Palpable's Domain 
- Music
   february 2002


Quite possibly my vote for most underrated band ever, XTC has been around since this mid-70's creating some of the most creative pop/rock the world has probably never heard. Every now and then, they have scored a minor hit in the US (their most famous was 1986's "Dear God", followed by "Senses Working Overtime" and "The Mayor of Simpleton"), but for the most part they have been a cult band. The most obvious band to compare XTC to are the Beatles, and not just because I think they are that great - XTC's music is nearly 100% Beatles inspired, with a more modern twist, of course. It is surprising they have not had more mainstream success, though; their music has always been accessible despite its complexity. I highly recommend that everyone check this group out. Stupidly, TMBG's song "XTC vs. Adam Ant" got me to check them out.

English Settlement
Although this is something of a transition (this album marking XTC's transition from New Wave punk to more pastoral Brit-pop), it's a pretty good album in its own right. All three singles ("Ball and Chain", "Sense Working Overtime", "No Thugs In Our House") are top-notch, and many album tracks subtly catch the ear after a few listens ("Jason and the Argonauts", "Yacht Dance", "Knuckle Down"). Andy and Colin make one major misstep each. Andy's is the very awkward "It's Nearly Africa", which sounds more like a spoof of African tribal; Colin's is the buzzing "Fly on the Wall", which is as irritating as the insect narrating the song. Without these two tracks, each song has at least one thing great about it, often more.

The Big Express
The fact that this is my least favorite XTC album that I've heard says just how much I love these guys. It is the worst because the material isn't consistent throughout. A couple of songs in the middle (not so surprisingly, the bonus tracks), "Blue Overall" and "Red Brick Dream", fall flat on their face while the closer "Train Running Low on Soul Coal" gets kinda annoying. Those aside, the album kicks ass. "Wake Up" features a guitar riff used almost as percussion, "Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her" instantly brings to mind a gloomy day at the beach, and "This World Over" is the best song the Police never wrote. You may want to start with a different album, but this is by no means a bad purchase.

Often considered by the critics to be their best album, Skylarking has recurring themes of nature and the life cycle. Many of the songs have melodies and lyrics dealing with this. The album flows astoundingly well and production is wonderful, especially for an album the band was disappointed with when it first came out. Can't point to any specific standouts other than their skeptic anthem, "Dear God", but that's only because it feels out of place (it was tacked on). This album works better without standouts anyway; it feels like a song-suite, as cliched as that sounds.

Oranges and Lemons
Missing the thematic unity of Skylarking, but the songs on this album are consistently better. "The Mayor of Simpleton" and "King For a Day" are two of my favorite songs ever - both couple extremely infectious guitar melodies with clever lyrics, and the album closer, "Chalkhills and Children", is a near-psychedelic trip with unusual structure and melody and colorful, descriptive lyrics. From start to end, there is something to love in every song, except the plodding "Here Comes President Kill Again". If you like the band's latter day work, you will love this album, but newcomers shouldn't start with it.

Rag & Bone Buffet
If you're willing to do some digging through this 24-track B-sides and rarities compilation, you'll find plenty of lost gems. The beautiful "Mermaid Smiled" (kicked off of Skylarking to make room for "Dear God") somehow combines acoustic guitar, vibraphone, and bongos to create something resembling the sea, the funky "Extrovert" has an un-XTC-ish horn kick, "Thanks For Christmas" has some unpredictable and unbelievably pretty chords in it while still is as accessible as any Christmas song, and "Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen" is one of the quirkiest and silliest songs ever. But for every minute of good song there is half a minute or more of unfinished sound garbage, making this a very uneven listen.

What Skylarking was to Sgt. Pepper, this album is to the Beatles' White Album. It has a sprawling assortment of songs and no real connection between them. This may prove frustrating for a few listeners, but I think most people will just enjoy the variety and top-notch songwriting that this album has to offer. "Peter Pumpkinhead" is a power-pop rocker that will undoubtedly get your head bobbing; "My Bird Performs" is breezy and laidback guitar pop; "The Disappointed" is Beach Boys-inspired goodness set to a shuffle beat; "Crocodile" mixes country, rock, a ratchet, and clever metaphorical lyrics to awesome effect. This continues for a total of 17 wonderful songs. Buy this album!

Upsy Daisy Assortment
When XTC were at their best, they were unbelievable. I love their albums and regard them very highly, but I always felt their best songs had an impossibly high quality to them. That's why this collection works so amazingly. It captures their best moments and crunches them onto one disc. While I must admit I don't listen to this album now that I own most of the proper albums, this album simply cannot be beaten in terms of quality and accessibility and serves as the perfect introduction to the band despite a few not-so-obvious selections ("Seagulls Screaming", "Earn Enough For Us").

Apple Venus Vol 1
Sigh...another amazing XTC album that will get bought by about a dozen people. This album was the long awaited return for XTC after seven years of no new material (they had some problems with their record company), and I think it's great. They even decided to use a daring new approach; every song is a mix of acoustics and orchestra. The album consequently has a very natural, pastoral feel that immediately recalls the greener moments of Skylarking. This set is just slightly weaker than Skylarking, but the unity is there. Highlights include the lush "Easter Theatre", peppy and folky "I'd Like That", and grand "I Can't Own Her".

Wasp Star: Apple Venus Vol 2
While this has one of the lowest ratings on here, this might be the place to start for neophytes. The songs on here seem suited for today's alt-pop generation. Don't assume this means XTC has sold out or anything; this is definitely an XTC album. But songs like "I'm the Man Who Murdered Love", "Playground", and "Stupidly Happy" (which sounds a bit like Third Eye Blind's "Never Let You Go") come the closest to alt-pop this band ever has, both utilizing alt-pop-ish riffs and progressions. Those songs still sound great, but they just aren't as complex or inventive as the XTC of old, or even the XTC of Apple Venus Volume 1. For this reason, the album merely gets a good rating. The few songs that are inventive unsurprisingly became my favorites: "My Brown Guitar" uses strange verse chords and a bouncy chorus, and "You and the Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful" with its tribal rhythm and honest, heartfelt lyrics is very freeing and bright.