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Subject: Chalkhills #294

                  Chalkhills, Number 294

                 Monday, 11 October 1993
Today's Topics:
                      Live and more?
                   Re: Chalkhills #293
                         new user
                How's Nonsuch Holding Up?

Date: Wed, 6 Oct 93 12:44:18 EDT
From: Jeff Rosedale <>
Subject: Live and more?

They're f***ing great, that's all there is to it and the end of the

Well, seriously, XTC's live performances that I've heard on tape/vinyl
are a bit uneven.  Colin sometimes doesn't hit the right note on the
chorus of Generals and Majors... Terry went out of synch once on Life
Begins at the Hop...Sometimes Andy's guitar solos were downright
boring!  Sound quality varies widely.  But this is the downside of
fresh, live recording- and where there's a down, there's often an up
side as well.

Some subtle nuances introduced into live XTC performances have been
spectacular.  Just the beginnings of all of those versions of Battery
Brides live is enough to make my hair stand on end.  And to hell with
it, I may as well admit that I really like the simple pared down sound
of just a few instruments and vocals- they make a very tight musical
fabric.  Too fast?  Whaaaaat??? Have you heard the studio versions of
songs like Traffic Light Rock and Helicopter?  They're just begging to
be done at a million miles per hour!  Drums and WIRED!

But the concerns oabout more recent music played live are valid.  XTC
has wandered into lots of different genres of late and I fear that a
live performance might be so subdued as to be without impact.  Also
you'd either need an orchestra or lots of taped sounds- overkill and
plastic as far as I'm concerned.

The antidotes so far have been effective- acoutsic radio tours showing
innovative creativity and a willingness to satisfy our desire to hear
it fresh off the instruments; and demo tracks with the same simple wiry
sound that I grew to know and love as XTC.  Whatever they did live, I'd
go see it and probably adore it.  Go figure.

                                                --Jeff Rosedale


Date: 06 Oct 93 09:09:59 EDT
From: Kyle Skrinak <>
Subject: Re: Chalkhills #293

RE: (Albert Hale:)

>Frankly, I think XTC has, at times, become a bit mannerist.  It would be fun
>to hear more direct and electric versions of some of their more heavily pro-
>duced music.

I agree whole heartedly! (especially after I looked up the meaning of the word
"mannerist" ;-))
I believe Andy said that XTC's earlier work was written so that it could
be played live. Additionally, the songs that jump alive are the ones that
would translate well to a live performance, i.e. Madame Barnum, Ugly
Underneath, Poor skeleton. These songs have enough spirit to do without
the labours of a recording production environment.

>I didn't like a lot of the They Might Be Giants later material. I saw them
>live, and a lot of the songs that didn't connect suddenly did.

That's true of Fishbone, as well. I, too, am a big TMBG fan, all of it.


Date: Wed, 06 Oct 1993 13:36:45 -0400 (EDT)
From: Ben Auburn <>
Subject: new user

Last summer was when I really discovered XTC.  Previously my brother had
owned several albums which interested me, but failed to really push any of
my buttons.  I picked up NONESUCH a year ago April and went nuts.  Though a
bit overproduced (and Partridge admits having a hell of a time working with
the producer), it sets new standards, I thing, for true full-bodied pop
music that few are making anymore, save maybe Elvis Costello.  In the space
of three months I picked up the rest of the catalogue, and I've been a
devoted fan ever since.

As a fan of late-seventies power pop I've taken a shine to DRUMS AND WIRES
and BLACK SEA probably most of all.  SKYLARKING was the hardest album for
me to really appreciate, to be honest, but it won me over all the same.
(Maybe seeing them lip-synching "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul" in a
Jools Holland spoof of "The Prisoner" last year showed me that they still
had a sense of humor.)

Have folks heard the BBC live CD from 1980?  Partridge's liner notes are
very funny and generous, to say the least, and the concert is ferocious.

Sorry for the typing, but it gets better, I swear.  My best.


Date: Wed, 06 Oct 1993 23:21:40 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: intro

 Hello, I'm new here, so I'll introduce myself. I first became aware of XTC
>from airplay of "Senses Working Overtime" on MTV. Eventually I heard the
whole English Settlement album, and was quite impressed.
   I'm a keyboard player, and what really blows me away is how well put
together XTC's songs are. The textures and sounds that they create with their
playing and singing keep getting better and better.
   Some of my other interests are: the Beatles, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush,
the Cocteau Twins, King Crimson, ELP, Yes, blah, blah, blah.
One of my favorite artists of all is (uh oh) Todd Rundgren. Imagine my
delight when I discovered that one of my favorite people was going to produce
one of my favorite bands (for the Skylarking album). I'm aware of all the
bad feelings that developed between them, but let's face it, that's THEIR
problem, not ours. What WE got out of it was an incredible album (in my
    Well, I'm actually a very quiet person, so I'll shut up now.

                                     Mike DePumpo


Date: 10 Oct 93 17:44:38 EDT
From: Dave Franson <>
Subject: How's Nonsuch Holding Up?

Hi folks,

Having spent the past month or so reading through old Chalkhills digests,
I've been surprised by a number of discussions.  Probably the most
surprising has been the perception that "Nonsuch" is not a great XTC album,
up there with the best.  The suggestion was made that "Nonsuch" would have no
staying power after the initial freshness of the new songs wore off.  I also
found myself in disagreement with opinions on worst/best songs.  Anyway,
here's my assessment of Nonsuch, 18 months later...

The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead

Absolutely cliche-ridden, both musically and lyrically.  Not a new idea in
the song.  The most mundane rendition of the good martyr theme.  Partially
saved only by an anecdote related on this list concerning the original
genesis of the song:  Andy watching a rotting pumpkin sag and ooze down a
pole.  D

My Bird Performs

Lean and spare, a needed counterpart to Pumpkinhead.  Nice descending chord
structure.  Well-placed trumpet, a la "That is the Way."  For a long time, I
had a hard time forgiving the song its line "Shakespeare's sonnets leave me
cold/The drama stage and high brow prose."  It curdled the blood of the
English B.A. in me!  However, a close listening of "Demo Tracks" reveals an
alternate, and far more satisfying verse:  "Mind food never healed my head/
The Good Book propped my table leg."  Has this been noticed before?  It
incorporates the sentiments of both "Mayor of Simpleton" and "Dear God" in a
single phrase.  Did Colin excise this version to avoid another "Dear
God"-like controversy?  (And yes, before you point it out, I realize both
"Mayor" and "Dear God" were written by Andy.)  "My Bird Performs" was the
first single played 'round these parts-- were the lyrics toned down to
assure a noncontroversial single?  One of Colin's better efforts.  (A
much-needed rebound from O&L.)  A

Dear Madam Barnum

I love this song!  Nothing special musically, but probably Andy's most
sustained, consistent metaphor.  The circus clown as cuckold, the circus as
love's battleground.  A

Humble Daisy

A study, a portrait, a miniature.  A poem.  Delicate, spartan musicianship.
And don't forget that wonderful "adoowah, adoowah, adoowah" chorus.  When
you're in Andy's league, you can meet the challenge of writing evocatively
about nearly anything.  A

The Smartest Monkeys

Unbelievably trite, unimaginative lyrics.  Sociology 101.  So it's a total
failure on the lyric level, but what music!  Great syncopation (it's what
originally attracted me to the song, and what continues to hold my
interest), and a synth solo that leaps out over the bridge.  C

The Disappointed

It's got the tune, it's got the hook, but it hasn't any staying power.  The
only thing about this song that remains of any interest to me is what I
believe to be its germ.  The first verse-- "The Disappointed/All shuffle
round in circles/Their placards look the same/With a picture and a name/
Of the ones who broke their hearts" evokes news images of Argentinians
marching with photos of their loved ones who suffered from the terrible
political repression in that country in the 70's-- "The Disappeared" as they
came to be known.  C

Holly Up on Poppy

The swirling, calliope-like organ magically evokes the rockinghouse and/or
merry-go-round alluded to in the lyrics.  The playful bass counterpointing
the airiness of the keyboards evokes a child's playland and punctuates the
wonder of the observer.  This is a huge sentimental favorite for me.  I have
an eight-year old named Holly.  A


Geez, just when you thought they were going soft with "Holly"!  (Have I
mentioned that this album has excellent track sequencing?)  A four-minute
noisy romp about fighting off a most nasty manifestation of jealousy and
self-pity.  Plus a genuine Dave Gregory highighted guitar solo.  Bliss.  A


A very lean, plaintive appeal for the big answer.  Goosepimply rich string
and horn arrangements.  Wouldn't be out of place on "Skylarking," but I like
it right here, thank you.  Check out Ted Hughes' (ex-British Poet Laureate)
"Crow" volume for further readings on the theme.  A


Ah, polyrhythmic ecstasy!  The best XTC polyrhythms since "It's Nearly
Africa."  Trumpets put to great use in the main verse.  And Andy indulging
his knack for double entendres.  Great bass work by Colin.  And Mattacks'
percussion is grand, albeit buried in the mix.  A

That Wave

Eclectic, offbeat, idiosyncratic... don't tell me they've lost any of their
edge!  A

Then She Appeared

Utterly charming!  The gradual build, Colin's bass coming in, the guitar
chorus in the background, that weird "intake of breath" sample-- "Hookah
with my senses bubbled," indeed!  See Uma Thurman in "The Adventures of
Baron Munchausen" for the best "Venus on a half open shell" I've ever seen!
(Speaking of "Munchausen"-- someone posted several months back on an XTC/
"Munchausen" crossover.  The playbill for Henry Salt and Son's production of
"The Odyssey" features one Andrew Partridge in the role of Nestor.  I say not
a common enough name to be a coincidence!)  A

War Dance

I shouldn't like this song.  The theme has been done to death, and Colin's
lyrics certainly have nothing new to say.  Maybe it's the lifeless vocals in
counterpoint to the sharp (if cliched) lyrics.  Maybe simply because of the
way it hammers in after the "Then She Appeared" fade.  Maybe the Mattacks
percussion.  Not a great song, but I don't program around it.  C

Wrapped in Grey

Like "The Disappointed," absolutely no staying power.  Tedious
and plodding after several listens.  Although one can appreciate the
sentiments, nothing sticks except for the poignancy of "How coloured the
flowers all smelled/As they huddled there, in petalled prayer/They told me
this, as I knelt there."  C

The Ugly Underneath

Hooray!  This makes up for "Wrapped in Grey" and then some!  The harsh
opening with venomous lyrics, the nervous keyboards, then the beautiful
chorus blossoming forth.  Love that Hammond organ!  Followed by the zany
bridge, spiralling downward, led by Dave's bow guitars.  And that great
lyric-- "What you've trod in's the truth/And that's the hardest thing/ To
wash down with a glass of lemonade."  Plus a delicious Hammond organ fade to
boot!  Hold me down!  Hold me down!  A


What a great song!  Conceit and artiface in the best sense of those words.
A lyrical and musical joke:  Colin deeply intoning the slightest of lyrics
over that classic XTC melodic buildup.  And the high-flown vocal chorus.
Not to mention you have to love a song that includes the word "gorse"!  A

Books are Burning

Gee, I dunno, this has all the subtlety of "Dear God."  Again, one can't
argue with the sentiment, but the way to make ideas stick is to clothe them
in some memorable artiface.  Lyrically, this is achieved very infrequently.
"Wisdom hotline from the dead back to the living/Key to the larder for your
heart and your head" comes close, as does "The church of matches/Annoints in
ignorance with gasoline."  But the remaining lyrics don't rise above the
obvious.  Musically, I suppose you have a nice melody and some guitar
interplay, but where's the passion?  Forgettable.  C

OK, for those of you with your gradebooks handy, that averages out to a
3.2353 GPA.  Almost a B+!  However, if you program around the dross, you've
got a total of  11 (count 'em, 11!) ace tracks!  With proven staying power!
I rest my case-- "Nonsuch" is a great XTC album.


Melt the guns.


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