XTC Beginning Round Two

"Don't call it a comeback, I hate that word!" cries Andy Partridge, keystone member of XTC. "Call it our second trip to the shops." Or, more simply, the breaking of a seven-year silence.

One of Britain's most inventive bands, XTC has been making fascinating, idiosyncratic music since 1977. There's been only one XTC album in the Nineties, though: Nonsuch, which appeared early in 1992. For much of the ensuing time XTC have been sitting out their contract with Virgin U.K. -- a five-year recording strike, in effect -- while continuing to write new material. When they finally inked fresh deals for their Idea label last year (they recently signed to TVT in the U.S.), writers Partridge and Colin Moulding had amassed more than forty songs between them.

But recording their eleventh album has hardly been a stroll in the park. Record companies dissuaded them from cutting the double CD they had in mind, saying it would be both expensive and tough to market, but Andy thought they'd try anyway. However, according to Andy, initial sessions had to be scrapped when the tapes were retained by Squeeze's Chris Difford following a disagreement over time in his studio. Plan B involved dividing the songs into two separate albums: one of what Andy calls "orchoustic" songs -- XTC unplugged with a full complement of strings added at Abbey Road -- and another of more typical, electric material.

"I think the orchestral feel follows on from the best stuff on Nonsuch," is Andy's explanation of this strategy. Unfortunately, that didn't satisfy guitarist Dave Gregory, who couldn't wait any longer to take his instrument out of the case and quit the group in favor of session work.

"He accused me of making a solo album," says Partridge, "and hasn't spoken to me since. There's a lot of anger in Dave, and I think he's demonized me for not touring [XTC have not stepped on a stage since 1981]." Partridge -- who has a reputation for being an intractable chap in the studio -- sounds genuinely bemused by this turn of events. "We used to be good friends," he sighs, adding that the tracks Dave worked on before his quitting will be left as they are.

One manager and a producer have also decamped, but now Partridge and Moulding are happily occupied in Colin's front room putting finishing touches to album one before mixing begins. Andy thinks they may remain there for the second album too. "Colin has a big double garage he doesn't use. I'm trying to persuade him to convert it into a studio. So it's back to the garage for us!" The orchestral album -- as yet un-named -- is currently scheduled for January 1999 with its successor close on its heels in July. (Jim Irvin)

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