Reviews: XTC: Drums and Wires

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Drums And Wires

They may be a bit more subdued, but XTC are definitely of the same ilk that brought Elvis Costello to the forefront in the late '70s and early '80s. Drums And Wires is a turning point for the band, as they traded in a few members and went for a more controlled - but no less edgy - sound. 'Making Plans For Nigel' is their most radio-friendly hit among the bunch, but other tracks remind us why XTC is one of the smartest and most unique bands of their era.

April 1980

XTC / Drums and Wires (Virgin): Devo clones that sound more like the old Maxwell House percolator than like a rock band.

[Thanks to Shan Lines]

March 2004


Complicated games as Andy Partridge's Wiltshire weirdniks nuzzle new wave towards sonic innovation and taut, tense perspectives. Art-rock marries pop hooks and begets "Making Plans for Nigel". Proof positive that Brits can do cerebral funk without sacrificing blood, breath or buoyancy.

[Thanks to Jamie Lowe]


DRUMS AND WIRES by XTC (Released 1 Aug 1979)

* * * * * - Reviewed by DANIEL PRENDIVILLE on the 20 Feb 2003

You're a pop group at the cutting edge of a new musical genre that is sweeping the world. You've received critical acclaim for your first two albums and you've managed to create a distinctive musical style which makes your music instantly recognisable ... and then you lose a member of the group who was a key factor in forging that distinctive style. What do you do now?

That was the dilemma facing XTC after keyboard player Barry Andrews left the group, following the release of their second album, “Go 2”. Andrews' whirling, fairground organ flourishes, coupled with Andy Partridge's energetic guitar playing, Colin Moulding's taut bass lines and Terry Chambers' rock solid drumming style all combined to make XTC one of the most exciting groups to come to prominence during those halcyon days of the New Wave. Darlings of the critics, if not exactly setting the world on fire from a commercial prospective, XTC created catchy pop music that, for many people, epitomised all that was good in post-punk music.

But then the wheels came off the wagon, so to speak, when musical differences emerged between Partridge and Andrews during the recording of “Go 2”. This lead to Andrews' departure from the group and inevitably, the dilemma referred to already.

Under the circumstances, it would have been tempting to replace Andrews with another keyboard player, in order to maintain and develop XTC's distinctive musical style. In fact, Thomas Dolby was a potential replacement, but ultimately he never had to trouble the estate agents of Swindon in search of new digs.

As it happened, the solution to XTC's dilemma was very close to home. Dave Gregory had failed an audition to join an earlier incarnation of XTC (the legendary Helium Kidz) some years before, but his musical prowess on the guitar had impressed Partridge at the time, and when Andrews announced his intention to leave the group (in the middle of an American tour, as it happens), Gregory was the obvious choice to make up the foursome

Gregory's arrival led to a fundamental change in XTC's sound, as would be evidenced on “Drums and Wires”. Andrews' keyboard schtick was distinctive, but not particularly subtle - perfectly suitable for a bunch of musical oiks from the West Country, but not appropriate for a cutting-edge pop group with ambitions to produce challenging music. Gregory brought a whole new style to the musical mix. His subtle rhythm guitar work was noticeably different from Partridge's nervy, jerky guitar style. And Gregory's solos were very much in the classic rock mode. When “Drums and Wires” was released in August 1979, the world was listening to a whole new XTC sound.

“Drums and Wires” opens with the classic single “Making Plans for Nigel”, a tale of parental trammelling of childrens' ambition. The track reached No. 17 in the UK charts. “Helicopter” must go down as one of the great lost New Wave singles. The song was re-recorded for potential release as a 7”, (as were a number of other tracks on the album), but was never issued.

Other standout tracks on the album include “Roads Girdle the Globe” (where Partridge gets to air his well-known antipathy to the motor car), the oriental-influenced “Millions” and “Complicated Game”, which name-checks Tom Robinson and the recently-deceased Joe Strummer. Later releases of the album include “Life Begins at the Hop” and two tracks that are originally featured on a 7” given away with the album; “Chain of Command” and “Limelight”.

“Drums and Wires” is notable as being the high watermark of Colin Moulding's songwriting. While XTC undoubtedly has always been identified as Partridge's group, Moulding, against the run of play, had XTC's first hit with “Nigel”. Throughout the album, Moulding's songs are on a par with those written by Partridge, while not necessarily having the same level of quirkiness or artistic ambition. This lead to some jealousy on Partridge's part at the time. In subsequent album releases, Moulding's contributions have become fewer and have demonstrated a gradual withdrawal from the pop world. Partridge's song writing has matured over the years, and the sci-fi influences of earlier releases are now non-existent.

“Drums and Wires” was critically acclaimed at the time of its release, but was only a moderate commercial success.

“Drums and Wires” was followed in 1980 by the commercial “Black Sea” and the so-called “pastoral” “English Settlement” in 1982. Not long after that, XTC ceased to be a live act, following Partridge's well-documented stage fright.

Other groups have attempted to change their sound with various degrees of success. In most cases, the groups have suffered as a result (we all remember what happened to the Leighton Buzzards, don't we?). XTC carried off the change with great aplomb, and produced in “Drums and Wires” an album which is a classic of its genre, yet sounds remarkably fresh almost a quarter of a century after its release.

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Das Kultursyndikat
circa 2001

XTC - drums and wires (Virgin - 1979) ****

1979 war ein großes Jahr für die populäre Musik. Viel geschah und wurde umgehend in Musik überführt. Man kennt, wenn man es denn will, die ganzen Namen. Auch XTC gehörten ohne Frage zu denen, die sich in die Charts der Großen einreihten. Schließlich gelang ihnen der Hit, der auch heute immer noch gerne am ehesten mit XTC in Verbindung gebracht wird, und mit dem diese Platte, ihre Zweite, startet: "making plans for Nigel". Es erklingt so nett, in gewisser Entfernung nahezu harmlos, doch es arbeitet eine Groovemaschine im Hintergrund, die den Song gut geölt trägt. Nebenher besitzt "making plans for Nigel" einen bitteren, zu reflektierenden Text. Das Gallige der Wave-Jahre. Doch wer denkt, nach diesen wenigen Momenten könne das alte Vinyl wieder in die Mottenkiste, der hat sich geschnitten. Das XTC nun wirklich keine One-Hit-Wonders waren, zeigte ihre weitere Karriere, denn richtig große Hits wollten an den Kassen kaum mehr gelingen, dafür wurde ihr Output immer ausgefeilter. Hier, am Anfang, besaß man noch keine große Sammlung an Feilen, doch einen riesigen Zylinder voller kurioser und manchesmal aus zeitgenössischer Ideen. So ereilen den Hörer die musikalischen Hits im Achteltakt. Und wie: "helicopter", alle Achtung, "life begins at the hoo", alle Achtung, "that is the way", alle Achtung. "outside world", alle Achtung. Ich glaube, ich wiederhole mich. Das ist origineller Pop mit höchster Qualität. Dazu, ich schreibe dies nach der die LP-Veröffentlichung folgenden ersten Jahrtausendwende, auch noch zeitlos. Und wenn ich mich hier schon in höchsten Tönen lobend niederlasse, dann möchte ich den Hammer nicht verschweigen, denn mindestens ein halber Stern geht auf Kosten dieses Meisterwerks, das möglicherweise einer der genialsten Songs jenes Jahres gewesen sein muß: Colin Mouldings "complicated game", eine Meditation mit atomarem Explosivität. Hier swingt der Nihilismus, bis alles im Geschrei endet. Die später Sophistication der Band war hier tatsächlich erst später. Aber verdammt, ein Geniestreich! 

Wer XTC kennenlernen möchte, ist hier an der richtigen Stelle, um von diesem frühen Punkt aus dann die Geschichte dieser ausgefuchsten Band zu erfahren. Es lohnt sich. 

media nugget

Copyright ©1997-2003
Nugget Media
* music
February 9, 2001

Drums and Wires

XTC's third album was a turning point. Changing personnel (keyboardist Barry Andrews out, guitarist Dave Gregory in) and a new producer (Steve Lillywhite) provided the band with a more muscular sound. But what really made the difference on Drums and Wires was the rapidly developing songwriting skills of Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding. Quirky, jagged, insanely catchy gems like "Helicopter" and "Making Plans for Nigel" upped the ante considerably and set the stage for even greater things to come.

-- Tony Peltier


Dan Bryk
Liar Notes

In which pathetic, clingy, desperate Fanboy Dan asks his inspirations, rockstar* friends and just plain friends for a list of the ten recordings that rocked their world or changed their life, etc. etc.

This is an entirely lazy and subjective feature . ·.

* That's "Rockstar" in the Canadian mode: semi-obscurity. If you're not from Canada and don't know the recorded works of most of these people, we suggest you frequent the 'imports' bin or special order desk more often. If you are from Canada, SHAME! En generale.

Ron Sexsmith Chris Warren Dave Bidini
Arlene Bishop Chris Murphy Danny Michel
Howie Beck Lee Feldman Roger Peltzman
Chad Richardson Paul Myers Jeremy Robinson

Leave it to the former rock crit to write the essay...

Paul Myers XTC - Go 2, Drums And Wires
I was a teenage XTC fan. When punk rock came along I was actually feeling quite happy. A year before that I was seriously considering abandoning music. I had just discovered that the music biz was full of shit and all the bands were starting to sound like Foreigner or the Eagles. But along with punk came a shitload of creative bands that were blowing the cobwebs off of the whole idea of rock. On tracks like "Meccanic Dancing" and "Battery Brides", XTC were very dextrous and boisterous and had weird timing breaks and clanky, dissonant guitars and a singer who sounded to me like a yodelling pirate (the west country accent of Swindon's Andy Partridge) GO 2 was the one that hooked me, I went back and bought the first one White Music after that and within a year they'd moved into even fresher ground with Drums And Wires. They were now a two guitar band and Dave Gregory's more schooled, almost jazz, virtuosity was the perfect foil for Andy's brash experimentation. I still think that no one has since recorded anything as dark and yet hooky as "Complicated Game" or "Roads Girdle The Globe". Paul Myers

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