin stranglehold. Almost a decade later they re-emerged with two albums (Apple Venus Volume One and Wasp Star) which only served to confirm the contention of this essay: that Andy Partridge is a master songwriter and maker of music in an age where there are almost none. The world of modern songwriting is, for the most part a walk across barren wastelands that stretch on to infinite empty horizon. Every so often there is something of quality to distract you from the way and provide you with some desperately needed relief. But the space between them consists of hundreds, thousands of blank miles.

New masters are all but a thing of the past. We traverse the middle years moaning like our parents did to us about the loss of music. There'll never be another Sinatra, Ellington, Irving Berlin, they said. It's not like it was. The history of art has probably always been like this, generational wars destined to repeat themselves til the end of time. But modern music is scarcely changing. It doesn't seem to have any space or a body to evolve into something entirely fresh and new. What happened to orchestral and chamber music, and jazz, is surely happening now to 'pop' music. The only way is around in a circle or directly back into the past. In the future the genre will develop only in historical terms in the same way 'classical' music and jazz has: it's own pantheon of untouchable greats will be created. So far there is only Lennon & McCartney, Bob Dylan and perhaps Brian Wilson (in white music anyway). The list will lengthen. And one day there will be Andy Partridge and the music of XTC. You can bet your house on that. Pity we won't be around to collect our winnings.

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This article is Copyright © 2001, Craig W. Thomas, and is provided for personal use only. Copying or distributing this work is prohibited.