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Five Favorite Tunes of Andy Partridge, Issue #813, May 1999
Suzanne Vega: Days of Open Hand, March 22, 1990
The 100 Best Albums of the Eighties: Skylarking, Issue #565, 16 November 1989
XTC Tour Report, June 1989
The Year in Records, 12/17/87-12/31/87
XTC Gives Pop a New Twist, February 21, 1980
Album Reviews
XTC: A Coat Of Many Cupboards, April 2, 2002
XTC: Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2), Issue 842, May 2000
XTC: Apple Venus Vol. 1, Issue 808, Feb. 23, 1999
Martin Newell: The Greatest Living Englishman, 1993
XTC: Nonsuch, Issue 631, May 28, 1992
XTC: Oranges and Lemons, Issue 548, 3/23/89
XTC: Skylarking, Issue #496, 26 March, 1987
Brian's Children (XTC: Skylarking), 1986
XTC: Mummer, Issue 418, March 29, 1984
XTC: English Settlement, Issue 368, April 29, 1982
XTC: Black Sea, Issue 336, Feb. 5, 1981
XTC: Drums and Wires, Issue 312, Mar. 6, 1980
The Who, XTC "Freak" Out, Aug 27, 2004
XTC, Apples Frontmen Unite
Really Random Notes: XTC . . ., November 9, 1998
Random Notes: Aimee Mann, Jan. 27 1994

Geek hallway

The Who, XTC "Freak" Out

"Freaks and Geeks" finally has a soundtrack

The long-overdue soundtrack to the cancelled cult-favorite TV show Freaks and Geeks is due September 14th. Like the show, the twenty-five-track compilation is a celebration of all things late Seventies and early Eighties, featuring tracks by Rush, Styx, Joe Jackson, Joan Jett and XTC.

During its eighteen-episode run from 1999 to 2000, Freaks and Geeks (now available on DVD) frequently integrated music into scenes, most memorably when a school guidance counselor gives a captive audience of students an unwanted acoustic performance of Alice Cooper's "Eighteen" and when the parents of characters Lindsay and Sam discuss the meaning of the Who's "Squeezebox."

"We always tried to put in songs that seemed honest to what our experience was," says executive producer Judd Apatow. "One of my favorite uses of music is when Bill is home after school and his parents aren't around, and you get the sense he's a latchkey kid. He makes a grilled cheese sandwich and gets a piece of cake and a glass of milk and he watches The Dinah Shore Show and you hear the Who playing 'I'm One' as he watches Garry Shandling do stand-up comedy. He's laughing his ass off, and you realize that TV is his best friend. It's his companion."

Apatow's life was not much different. "I used to go home, watch The Mike Douglas show and eat grilled cheese sandwiches," he says. "It was an important part of my childhood, so I would try to tell those stories using the music I listened to. I would have been listening to Quadrophenia back then, so it felt right."

For the original songs performed by the characters, Apatow and Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Feig would often have the actors write them themselves — as was the case with Jason Segal (Nick) and the cringe-inducing "Lady L."

"It is one of the worst songs ever written," says Apatow. "He barely knows how to play an instrument, but he's so talented that he could write something that funny and that bad. It was perfect, because that's what a kid would write."

Freaks and Geeks: Original Soundtrack track listing:

"Bad Reputation," Joan Jett
"Geek Hallway," Michael Andrews
"Poor Poor Pitiful Me," Warren Zevon
"Lindsay's Theme," Michael Andrews
"Keg Party Music," Michael Andrews
"Look Sharp!," Joe Jackson
"Clem's Theme," Michael Andrews
"No Language in Our Lungs," XTC
"Lindsay Disturbed Theme," Michael Andrews
"Bill Gets Funky (a.k.a. Spacefunk)," Paul Feig
"USA Rock," Michael Andrews
"The Spirit of Radio," Rush
"Daniel's Theme 2," Michael Andrews
"I'm One," The Who
"Porno Music," Michael Andrews
"Neal's Lament," Michael Andrews
"The Groove Line," Heatwave
"Ken's Ode to Joy," Michael Andrews
"Come Sail Away," Styx
"End Title Theme," Michael Andrews
"Lady L," Jason Segal
"Eighteen," Dave Gruber Allen
"Jesus Is Just Alright," Jason Segal and Sara Hagen
"Up on Cripple Creek," Dave Gruber Allen
"Dumb as a Crayon," The Leaving Trains

(Posted Aug 27, 2004)
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A Coat Of Many Cupboards

RS: Not Rated

2002 Virgin Records

A Coat of Many Cupboards is essentially a collection of oddities from oddities. XTC are rock's greatest unpopular pop band, and they carry that cross because they've never quite been able to bring themselves to streamlining a song's arrangement or a lyric — and, oh yeah, they stopped touring twenty years ago. Like their recent Homespun and Homegrown demo releases, this four-disc box set shows the band's Virgin Records output in various stages of undress — before dual singer-songwriters and studio perfectionists Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding can fuss with them. There's a solo take of "Senses Working Overtime," which finds Partridge fumbling over hit frets and his falsetto; a super-jumpy live run through the jerky dance track "Meccanik Dancing" recorded in Australia; and a charming early draft of "Mayor of Simpleton," with plenty of "do do do dos" subbing in for unwritten lyrics. Of course, the real treasures are the unearthed B-sides like Moulding's restless pop cacophony "Sleepyheads" (a Drums and Wires outtake) and Moulding's bouncy ditty "Didn't Hurt a Bit" (a Nonsuch outtake). What's in Cupboards is a must for all XTC fans. The rest of you are urged to buy all their records — they're being re-released soon.

(April 2, 2002)
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XTC, Apples Frontmen Unite

Andy Partridge and Robert Schneider writing songs together over phone

Likes them Apples

XTC architect Andy Partridge doesn't get out much, so for him discovering and jamming with another musician means listening to a CD in his living room and strumming his guitar into his telephone receiver. This is exactly what he is doing with Robert Schneider, fellow bespectacled alterna-popster and de facto frontman for Denver's Apples in Stereo.

Partridge got his hands (and ears) on the Apples' catalog and was so impressed that he contacted Schneider, and now the two are writing songs together. "They work together a few times a week and are on the phone a couple hours at a time . . . sometimes more," says a spokesperson for Partridge.

The fruits of Partridge's and Schneider's transatlantic labors will appear on Schneider's debut solo album, which is expected in the spring.

As for Partridge's other pursuit, he and bassist Colin Moulding, the other half of XTC, will spend this year writing songs for the follow-up to the band's 2000 album, Wasp Star (Apple Venus, Pt. 2), with an eye on a 2002 release.

(January 25, 2001)
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Issue 842, May 2000

★ ★ ★
Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2)
Idea/TVT, 2000

Most of us forget the slights and setbacks we endured at recess. Not Andy Partridge, the principal singer-songwriter of XTC. On "Playground," the ripping first track on Wasp Star, he sifts through long-ago humiliations for clues to his adult personality. As a festival of childish voices taunts him, he recalls being "marked by the masters and bruised by the bullies," and eventually concludes that "you may leave school, but it never leaves you." Such a reverie is vintage XTC, but it would quickly grow tedious if pumped up into the kind of florid pop symphony that this veteran British outfit employed on last year's Apple Venus Volume 1. Instead, Partridge and Colin Moulding return to basic rhythm-guitar rock on Wasp Star, following the contours of their tracks' melodies, resisting the impulse to endlessly embellish — these twelve songs are streamlined, uncluttered miniatures. They don't all rate with XTC's best (that would be a lot to ask), but an age-old lesson runs through the groaning blues of Moulding's "Boarded Up," the deliriously elongated phrases of "You and the Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful" and the knotted tension of "My Brown Guitar": Sometimes you really can say more by playing less.


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Issue #813, May 1999

Five Favorite Tunes of Andy Partridge

The Beatles-Rain
It's certainly got buckets of fire. It seemed to have everything you wanted from all the individual Beatles: some of Ringo's loosest, most exciting drumming, great, bulldog-teeth-in-your-groin guitar tone; Mc Cartney's most acrobatic, melodic bass. It's that snapshot of them right before they tip over and start to slide down.

Burt Bacharach- Casino Royale
Distressingly perfect. This seemed to be the best side of the music of my parent's generation. It's like somebody distilled sunshine and made it into a piece of music, like someone got a yellow crayon and played it.

The Kinks- Autumn Almanac
It's like a little minioperetta or something without any pomposity, like half a dozen tiny little songs. They pass you on from hand to hand, which in my opinion is perfect songwriting. It's like this decaying, beautiful garden gate somewhere in an English suburb, set to music.

Honeybus- I Can't Let Maggie Go
It's almost the perfect pop song - just acoustic guitar, bass and drums, chugging along midtempo. It uses the sort of melody and chord changes that you wouldn't hear outside the classics or jazz. It's got a sweet resignation to it.

Judee Sill- Kiss
One of the crimes of the century is you can't get this record on CD. Judee Sill was by all accounts a reformed prostitute, but she found God in the twelve-string guitar. This song scares the shit out of most people.

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Issue 808, Feb. 23, 1999

★ ★ ★
Apple Venus Vol. 1
TVT, 1999

XTC couldn't go on strike for seven years and just come back to the same perky pop. To celebrate their twenty-first year of releasing tensely crafted, genre-busting gems, Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding recorded a sampling of symphonic would-be show tunes. Apple Venus Volume 1 packs the wit and nerve that made their rock snap but does it with brass, acoustic guitars, violins, woodwinds and minimal percussion. (Volume 2, due out later this year, promises more wattage.) Those beloved Fab Four references still surface on Volume 1, but instead of evoking the Sixties, Partridge and Moulding suggest a timeless pastoral past rich with melody and subtlety.

The protracted studio process nearly destroyed these New Wave graduates: Guitarist Dave Gregory left the band, and producer Haydn Bendall abandoned the sessions. Yet what remains ranks with XTC's best. A succinct, vitriolic spew aimed at Partridge's ex-wife, "Your Dictionary," in particular proves that Swindon, England's favorite sons can — even without amplification — sire more feisty allure than alt kids half their vintage.


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Really Random Notes

XTC . . .

The XTC of recording again.

Their self-described half-decade "recording strike" now officially over, XTC are hot on the publicity path for their new box set (Nov. 17) and upcoming orch-pop record, Apple Venus, Vol.1 (late January '99), both to be released on new Stateside label TVT. Singer/guitarist/songwriter Andy Partridge and singer/bassist/songwriter Colin Moulding nipped in to the Rolling Stone offices this morning (Nov. 9) for a tea and tour of the latter offering, an ear-grabbing all-new long player that features a forty-piece orchestra, sweeping Sgt. Pepper-ish pop and a period song or two for good measure. According to a very upbeat Partridge, "we'll give that R.E.M. mellow." The "noisy" Apple Venus: Part 2 will follow next summer . . .

The Rolling Stone Network Staff
(November 9, 1998)
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photo credit: Larry Busacca/Retna
Jan. 27 1994

Random Notes

It only looked impromptu when XTC's andy partridge leaped onstage during aimee mann's show at New York City's Bottom Line to sing “Collideascope.” Says Mann: “I figured once he heard me sing it and not do a very good job, he'd push me out of the way and start singing, which is pretty much what happened.”

Jancie Dunn
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Issue 689, 1993

★ ★ ★ ★
Martin Newell
The Greatest Living Englishman

The Rolling Stone Review

The beer is bitterer, the coins are heavier, the grass is greener, the advertisements are more blatant." George Orwell on England. Had he heard The Greatest Living Englishman, Orwell might have added that British pop is darker, the songs are livelier, the bass is brighter and the amplifiers more reverberant.

Martin Newell came out of the mid-'70s London punk scene, but even then, he was a nationalist. His band London S.S. were forerunners of the pioneering punks the Damned, among others. But Newell quit music to write poetry. Lured back by the prospect of a solo album, Newell hooked up with Andy Partridge. The result blends latter-day XTC, mid-'60s Beatles and a healthy dose of the Kinks' decline-of-the-empire blues. "Good Bye Dreaming Fields" leads off with a guitar that sounds like XTC's "Towers of London." The lyrics invoke the album's overall mood: "I'm a ghost in my hometown/Since they knocked that dance hall down."

"Before the Hurricane" features pizzicato and sweeping strings by Partridge that transport the listener back to an unchanged world. Newell's bitter line "There's a cardboard box for everything/But this one holds a man" appears in "We'll Build a House" — the chorus reinforced by a frighteningly beautiful time delay that returns each word three or four times. In "The Jangling Man" the indictment is even more plain: "So wander dimly through the past/Of the England that you knew/These dispossessed and homeless children/They all belong to you."

This album's cover reads Martin Newell featuring the new improved Andy Partridge. Captain Sensible also drops in to solo, and XTC's Dave Gregory is billed as Pop Mastermind. Between tracks is a series of sound bites created by Lol Elliott; my favorite is the Spinal Tapish reflections on 1968: "Pressure got too much for Dave, and then Steve dies...."

In the pantheon of rock artifacts, The Greatest Living Englishman ranks with the Flamin Groovies' Shake Some Action.

The Greatest Living Englishman is available by calling Pipeline Records at (516) 681-2125.


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Issue 631, May 28, 1992

★ ★ ★ ★

Geffen, 1992

A charter member of England's class of '77, XTC is one of the few bands from that era to remain virtually intact. Through fifteen years and ten albums, XTC has become something of a pop hothouse flower, having nurtured an utterly idiosyncratic sound from some very familiar roots. Nonsuch finds XTC, whose members are pushing forty, gliding well past the musical and emotional predilections of the band's predominantly college-age audience. Emphasizing wonder and wit in opposition to the rage of most college rock, XTC makes alternative music for people who don't like "alternative music."

With former Elton John producer Gus Dudgeon enveloping the band's sophisticated melodies in jazzy, baroque arrangements, Nonsuch rounds off XTC's sharper angles, smooths out the rough edges and makes the band's noise beautiful. The instrumentation includes strings, piano and horns, harking back to the Beach Boys' psychedelic period and the sublime chamber pop of the Beatles.

XTC's perfectionism can sometimes seem cold and insular, but it's hard to miss the love in main songwriter Andy Partridge's tunes about the joys of watching his daughter play (the exquisite "Holly Up on Poppy") or the thrill of finding a lover ("Then She Appeared"). "Rook" is an elusive but affecting rumination on mortality, and the majestic "Books Are Burning," featuring a guitar duel between Partridge and lead guitarist Dave Gregory, closes the album on a note of sad indignation.

Nonsuch is what happens when three men who grew up on Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds stay true. Too lovely for college radio, too challenging for legions of baby boomers unwilling to progress, XTC has built itself a very gorgeous golden cage.


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March 22, 1990

"Some of the songs are still mysterious to me," says Suzanne Vega, who has made herself at home in New York City's Skyline Studios for the last six months and is just now putting the final touches on her latest album, Days of Open Hand. "I'm still trying to figure out what the deal is with them." Eager to get back to writing after an extended hiatus, Vega made a concerted effort to get her creative juices flowing this time. "I went to London, where I had no commitments, family or friends to talk to," she says, "I found it really helpful to lock myself in a room, because it forced me to put something down on paper." Vega, however, is not without outside influences. "We think 'Book of Dreams' (the album's first single) as our XTC song," she says. "We had all been listening to Oranges and Lemons, which I think is a masterpiece." Vega coproduced Days with boyfriend and keyboard player Anton Sanko.

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Issue #565
16 November 1989



Producer: Todd Rundgren
Released: March 1987
Highest chart position: Number Seventy

The 100 Best Albums of the Eighties

"this is going to sound pompous and arty," says XTC's Andy Partridge, "but the whole album is a cycle of something: a day or a year, with the seasons, or a life. It's a cycle of starting, aging, dying and starting again." He is referring to Skylarking, the British trio's superb eighth album.

Recorded largely at Todd Rundgren's studio in Woodstock, New York, Skylarking's fourteen songs abound in elemental imagery and music that is pastoral, understated, and carefully arranged. The album is a celebration of nature and particularly of summertime.

"The atmosphere of the album is one of a playfully sexual hot summer," says Partridge. "On a hot day, a lot of life is going to be made somewhere, and it's probably gonna be outdoors on grass. It's just about summer and being out in the open and discovering sex in a stumbly, teenage way."

The concept of the album as a song cycle is underscored by musical interludes and incidental sounds between tracks. The songs are related by key, tempo, and subject matter. Oddly enough, the thematic framework was not the band's idea but producer Rundgren's. Guitarist Partridge and bass player Colin Moulding, XTC's principal writers, had worked up thirty-five songs, which they sent Rundgren in advance of their arrival in America. He selected fourteen of them, decided on a line-up and instructed the band to be ready to cut them in that order.

"He tended to go for the gentler songs, for songs of a certain atmosphere," says Partridge. "We'd sit down and talk about where the emotion was headed: the emotion, the atmosphere, the heat, the geographic place, the time of day — this journey you're supposed to go through on the whole record."

Partridge's iconoclastic "Dear God" was left off the album at his insistence. Relegated to the B side of a twelve-inch single, "Dear God" generated such an overwhelming response when played on radio that it became XTC's unlikely first hit in America — and was added to later pressings of Skylarking. "I thought I'd failed to precis the largest subject in man's mind, which is man's belief of what the truth is," Partridge says. "How the hell do you condense that into four minutes?"

Skylarking, as it turned out, was the album that broke XTC to a larger audience in America — and it couldn't have come at a more opportune time. "We were at our lowest ebb, moralewise, because we weren't selling any records and it wasn't the LP that Virgin and Geffen wanted made," Partridge says. "They wanted a slick, hard, American rock album: The quote was 'Can you make it somewhere between ZZ Top and the Police?'"

Though subdued and sublime, Skylarking was not an easy album to make. The band members argued with Rundgren and one another; Moulding actually quit at one point, and Partridge repeatedly threatened to fly back to England. Though he didn't like the album initially, Partridge's opinion of Skylarking — and of Rundgren — has softened. "I now see with the benefit of hindsight that it's a fine album and he did some sterling work," says Partridge.

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June 1989

XTC, which hasn't toured since 1983 because of lead singer Andy Partridge's severe stage fright, has finally found a way to perform live for its fans. The band has been playing acoustic sets in radio stations across the country to promote its most recent album, Oranges and Lemons, and Partridge reports that it seems to be working. “The frailty of it made us a little nervous on day one,” he says. “It's strange to go to a radio station and do a tiny gig with acoustic guitars, but I'm enjoying it.”
Partridge says that when the radio tour ends, he's “itching to get writing some new songs. Some times in my life I feel more musical than others. I'm feeling very musical lately. I sort of feel like my music juice is bubbling up. Suddenly you wake up one morning, and it's like having an erection. It just sort of rises up in you, and you think, ‘I've just gotta make some music.’”

XTC's Colin Moulding, Andy Partridge and Dave Gregory (from left)

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Issue 548, 3/23/89
by Michael Azerrad

★ ★ ★ ★
Oranges and Lemons


XTC's Paternal Power Pop

More than a decade ago, XTC was very much the challenging British New Wave band, making hyperactive, abrasive music. The group's 1978 debut LP was called, appropriately enough, White Music. On ingenious middle-period albums like Black Sea (1980) and English Settlement (1982), XTC metamorphosed into the quintessential quirky pop group, all the while fleshing out its sound as the group delved further and further into the possibilities of the recording studio — XTC's only forum since the band stopped touring in 1982. XTC's endlessly clever records and tight, self-contained singles won a following of fans and critics whose fanaticism almost made up for the band's lackluster sales figures. On Skylarking (1986), Andy Partridge, the band's main lead singer and writer, let a more melodious streak — as well as a dash of sentimentality — come to the fore, which broadened XTC's audience. In the process, the band has accomplished the remarkable feat of pulling the kinks out of its music without sacrificing its peerless originality. The band members have become the deans of a group of artists who make what can only be described as unpopular pop music, placing a high premium on melody and solid if idiosyncratic songcraft. Throughout their long career, the members of XTC have made consistently excellent music, and Oranges and Lemons, happily, finds them at the height of their considerable powers.

Ambitious, and ultimately delightful, Oranges and Lemons is XTC's ninth album (tenth, if you count Psonic Psunspot, an affectionate psychedelic sendup the band recorded two years ago as the Dukes of Stratosphear, who also have an EP to their name). It's difficult to determine whether the beauty of this album stems from the exquisite construction of the songs, the indelible melodies or the relentlessly benevolent mood of the lyrics. Oranges and Lemons is preoccupied with the joys and tribulations of fatherhood and the state of the world today's children are entering — Partridge is the father of two young children, ages three and one. When someone sings, "I love you," on this album, it's as likely to be directed at offspring as at a lover: "Garden of Earthly Delights," "Mayor of Simpleton," "Hold Me My Daddy," "Pink Thing," and "Chalkhills and Children" all hinge on parent-child relationships. But the music is far from treacly as it wanders through Peter Max rock ("Mayor of Simpleton"), McCartneyesque pop ("Pink Thing") and leisurely jazz fusion ("Miniature Sun").

Though it has always managed to steer clear of Beatlemania territory, XTC has become increasingly open about the Fab Four's influence, while still remaining very much its own band. Never mind the Yellow Submarine-like album cover, listen to the "Penny Lane" trumpets in "Merely a Man" and to "Here Comes President Kill Again," with its middle eight straight out of the White Album. In fact, it could be argued that if Skylarking was XTC's Sgt. Pepper, then Oranges and Lemons is its White Album.

Producer Paul Fox let the band members indulge themselves a little more than did Todd Rundgren, who clashed with them over the making of Skylarking. For one thing, this fifty-eight-minute, fifteen-track marvel is a double album. And where Skylarking was lush and pastoral, Oranges and Lemons has a generally harsher, noisier sound that recalls the band's earlier work. On first listening to the album, XTC's melodies seem overwhelmed by the densely layered arrangements and center-stage percussion. But on repeated listenings, the curtains part and hooks are all you hear, thanks in no small part to Dave Gregory's tasty guitar fills, marvels of elegance that use a wide-ranging palette of sounds.

Oranges and Lemons was recorded in L.A., about as foreign an environment as one could imagine for these inveterate Englishmen, and the city's hustle and bustle must account for the album's bright, busy atmosphere. Fittingly, the most gentle song on the album, "Chalkhills and Children", is an ode to the band's native southern England. The title of the record itself comes from an old English children's rhyme (which figured prominently in George Orwell's 1984 as a reminder of old England).

"Garden of Earthly Delights" — a very young person's guide to the world — kicks off the album with a clangorous but bouncy psychedelic groove. "This is your life and you'll be what you want to be/Just don't hurt nobody/Less of course they ask you," sings Partridge, addressing some newcomer to the human fold.

r e c o r d   r a t i n g s
Ratings are supervised
by the ‘Rolling Stone’ editors.

"Mayor of Simpleton" is Partridge's New Wave update of Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World." Whereas Cooke didn't "know much about biology," Partridge admits he's "never been near a university...but I know one/Thing and that's I love you." He goes on to say that he doesn't "know how to write a big hit song," which may well be true. But XTC's second songwriter and inventive bassist, Colin Moulding, gives it his best shot on the very next track. Similar in sound and sentiment to Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." the incandescent "King for a Day" sounds like the massive hit XTC has waited years for.

The Dukes of Stratosphear records, on which XTC looked back in fondness to the Sixties, seem like etudes for Oranges and Lemons. Having studied the brush strokes of told master such as the Beatles, the Hollies and Pink Floyd, XTC has effortlessly incorporated them into its own artful music. XTC's roots aren't in the Mississippi Delta, the honky-tonks of Nashville or the blues joints on the South side of Chicago; they're in the grand tradition of British pop, and finally, in a grand tradition of their own.

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The Year in Records

Skylarking - XTC
Psonic Psunspot - The Dukes of Stratosphear

With these two dazzling son-of-Pepper platters, the English pop wags XTC beat the Summer of Love nostalgia peddlers at their own game. Produced by Todd Rundgren, Skylarking evoked the lush, bucolic allure of English springtime with earthy acoustic guitars, willow strings and a playful paisley surrealism, like a Beatlesque Barnyard Mystery Tour spiked with singer-guitarist Andy Partridge's bittersweet lyric musings. Psonic Psunspot, the work of XTC's acid alter ego, the Dukes of Stratosphear, was simply a loving mimicry of eccentric British post-Pepper pop, its campy parodies of bands like Pink Floyd and the Move authentically executed with all the tricks of the time — Mellotron, fun-house sound effects and daffy songs titles like "Collideascope," which just about says it all.

David Fricke
(individual synopses not credited)
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Issue #496
26 March, 1987



not that long ago, xtc was a nearly perfect band. It corrupted its bountiful hooks with unsettling harmonies and rhythms and rocked hard enough to compensate for the solemnity of its often-shallow political protests. But after guitarist and singer Andy Partridge fell ill during the English Settlement tour, the band members retired to their country houses in the south of England — and Partridge decided he was Paul McCartney. XTC's subsequent releases have been dominated by Partridge's flowery love songs and an obsessive exploration of modern-production possibilities.

On Skylarking, the band is joined by producer Todd Rundgren, a studio recluse with a Fab Four fixation of his own. Todd lures XTC out of the house — the LP was recorded in San Francisco and Woodstock, New York — but exacerbates the band's techno tendencies. The result is as thoroughly fascinating as it is ultimately unsatisfying.

As craftsmanship, Skylarking is a remarkable achievement, surely the most accomplished neo-psychedelic LP to date. Each one of the fourteen songs is defined by a series of structural details — strong melodies on both verse and chorus, striking harmonies, a lyrical phrase or two and instrumental hooks. Sustaining this for nearly forty-five minutes, as XTC almost does (the end of side two falters), demonstrates how much the band has learned about composition in the past decade.

But if craft is your definition of genius, you may as well stick with ELP and GTR. Partridge reveals the limitations of his pastoral vision through his reliance on repetition. "Earn Enough for Us" recycles the theme of "Love on a Farmboy's Wages," from Mummer, XTC's 1984 effort, and the tears of rain in "1000 Umbrellas" first appeared in that LP's "Great Fire." Partridge goes outside and sees a "silent film of melting miracle play," spends a hot day bathing in "mats of flower lava," magnifies a "verdant spiral" until it becomes a reflection on pantheism — and that's just on the first side. Unfortunately Partridge — unlike, say, Van Morrison — isn't the sort of singer who can convincingly express the rapture he finds in the countryside.

This trading of the acute modernism that marked such classics as "This Is Pop" and "Making Plans for Nigel" for domestic solitude dampens the band's punk-roots energy and also limits its emotional spectrum. Consider "That's Really Super, Supergirl," a terrible title with an irresistible chorus. "You stopped the universe from dying/But you're never gonna stop me crying," Partridge complains. But then he apologizes to his ex for being "rude" to her. Being rude is the point of breakup songs, and a shot of rudeness is just what XTC could use now.

-Rob Tannenbaum

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Brian's Children

B Y   T I M   S O M M E R

Skylarking (Geffen) is the most inspired and satisfying piece of Beatle-esque pop since . . . well, since the Beatles. For nigh on 20 years, this style's been useless for anything except nostalgia. But on Skylarking, the band's eighth album, XTC employ the form's springy rhythms, phased and slightly psyched production, and winding, bright melodies to build a stunning LP, a careful construction in these desperately deconstructionist post-Sonic Youth times. As crafted by XTC's Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, and Dave Gregory with help from drummer Prairie Prince (on loan from the Tubes) and producer/arranger Todd Rundgren, Skylarking is precocious, vivid, and evocative as hell. It's a window-paned laced confectioner's folly with substance and bite.

Thanks to the dependable nonpromotion of the band's American record label, Skylarking may be another Great Lost British Rock Album. The muddled term British Rock used to neatly corral Syd Barrett, the Move, Kinks, Small Faces, and so on. By extension it also embraced everyone from Big Star to weirder Beach Boys—classic Trouser Press rock, in other words. But for all its easy categorization, Skylarking is far from purely nostalgic, and it still sounds like XTC: swooping/amphetamine/pastoral. No longer the moon-faced acid heads spitting out spiffy slices of the British Way of Life, with Skylarking XTC explode into a joyful marriage of inspiration and emulation.

XTC are one of the few recent rock groups to retire (three or so LPs ago) to the studio, and the woodshedding pays off on Skylarking, which is definitely a studio album, if one built (seemingly) of soil, sea, and sky. The band has tried, with remarkable success, to cut an album of the same materials as two formidable icons, the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. There are direct homages to both, especially Brian Wilson's ultra-classic (for instance, the wood-block horse hooves that intro “The Meeting Place” and the string arrangement on “1000 Umbrellas”). But it's more than that—it's the feel: like its models, Skylarking shapes angles and curves out of pianos, organs, strings, timpani, bird calls, bells, and (most of all) rich vocal textures and a very upfront bass. It's also Wilson-like in its ornate self-consciousness. More precisely, Partridge/Moulding (the album's dual songwriters and vocalists) have imagined the Revolver/Rubber Soul-era Beatles playing Pet Sounds and Village Green. Either record might have contained “Where we're going in this verdant spiral/Who's pushing pedals on the season cycle” or “To repaint summer/they're closing winter down,” two couplets from Skylarking's “Season Cycle.” That song's music-hall trippiness uncannily blends '66 Kinks and Beach Boys, and it's cosung by Moulding, sounding remarkably like Paul McCartney. (On “Big Day” Moulding pushes the limits of acceptable Beatleness when he sings “If you have love then let it show.”)

And like the Beatles, Beach Boys, and Kinks at the peak of their studio hermitages, XTC didn't just record the best songs they had lying around, they recorded the best album they had lying around. When's the last time someone made an LP that really added up to more than the sum of its parts? In 1986, for instance, everyone from the Saints to R.E.M. to Soul Asylum released albums filled with good, even great, songs. But those collections lack the overall depth and flow of Skylarking. To my mind, no one since Wire has so successfully executed an LP as a complete piece.

Skylarking's “continuity concept” is credited to Todd Rundgren. Like one ought to, I've always found Rundgren clever—despicably so. Yet here he is all over an album that could end up being one of the decade's finest. The LP's terrific orchestration and thrilling segues seem to be his tricks. It's also likely that Rundgren smoothed the XTC's distinctive sharp edges: on Skylarking there's no evidence of the band's hiccuping, herky jerky, running-up-and-down-the-stairs style, an early trademark that survived into the band's previous release, 25 O'Clock, a nearly brilliant six-track EP issued under the name the Dukes of Stratosphear. (In hindsight, the Dukes' record probably sounds more like vintage Drums and Wires/Black Sea XTC than the new album does.) I don't want to give Rundgren any credit, but I know his Anglophilia and his ambitious studio obnoxiousness was probably perfect for XTC and their graceful and glorious revision of '60s Britrock as seen through 3-D glasses.

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© Copyright 1986 Rolling Stone | Thanks to Bill Wikstrom

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Issue 418, March 29, 1984

★ ★ ★
Geffen, 1984

XTC is often too clever for its own good, which probably explains why this British trio has never amassed anything more than a cult following here. It's not that the band has been deficient in the melodic end of things — its songs are routinely hummable — but all too frequently, the group's gimmickry gets in the way of its songs. Fortunately, Mummer finds the band concentrating on reinforcing, not cluttering, its material, and the result is XTC's most accessible album yet.

"Beating of Hearts," which leads off the LP, is a perfect example. Although the arrangement, with its chiming guitars and droning, synthesized strings, has a pronounced Middle Eastern flavor, guitarist Andy Partridge uses this instrumental exotica to telegraph the rich, melodic vocal lines. Colin Moulding's "Wonderland" uses electronic insect noises to establish the song's pastoral mood, and the filtered buzzing and humming give the song a soothing feel.

But the most impressive moments here aren't the result of such high-tech sound effects. Instead, they come when the band employs more standard songwriting devices or simply relies on unadorned melodic charm. "Great Fire," the album's single, balances a thudding waltz beat with an intoxicating melody outfitted with real strings, and its most thrilling effect comes before the final reprise of the chorus, as the band modulates up a key. When XTC hit such moments, or when they simply leave well enough alone, as on "Ladybird" or "Love on a Farmboy's Wages," they manage not only to charm, but to dazzle. And that's the cleverest trick of all.


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Issue 368, April 29, 1982

★ ★ ★
English Settlement
Geffen, 1982

Once again, XTC has managed the difficult feat of sounding accessible even while moving into evermore abstruse and adventuresome territory. Driven along by the rolling thunder of Terry Chambers' drumming, the smooth electric glide of Colin Moulding's fretless bass and the angular guitar work of Dave Gregory and Andy Partridge, the ten songs on English Settlement take on the world, by turns, in concretely political and dreamily mythic terms. On one side, "Melt the Guns" pleads for global disarmament, singling out the U.S. in particular for fecklessly courting apocalypse. "Jason and the Argonauts," though, is almost the stuff of parable, an imagistic recounting of a modern-day vision quest.

Musically, XTC's new songs attain something of an anthemic grandeur through repetition of a musical theme or fragment, sustained over the course of five or more minutes by a steady rhythmic pulse (African and third-world rhythms figure prominently). The result is a program of numbers that resonate across all manner of invigorating wordplay with a jazzy, stoned ambiance.

"Senses Working Overtime," which could be this band's long-overdue hit, sums up the XTC aesthetic perfectly: employing all of their faculties for taking in the world around them, they digest that input and send out some new wisdom of their own. This process is called communication, and to XTC, it's as natural as breathing.


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Issue 336, Feb. 5, 1981

★ ★ ★
Black Sea
Geffen, 1980

In the four years since XTC began, the band's youthfully aggressive, revved-up white-noisy style has settled like dust around an industrious sculptor, leaving a finished product that combines streamlined originality with Beatles-type buoyancy. The typical XTC sound fuses Andy Partridge's and Dave Gregory's spasmodically vertical guitar lines, Terry Chambers' alert and unpredictable drumming and an overlay of pure-pop boy-group harmonies led by bassist Colin Moulding's British-modern theatrical tenor. In the past, these elements have come together most winningly in sporadic singles: "This Is Pop," "Meccanik Dancing (Oh We Go)," "Life Begins at the Hop," "Making Plans for Nigel."

On Black Sea, the material is especially good, from the Kinks-style "Respectable Street" to the jarring, almost frightening rock-dub tune, "Living through Another Cuba," to the jubilant "Burning with Optimism's Flames." Only the overextended "Travels in Nihilon" strays from the intersection of punk and pop where XTC are most at home.


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Issue 312, Mar. 6, 1980

Drums And Wires
Geffen, 1979

XTC could concoct perfect formula pop songs if they'd just take it easy. But the group's glory is that songwriters Andy Partridge and Colin Mouldings won't take it easy: they're compulsive hook factories on overtime, cramming every tune with more clever ideas than formula pop can bear. Even a comparatively low-density number like Mouldings's "Life Begins at the Hop," which opens the American version of Drums and Wires, sprinkles Layla, falsetto oohs and a guitar riff over its already catchy verse and chorus. Like a magician offhandedly pulling rabbit after rabbit from a hat, XTC acts as if pop razzle-dazzle were a snap, merely something to keep the fingers busy. Since they know every trick in the book, they speed read.

To amuse themselves, Partridge and Mouldings see how many antipop tangents they can sneak into their songs. Most pop tunes, from Cole Porter's to Paul McCartney's, are designed to pull us irresistibly toward their final chords, but XTC's compositions constantly test their own momentum with static passages, dissonances and atonality.

Actually, Drums and Wires is XTC's least-dissonant album. White Music and Go 2, which included keyboardist Barry Andrews instead of current lead guitarist Dave Gregory, were more thickly layered with Andrews' brilliant digressions. Still, the new record has plenty of gleeful discord. The guitar riff that opens "Life Begins at the Hop" outlines a major chord, while the bass riff implies its minor. XTC piles them together without a qualm — and the strategy works. Andy Partridge's "Roads Girdle the Globe" gets a massive, steamroller sound from the clash of overtones between Colin Moulding's sliding bass and Partridge's and Gregory's guitars. Partridge's "Complicated Game" makes abundant use of grating chromatic intervals. Even in Moulding's aimed-for-airplay "Ten Feet Tall" — with its unironic love lyric and a made-for-AM upward modulation — Dave Gregory's first lead-guitar break pays only token obeisance to the chords beneath it.

XTC's current obsession is Philip Glass Steve Reich-style static harmony, and their favorite complicated game is to stalemate pop progressions with immobile arrangements. (Talking Heads try related ideas, but they're less committed to forward motion than XTC is.) Moulding's "Making Plans for Nigel" is overlaid with static, interchangeable rhythm-guitar riffs, while Partridge's "When You're near Me I Have Difficulty" and "Scissor Man" build up static outros. This band is finding the link between the way a good pop song repeats its hook and the way a Philip Glass piece hooks you by repetition, and it's an odd, fertile netherworld. Is the circular guitar lick that opens "Life Begins at the Hop" a hook or an ostinato? Both — and neither.

Because they're firmly entrenched in Brain Pan Alley, it's annoying when XTC stoops to cop from outside sources. Partridge and Moulding, like most self-conscious poppers, have a Beatles fixation, but they usually confine it to oblique tributes. Moulding's "Limelight" (from an EP included with early pressings of Drums and Wires) starts with a feedback note that turns into the tune's first chord, a gambit lifted from the Beatles' "I Feel Fine." Partridge's "This Is Pop?" — a British single that's XTC's finest three minutes — opens with the same chord as "A Hard Day's Night." Very smart. But Partridge goes too far when he pulls the Cheap Trick trick of basing "When You're near Me I Have Difficulty" on "Please Please Me." He shouldn't have to borrow melodies.

Just as XTC's music alternately accepts and abuses pop, the group's lyrics are about being titillated or trapped by the modern world. Partridge writes about the impact of technology on feelings: 1984 surveillance ("Real by Reel"), the near-religious joy of driving ("Roads Girdle the Globe"), a girl like a "Helicopter" and the use of entertainment to drown out the "Outside World." If Andy Partridge can be frivolous, Colin Moulding is dour, obsessed with control. The factory worker in "Day In Day Out" (on the EP), the child learning manners in "That Is the Way," the deluded characters who believe in free will in "Complicated Game," and young Nigel in "Making Plans for Nigel" are all at the mercy of external forces. XTC's love songs also have a mechanistic tinge: Partridge's "When You're near Me I Have Difficulty" ticks off symptoms like a maintenance checklist, and Moulding's "Ten Feet Tall" shows a boy happily at the mercy of "chemistry."

Drums and Wires' most intriguing selection is "Millions," which ignores conventions instead of subverting them. The lyrics are about China and (Partridge's specialty) culture shock, while the tune is a wonder of techno-Orientalia: an intricate modal loop of syncopated guitars punctuated by tiny cymbals and synthetic gongs. "Millions" suggests that pretty soon XTC won't need pop to kick around anymore.


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February 21, 1980
page 28

XTC gives pop a new twist

By Scott Isler
New York

"If you come from Swindon, you're a stupid hayseed," says XTC's singer and guitarist, Andy Partridge. "We were dumb country boys trying to be clever." Sitting in the offices of Virgin Records, Partridge and XTC's bassist, Colin Moulding, are trying to explain the hostility they encountered when they first hit London in 1977. Swindon is a "gritty little concrete industry blob" (Partridge's description) about seventy miles from London, and all the members of XTC — songwriters Partridge and Moulding, as well as drummer Terry Chambers and guitarist Dave Gregory — hail from there. Their off-the-beaten-track home base explains why they didn't — and don't — sound like circa-1977 London punk; XTC's witty, intricate songs are a far cry from New Wave slash and burn.

"We were never fashionable," says a calm, slightly jet-lagged Partridge. They still aren't: Partridge, 26, is dressed entirely in black — shirt, pants, jacket, scuffed shoes — except for white socks. Moulding, 24, is nondescript in dirty white sneakers and a bulky sweater.

XTC may have been unfashionable — "We're not ravers; I have a fear of drugs," Partridge confesses — but they were undeniably talented. Their jerky, futuristic pop tunes earned them a respectable British cult, but a hit single eluded them until the release of "Making Plans for Nigel," the Top Twenty British single from their third album, Drums and Wires. Atlantic Records picked up the album for U.S. distribution; the two previous XTC albums, White Music and Go 2, are available only as imports, as are a handful of singles (including the indispensable "This Is Pop?") and EPs.

On those earlier efforts, the group featured the dense, dissonant chording of keyboardist Barry Andrews, who was replaced by Gregory a year ago. The band's decision not to find another keyboard player explains the new album's title. "We've progressed to simpler playing, a simpler attitude," Partridge admits. "We used to be a lot stranger."

"In the early days," Moulding picks up, "I really did get a kick out of the old 'Let's pile in, boys, and make some crazy chords.'" "We used to enjoy collision," Partridge continues. "Now it's more like minimalist bumper cars; the four of us try to keep out of each other's way. I don't consider us weird. I just consider us 1980."

Simpler music makes XTC's peculiar messages more palatable. They write about electronic snooping ("Real by Reel"), auto addiction ("Roads Girdle the Globe") and fatalism ("Complicated Game"); they can also be straightforwardly romantic ("When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty"). Says Partridge: "I've written songs when I've been in Woolworth's looking at people at the cash register. I've written futzy songs, songs of childhood phobias, love songs — everything." Predictably, a love song, "Ten Feet Tall," has been chosen as XTC's first U.S. single.

"I think the only way we can be big in America is by accident," Partridge says. "We didn't design ourselves to be big. We can only hope we speak for something." They haven't done badly so far, however. XTC has already toured Europe, Australia and Japan, with a major U.S. tour currently under way. Still, there's no place like home. "The last time we played Swindon, it was really pathetic," Moulding recalls. "There's a basic hatred for us there."

And Partridge thinks he knows why. "They resent that we got out," he says, "and they're still stuck there."

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Thanks to R. Stevie Moore, transcriber extraordinaire

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