Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, Andy Partridge is a fairy

2024 UPDATE: That tagline hasn't aged well at all. Why did I used to be such an asshole? I'm not even homophobic! Why would I have written that!?

Stupid early 2000's.

*special introductory paragraph!
*White Music
*Drums And Wires
*Black Sea
*English Settlement
*The Big Express
*Chips From The Chocolate Fireball (as 'The Dukes of Stratosphear')
*Oranges & Lemons
*Rag & Bone Buffet
*Transistor Blast: The Best Of The BBC Sessions
*Apple Venus Volume One
*Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2)
*(Mattro Reviews) Coat Of Many Cupboards

Listening to XTC's early records, one gets the sense that they never intended to be a normal pop band. They were all herky-jerky and kind of punk/new wave-ish like Oingo Boingo and Devo mixed with The Jam. But before you know it, leader Andy Partridge had an onstage nervous breakdown (he apparently suffers from severe stage fright) and the band flew off to Happy Cheery Land like so many bags of sugar down the turnpike. They're from England. I'm not super- attached to them, so don't expect the most excitable reviews you've ever seen, unless I become super-attached to them through the course of the review program (sponsored by Yale and General Electric).

White Music - Virgin 1978
Rating = 5

Ever heard the phrase "Boring like The Jam"? If not, you've either been living in a corpse for the past twelve years or you're simply aware that it's not a true clich at all, having been spoken mainly by me, Mark Prindler, the Critic With An EdgeT. But it's true - The Jam were, for the most part, a fairly middling little band. No real personality, a hoarse, throatgutted singer and more tired chords than you'll find in Michael Hutchence's closet ch clever, let's - next paragraph please

That's the problem with the debut XTC album. Although they 50% of the time rise above early punk mediocrity (Vibrators!) with some great riffs, herky-jerky rhythms, crangy guitar and noisy, circusy organ, their apparent appreciation of dub reggae and simple pop punk nothingness flubs up about half the record (49% - I honestly have no idea what happened to the other 1%). That's a big problem I have with early British punk - it's simple and fast, but too often there is STILL no identifiable energy, it slapdashes over into Jamaican styles as if punk and reggae have anything AT ALL in common with each other besides ugly women, and, most tire-some of all in this good year, the riffs are SOOOO old, Michelin. "Into The Atom Age," "Spinning Top" - no no no nah. These songs weren't written - they existed before MUSIC did. Even "New Town Animal In A Furnished Cage," as interestingly put together as it is, is the kind of song that makes you look at your watch and wonder what those little numbers are for. Plus a lot of it has that sluggish, ugly Elvis Costello feel and the dude sings with a really weird voice. Thank God they redeem the whole thing with a sickening dub reggae version of "All Along The Watchtower"!

No. They redeem half of it with great trebly guitars, little swatches of synth bloops, dubby bass, fast, fun, jankly piano and oddball song constructions (a number of examples: "I'm Bugged" is herky-jerk to the eXXXtreme, "Cross Wires" has some loopyass rhythms and "Do What You Do" is superfast with INSANE rhythm changes!). And "I'll Set Myself On Fire"? Why, that's damn near a GOOD reggae-ish song!

In short, White Music isn't nearly as racist as one might hope (I docked it four points for that). It IS, however, a hearteningly creative yet disappointingly routine record. IN SPOTS, mind you. IN SPOTS.

(WET spots, if you know what I'm sayin'. Heh heh heh HEH!)

Reader Comments

Colin T.
vibrators has some tunes (shadow love?) but uh but not many. also: what is this? XTC comes before the wipers????

True story: the band originally wanted to call this "Black Music", but the record company thought it might be construed as racist. So what did they do? "White Music"? Is that any better? They STILL caught shit from the public. The first in a long line of misunderstandings about this naive bunch of rural pub-dwellers from Swindon. Whatever the case, the title certainly fits the music pretty well. I can't imagine any music whiter than this. Show me a black man or woman who's ever willingly listened to this album and I'll show you Tiger Woods. This is White Music!

That said, I enjoy this record a lot. It's kind of like finishing off a bag of jellybeans first thing in the morning. Tastes really good going down, gives you a sugar high, but you feel kind of washed out and cranky when it's all done. Just don't O.D. on early XTC and you'll be ok. My favorite tunes? "Cross Wires" sounds like double-time Talking Heads (circa '77) and it's tons of fun with a real interesting drum part. "Into the Atom Age" is pretty damn catchy too. "Radios in Motion" is a hilarious "hey we're ready to goooo! we're so pumped up!" kind of song that's infectious in its enthusiasm. That's a good name for this album: "Enthusiastic Music." 8/10

I wouldn't call The Jam boring, overrated and obnoxious certainly but not boring. I'll rant on The Jam later when I review their albums here one day.

I'll give this album a 7.5. I'm more into this period of XTC than like "English Settlement" and all that. This particular album is a lot of fun, and I actually like every song here (so I don't have much to say about it). I think a more viable comparison to this album would be the first Talking Heads album. Also, Andy's voice gets on my nerves after a while on later albums, but here it sounds fine.

Add your thoughts?

Go2 - Virgin 1979
Rating = 6

This one seems more herky-jerky and robotic. Less Jam, more Oingo Boingo or Devo. Lots of skaish bouncy stuff. But not your "Mighty Mighty Bosstones" ska. This is just a ska influence added in to the punk/new wave stew of Brunswick synths and Beef guitars that they had already conquered or whatnot. So it's reggae, ska, pop, punk and new wave all played together at the same time. If that's okay with you!

Strange thing about this band (at least on these first two albums) - they sound incredibly intelligent, yet still manage to record way too many dumb songs. "Life Is Good In The Greenhouse," for example, sounds like a floor. And "Jumping In Gomorrah" is TOTAL ska and, therefore, by definition, a woman pooping on you. The intelligence comes through in the song constructions that feature an odd drumline, a scraggly reverbed distorted guitar playing something neat in the background, a dubby-ass bass dubbin' along singin' a song, and then those oddball synths jingle/jangle around, then the guitar gets really loud and plays something else entirely, then everything speeds up and a happy barroom piano comes in - see, these guys, at their best, combined super- eclectic youth music influences in a wildass NEW manner - listen close to amazing tracks like "Buzzcity Talking," "Meccanik dancing (Oh We Go!)" and "I Am The Audience" - just neat thingies! But again, not even clever songwriting and production ideas can save an album if it's full of bum riffs like "The Rhythm" and "Red" (though you gots to dig that saxophone and neat guitar break!).

I don't know. I'm totally primed to love this era of the band, but man some of the songs just BLOW!

Reader Comments

Nobody ever talks about this album, but it is one of my favorites. Of course I think "Buzzcity Talking" is the worst track on it, but I do agree "The Rhythm" comes close to being as bad. Still the rest is great and filled with surprises.

Not too bad for a sophomore slump. It's the classic case of a new band that's had a little bit of success, and proceeds to go out on endless tours with no sleep and tons of junk food and booze, and try to write and record an album in between vomiting. Only a select few can come up with an album this good in those circumstances. Early signs of psychedelic influence here, in "Battery Brides (Andy Paints Brian)", the "Brian" being Brian Eno. This song has a nice "Bjorn Borg" onomatopoetic bass line (Colin Moulding's description), and drifts in semi-ambient mode for the first minute or so. Elsewhere, there's their first great pop single (though it flopped) in "Are You Receiving Me?" which wasn't actually on the original album, but it's on the CD. There's two songs by Barry Andrews that aren't too bad, but sounds really strange in context - "My Weapon" and "Supertuff" - both basically half-serious cock-rock tunes. Colin's got a couple more doozies here too - "The Rhythm" is pretty ace, as is "Crowded Room" and "I Am the Audience." Andy's songs are pretty inconsistent still - either great ("Mechanic Dancing") or terrible ("Red"). Overall just a smidgen worse than White Music. 7.5/10

A really strange album that is probably the most fun XTC album out there. "My Weapon", "Super-Tough", "Battery Brides", "I Am The Audience", "Are You Receiving Me", and "Jumping In Gomorrah" are some of the most entertaining songs ever written. , I even learned to like Mekkanic Dancing" and always liked that greenhouse song. There are some duds, but this is the most fun XTC album, no probably.

XTC's explosive funhouse art rock album

Go 2 is THE definitive early XTC album. "Meccanik Dancing (Oh we go!) is one of the most unusual catchy songs I've ever heard. The psychedelic "Battery Brides (Andy Paints Brian)" sounds like brainwashed factory workers at work.

"Buzzcity Talking","Crowded Room" and "The Rhythm" are some of Colin Moulding's most exciting contributions to the XTC cannon. Check out the crazy ascending/descending chords in "The Rhythm". "Red" sounds like a hot, sweaty nightclub somehow and does feature some interesting saxophone from Barry Andrews. "Beatown" and "Jumping in Gomorrah" are hyper Partridge workouts.

"My Weapon" and "Super Tuff" are sarcastic, amusing and pretty entertaining.

Although the Andrews songs that should have appeared here are "Sargasso Bar" and "Things Fall To Bits".

"I Am The Audience" features the yob chorus of Terry and Barry (with Terry on the football rattle).

But the most innovative and interesting track here is "Life Is Good In The Greenhouse".

Sure it's far from Partridge's best by a long shot but the "dub" process used as far as emptying things out is brilliant.

Very unique drumming from Terry Chambers on this one. The excellent "Are You Receiving Me?" single is the featured bonus track here. There's really no reason why its B-Side, "Instant Tunes" isn't on this issue of GO 2. Virgin screwed up the first time and added it as a bonus trach to White Music. Why they screwed up a second time is beyond me. It's also creatively in line with the production line concept behind GO 2. Barry's playing makes a bit more sense and in place on this album and Terry and Colin prove to be a rhythmic force to be reckoned with. Andy and Barry are uninhibited mavericks scribbling merrily over Terry and Colin's canvas. The only LP in existence like this one is Adam And The Ants debut Dirk Wears White Sox but that's way more of a sour experience than this. This record delights, surprises, entertains, rocks, baffles, innovates and inspires.

Sophomore slump my arse - better than most bands' debut platters. Highly reccomended!

I gotta give this a higher grade than Caucasian music. I might even also like this better than the next album. Not only is this album more fun, but it's more diverse than its underrated predecessor. Only bad songs I can think of here are "Life is Good" and "Super Tuff". All the other songs are pretty good though. Some are danceable, catchy, rocking, whatever. I've run out of positive analogies for this album. I'll give it an 8.5.

Add your thoughts?

* Drums And Wires - Virgin 1979 *
Rating = 10

Something that most medical journals tend to ignore about gonorrhea is that it

This is the third XTC and, in the opinion of this lousy author, their finest creation of every times. Describe for me if you will the abrasive, hard-edged, intelligent, guitar-heavy approach to the pop song that they take on here.

Oh wait, that's what I'm supposed to be doing. Okay, there are almost no keyboards on this one, but TWO crankly scrakkle guitars intertwining in strange stereo- aided ways, a bass that bends, twirls, frightens and bounces - and then happy vocals on top somehow making everything sound like a normal pop song! This was the experimental peak of XTC's career, and both Colin Moulding and Andy Partridge were writing feverishly about such topics as the "Scissor Man" and a woman who spirals around like a "helicopter-copter" and a "Complicated Game" that not only doesn't make Chris Isaac roll around on the beach with a busty young woman but actually makes the singer scream his frightened heart out into an echo pedal as the song progresses.

I personally have kind of a weirdo version of this album (it starts with the non-LP single "Life Begins At The Hop" instead of "Making Plans For Nigel" and includes a three-song 7" that KICKS ASS!), but I'm fairly certain that all of these tracks appear on the CD reissue so I feel confident asking you to run out to your store right now, pick it up and run back out the door, ignoring the sirens and gunshots. Because, believe you me - Primus didn't choose to cover two songs from this album for no reason! They chose to do so because XTC's outlook at this point was a little KoOkY oDdBaLl and WeIrD. And not every song is so goddamned happy like on their later stuff, fuckin happy piles of monkey bananas. There's still a little Jam influence on one or two tracks, but this has been replaced by lots of odd changes, moody arpeggiation and super-interesting guitar and bass riffs.

Last night I dreamt that it was my birthday and goofy Jewish convert Eric Sowkowlsky tried to play some hardcore song for me, before old school violin-playing nerd Kim Heggerberg (I purposely spelled their names wrong so that this page doesn't come up on a google search) took her shirt off to do the music for some "Calvin And Hobbes" skit that two other folks did for me, for no clear reason. Afterwards I went around telling everyone about how Kim showed her boobs ahoy to everyone. Which was NOT something that stuck-up tattletale bitch Kim Heggerberg would EVER do! But you know how college can change a person (lesbian). We all must find ourselves at some point (munchin rug), and the liberal university atmosphere (tongue bath) fills our young minds with ideas that the repressive home environment has been hiding from us for far too (predatorial clam-lapping lipstick dyke with an insatiable thirst for gullible Freshman pink that winks and stinks) long.

Reader Comments

The songs on this one sometimes take a while to sink in, but this is their masterpiece. Great review.

Mark Prindle is an evil bastard. Check out how dumb he makes me look in the "Black Sea" review below. I'll even admit to checking into my little XTC biography book to confirm the presence of an alternate "Black Sea" cover art. And then I get a note suggesting that Mark was just fuckin' with me. Maybe it's all that weed I've been smoking at work...

But one of the nice things about smoking pot at work is that you (sometimes) remember to bring your copy of "Drums & Wires," which originally contained a cover of a man beating a small seal to death with a shovel while two small children watched in horror. The first thing that gets you are the lyrics which, as Evil Bastard detailed earlier, are quite happy, kooky, and at times political. It sometimes takes a while, but soon you hear the obvious: these guys were a very tight, precise, and fucking awesome little band at this point in their career. Strong argument: a Metallica freak I knew in college (he was always practicing some guitar lick from "Master Of Puppets") stopped by and this album was playing. He asked me who they were, I explained and asked him if he liked it. "Not really," he said, "it's just that those guitar parts are pretty fuckin' good!" I felt so proud, even when Andy exclaims how he feels "like a jellyfish" right before a nice guitar break. And may I add again that Colin Moulding is one hell of a bass player?

Wanna know why that new Hot Hot Heat album is so good? Cuz they spent their time practicing from this album instead of "Master Of Puppets."

soul_crusher77@hotmail.com (Mike K.)
When I found out this album had both "Making Plans For Nigel" and that crazyass "Scissorman" song Primus covered, and also saw that it got the 10 on Mark Prindle's XTC review page, I immediately forgot about it for several months, then spotted it used in a record store and remembered again. And I am glad I did, because although there are a few songs that are just too ugly for it to be 10-worthym namely "Roads Girdle The Globe" and "Millions" (the percussion and that weird jumpy guitar lick that keeps popping up are laudable, but that's just not a likeable melody at all), the rest is a great shining moment for paranoid joviality and oddball pop. Even the numbers that could otherwise pass for yer average 70's punk/new wave band have this patina of weirdness about them. The Jam could have come up with the main riff of "When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty", but would they come up with that just-enough-off-tempo-to-be-disorienting bridge? Or even concieve of that paranoid "now I'm feeling like a jellyfish" bit, let alone put goofy synth noises that actually sound like jellyfish in the background? I think no(t).

My personal copy has the same extra stuff you're talking about, but presents "Life Begins At The Hop" at the start of the "bonus track" section of the cd where it belongs. However, I think I also have a weirdass version, since it came in a cardboard case and had lyrics translated into Japanese.

watta502@yahoo.gr (Akis Katsman)
There are very few songs in the world that make me always feel good and uplifting. "Helicopter" is one of them.

This album is good. I think it was one of Steve Lillywhite's first producing jobs! Prior to this, he had done other kinds of jobs. But that's the way it goes in the music business. Some of XTC's greatest songs are on here, but also a couple of their worst. Colin became a pin-up boy after the success of "Making Plans for Nigel" which pissed Andy off because Colin was a cute boy with long hair and Andy was not. The flawless pop of "Life Begins at the Hop" (also by Colin) didn't help matters either. Andy more than holds his own though. He saves his two best songs for last: "Scissor Man" and "Complicated Game". The former is so fast and playful it almost feels like an exercise in dexterity (they used to test themselves in concert by taking the tempo as fast as they dared), but it's tuneful as all heck. "Complicated Game" is the most disturbing song they ever did, at least until the death anthems that close "Skylarking". Atonal guitar noise, electronic pulse, paranoid screaming... are you sure this is XTC? Scary stuff. On the down side, there are a couple of clunkers in the middle of the album: "Reel By Real" (more Big Brother paranoia) and "Millions" (an ode to China!). Not terrible, just a tad boring. Overall, a very solid effort though: 9/10.

This one takes dedication from the listener. There are many really low key songs that take a while to appreciate like "Millions", "That Is The Way", "Day In Day Out", "Roads Girdle The Globe", but that is what makes the CD so much fun. "Making Plans For Nigel", "Life Begins At The Hop", "Outside World", "Complicated Game", and "Reel By Reel" are undeniable and stand out as an embarrassing bundle of songwriting riches. I am not a big fan of "Scissor Man", even though I first thought this was an ace, and "Helicopter" is another hyper track that doesn't do much for me, but if these are the duds I agree this is a ten and keeps rewarding repeated listens.

canbearava@fsmail.net (Richard)
New wave with mustard. One of the things that immediately grabs you about the album is the cover and it reflects the era perfectly. From about 1978 to 1983 was an odd time for music. Ever since Johnny Rotten stuck up his finger at the rock hegemony by wearing a t-shirt with "I HATE PINK FLOYD" written on it in 1977, the road works began on punk and its close companion - new Wave. Groups suddenly didn't have to worry about producing rock music for an orchestra and full choir to get respect. In fact, they managed to create their own kind of prog-rock and suddenly made guys like Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull seem like grumpy old men.

Drums and Wires is one of those albums. It is a proggy new wave album - without the choir. It is heady, yet superficial and the time signatures are, as in GO2, enough to make Keith Emerson throw his hands up in air and wonder why he worked so hard all those years for perfection. Those brats - no respect for their betters.

Billy Joel had the right, albeit smarmy, attitude - "It's still rock 'n' roll to me". That's fine, but Drums and Wires isn't just a rock album. It's a serious New Wave album in the richest form and yet 'this is pop'. There are others from the period that rival this perptually odd work and XTC did not quite reach anything so singular to the point. For me, Black Sea came across a bit too commercial and more as a contractual obligation than Drums. I guess Drums was at the cusp - Black Sea a fine album in its own right, doesn't quite hit that same level of cerebral interest for me.

By 1983, when the last of the great New Wave songs came out such as "the Safety Dance" and "Our House in the Middle of the Street", XTC was already waning from the mainstream. But they and their kind all did decline, unless they turned out for the trend.

Enjoy Drums and Wires. It's a great part of a most interesting era in popular music. In days long, long before the internet or even Windows 3.1.

Add your thoughts?

Black Sea - Virgin 1980
Rating = 8

In spite of its brutally offensive title and cover (the photo shows Andy Partridge in full Nazi regalia laughing as a river of blood carries thousands of dead African-Americans out to sea), this is a surprisingly upbeat, happy collection of great songs. Aside from the awesome screwball lead track "Respectable Street," these tunes are non-abrasive and not nearly as creatively performed as on Drums And Wires, but if your favorite Beatles songs were Paul's, you will be all over this bouncy, cheerful collection of pop jollies. There's some piano and keyboard on here too, smoothing the sound down so it's not just a couple of crackling guitars teaching you how to rock.

Speaking of which, I really like how these guys play guitar! Lots of arpeggiation, several different tones, melodies featuring lots of notes instead of just simple chords, and quite often very unexpected ways of playing the tunes. A perfect example is aforementioned "Respectable Street," in my opinion one of their best songs ever. Sure, Andy is singing a peppy memorable little voice melody, but check out what the guitars are doing! They're just cranking and splacking away at these ugly little chords! But it works anyhow. The bassist guy rules too. He bends lots of notes, does tons of little slides and keeps things busy when the guitarists fail to do so.

In short, as I review them, I'm becoming more and more of a fan of this band. At first glance, they're just ska-and-dub-influenced pop guys, but the more you listen, the more depth and smarts you find.

Reader Comments

I'm hoping that the lack of posts on the XTC section doesn't mean that their fan base has diminished. If so, sweet Jesus, the populous is really missing one hell of a rock band. Let me start by saying that XTC are like Gods in my world. Let me add that my religion of XTC started with this album. Perhaps this is why it remains as my favorite XTC album, but there are other remarkable albums in the XTC cannon too, so I really could give a shit where you start to approach this band (avoid Mummer though, please!) just get on board The Big Express with us!

Black Sea sounds huge thanks to some heavy handed production from Steve "$50,000 An Hour" Lillywhite and gloss from engineer Hugh "I have Sting & Phil Collins home numbers on my speed dial" Padgham. Whatever they charged, I can't complain at all about how this album sounds and it holds up well some twenty years after it's first pressing.

Next, let me ask an open question concerning the cover in which Mark speaks of. What cover is this from? I've been through three formats of this album: vinyl, cassette, and cd and none of them looked like the one he describes. The vinyl was the original domestic (RSO records, home of the BeeGees) that had the dorky deep see cover that was surrounded by green paper with the band name and title, the cassette and cd were both the Virgin import of the same image, without the stupid paper. I think I have an XTC book somewhere that said the offensive cover was scrapped (wonder why) in favor of a last minute shot of our heroes dressed as semen, er sea men. Apartheid in England's suburb of South Africa was in full hate mode at the time, so maybe Partridge was smackin' whitey's bitch up. It's gotta be a rare one. As much as I think Musicland is run by Nazis, I don't think they'd stock an album with this cover at all. Come to think of it, I don't think they carry any XTC albums anyway.

So I've gone on like a geek about the record's producer, engineer, and album cover; what about the tunes. Top notch rock and John was my favorite Beatle with George in second place. At the time, I didn't dig "Travels In Nihilon" but now that I've gotten older and bought a few Can albums, I love it. Not that the song sounds anything like Can, it's just that when you buy an album by Can you're automatically cool and understand everything. That's what the man told me at The Record Collector in Iowa City. So eleven tracks total, and not a dud in the lot. Even the B-sides from my cd re-issue aren't half bad, which means that these guys could probably record themselves belching and it would sound better than Can. All German art prog rock joking aside, this makes Black Sea a ten in my book. The performances are awesome and Prindle's right on about the guitar interplay of Andy Partridge and Dave Gregory. I dare some of those shit hot metal guitarists to come up with some of the sounds, patterns, and phrasing that these two toss of as easily as I toss off butt nuggets. Yup, Colin Moulding's a hot little four banger ranking right up there in my top five thunderbroomers of all time. Let me add some praises too for (then) drummer Terry Chambers who holds this mother together. I'll betcha Lilywhite took two weeks just to get the kit miced, 'caused they're all nice 'n compressy, bessy.

So there's my boner for XTC and the Black Sea album which ranks in at #4 on my Baker's Dozen list of 1980 albums. If you give a shit, AC/DC's Back In Black came in at number one, proving that you can love both smart rock and retard rock at the same time. Still need proof? Here's my big XTC for you to suck on. You love my XTC boner, don't you? Come on, suck it good. Yeah, that's real nice.

Do you mean to tell me that Mark WASN'T joking about that album cover???!!!!!

rbunnell@uclink.berkeley.edu (Rich Bunnell)
You're all silly.

That's the great thing about some of these self-taught guitar players. They don't really know how to play or name chords, so they make up their own. Andy Partridge does plenty of that on this album (as he did on Drums and Wires). Dave Gregory sticks to the classically-trained virtuoso stuff, often the rhythm parts, which gives both rhythm and lead a nifty off-kilter complexity.

Drums and Wires may have been a songwriting and performance breakthrough, but I think Black Sea is the first time they really have a fully-formed identity. Part of this is in the big booming sound that makes its first appearance here but will be a touchstone of most of their subsequent releases. The drums have that big echoey gated sound that characterized (and ruined) many recordings made in the 80s, but they really seem to suit Terry Chambers' style very well - he's just loves hitting those tom-toms. And let's not forget Colin Moulding, who contributes the huge hit "Generals and Majors" which is almost annoyingly catchy, and "Love at First Sight", which has one of my favorite XTC guitar hooks. How they hell do they play that? Must be a non-standard tuning. Ever try to read XTC guitar tabs? Damn those guys.

And Andy's songs! Wonderful! Check out "Towers of London" - it starts out fantastic, and then gets doubly good for the unexpected bridge! Kinda like the Beatles - starts your expectations out high, then exceeds them. Absotively gangbusters, mang. "Respectable Street"? - more like BigTesticle Street! Nice ballsy arrangement, with a chorus neatly reminiscent of McCartney's "Junior's Farm". And another odd, amazing guitar lick. Oh yeah, and one of my favorite XTC songs ever, "Burning With Optimism's Flames." This song defines "exuberant joy". We all love our moody depresso songs too, but when a song is THIS determinedly joyous, you gotta love it too. Try not singing along with the chorus!

As good and intricate as they were yet to become, XTC was never this balls-out in-your-face ever again. Musta been that breakdown that Partridge had. Bummer (Mummer). So don't miss this one.

"Respectable Street" is the only song that really is magical. The rest is easy to listen to and seems to be non-stop excellent songs, but for some reason never takes hold of me. I really don't understand why.

Here's my little comment (that is virtually asked for after the reviewer's review):

XTC's fourth album is easily their finest as XTC: Influental touring rock quartet. They hinted at the greatness that is this album with 1979's masterful Drums & Wires. Let's examine shall we? The LP opens with their best-ever opener, "Respectable Street"- a dig at suburban pretentiousness. The song may in fact be their most rockest (is that even a word?) song ever. Followed by the chiming dual guitar attack of "Generals & Majors" which succeeds in making cold war paranoia ultra hummable (or whistle-able if you will). Possibly Colin Moulding's finest single, it also features the currently very popular disco/new wave hi-hat action influenced by Terry Chambers.

"Living Through Another Cuba" is cold war paranoia to dance to. "Love At First Sight", another fine Moulding single, is perfect psychedelic new wave with it's echoing refrain, quirky chorus, stuttering guitar solo and the always inventive drumming of Chambers. "Rocket From A Bottle" and "Buring With Optomism's Flames" are both upbeat, optomistic songs with some great, great playing. The former sounds like The Kinks backing Paul McCartney - tuneful but rocking. "No Language In Our Lungs" may in fact be one of XTC's all-time greatest songs (a feat in itself).

The "I would have made this instrumental" & the repeating "way" parts still give me goosebumps. Ouch! "Towers Of London" provided XTC with yet another English folk (folk as in folklore) classic. "Paper & Iron (Notes & Coins)" points to where people like Damon Albarn & Blur learned a few tricks (just listen to their Modern Life Is Rubbish LP). It's subject of working-class struggle is common subject matter but this song is above and beyond others like it as we listen in on a band truly WORKING. "Sgt. Rock", a hit single in England is fun catchy fluff complete with mock hard-rock riffs. "Travels In Nihilon" is possibly XTC's most haunting song. The repetitive thundering drums and spooky bass line create an atmosphere not accomplised often in popular music. It sounds like stumbling upon a tribe of early homosapiens on a foggy shore or something. The bonus tracks are nice as well -"The Somnabulist" is interesting an exceptional. "Don't Lose Your Temper" is a nifty throwaway (with The Jam's Rick Butler on Handclaps for what it's worth) and "Smokeless Zone" is a sub-par Moulding contribution. The Rhythym section of Moulding and Chambers are at the height of their powers. As were Dave Gregory and Andy Partridge's dual guitar attacks. The Album went U.S. Top 40 and spawned five, yes five singles. Melodic, atonal, inspired, inspiring and great/complex/clever arrangements.

Complex and intelligent rock never sounded so easy except for maybe that band from the sixties. What were they called again? Oh yeah The Beatles. Whoever told the reviewer guy, Mark, he was "funny" must have had down syndrome.

Mark, you seriously need to listen to GO 2 (named after the Japanese strategy game GO and it being their second "go" at an ablbum) again this time without the bug in your ass which leads you to believe this album isn't 100% kick ass art-rock (still sounds ahead of it's time).

Add your thoughts?

English Settlement - Virgin 1982
Rating = 7

Interesting little album the world has here in XTC's British Plantation. Interesting in that the first half features example after example of astonishingly excellent pop gems, and the second half is pretty crappy! Still worth it though, this being a 72-minute CD and all, and eight of the songs being grate. The overall sound of the first half is fuller, moodier and slightly more gothy like The Cure or the later Damned stuff, with Andy's voice pushed back into the mix as "jai" (industry lingo for "just another instrument". Hey, don't yell at me! I never said WHICH industry!). But you know what sucks though? The second half tries to be all Caribbeany or Jamaican or something, and that particular sound is not one that appeals to me. In fact, I despise all islands. Thank God I'm here on a full safe connected piece of land, New York City, where nothing bad ever happens.

Oh! But the album! Yes, well, the songs also seem calmer than before. And less overtly cheerful. There's certainly some "down" mood on this album. As well as "Melt The Guns," a truly horrendous song by all accounts. Unless you like really irritating human beings going `DUBBA DUBBA DUH!" over and over again, in which case it's a fool's paradise filled with toucans and naked ladies. The CD's too damn long and filled with beans though, and you can take THAT to the bank of Gibraltar.

Also, there's this punkyass song called "Fly On The Wall" that has the same title as an AC/DC song and a The Jesus Lizard song, that title being "Tight And Shiny Big Balls."

Oh FRIDGERATOR! "Senses Working Overtime" is on here! There's a chorus that you'll never get out of your head! Take it from me, Mark Prindle - THAT is a florist you'll never get out of your bed!

Having said all that, English Settlement has some of their best songs and some of their worst songs, all together in a calmer, slightly gothy-esquer collection of half-dream-pop and half-stupid-Jamaican-drumming-crap songs. 1-2-3-4-5! Senses Working Overtime!

You know, I realized something today that I think I'm going to have to point out to all of my managers at work, perhaps in an email or office memo - it suddenly hit me that, technically speaking, there's no "we" in "team" either.

Reader Comments

victorproserecords@attbi.com (Ryan Maffei)
I'm afraid that on this completely superfluous, uninspiring evening, I have suddenly been struck with the urge to fill this unfortunate empty space below your English Settlement review with some delightfully insightful comments of my own. Except I'm feeling far too superfluous and uninspiring to at all strive toward insight.

Good album! Jolly good show! Colin Moulding is at his best, least fruity yet! This whole record is a great piece of work! I absolutely love every song and think that this is XTC's masterpiece, even though I'd only give it a 4.5 out of 5 because I don't think any of their albums are fully consistent the whole way through! And Wasp Star was really, freakin' terrible! What happened? No "Grass"? No "Great Fire"? No "This Is Pop?" for Christ's sakes? I'm all for taking different musical directions, but why did this group have to take that direction?

Yeah. There you go. All right. This is the kind of thing that tells you why I don't have my own successful review page up and running yet.

Prindle's probably right about this one, but I'm going to argue just because I'm in an argumentative mood. It's a double, but XTC's American distributor actually had a good idea when they set out to whittle this thing down to a single player. The problem was, whoever sequenced the fucker was a moron as they left some nice songs out of the American pressing that I had to find out about later when they reissued the whole thing in the original (UK) form. Make sense? Of course not: we live in America where nothing makes sense and everyone makes money. I'm looking right at you, David Geffen.

The first four batters (Runaways/Ball & Chain/Senses Working/No Thugs) start pushing this thing into classic territory. Then, things start to get a bit soggy (Melt The Guns/Leisure/Knuckle Down/Fly On The Wall) with tunes better left in the vault. I guess a two-year hiatus and a recent declaration that they were retiring from touring had the boys feeling a little generous at our expense.

Let me point out that Hugh Padgham does a great job of prepping for his future Police work with "It's Nearly Africa" starting just like The Cops' "Walking In Your Footsteps." We used to fast forward both of those songs in high school anyway.

So give me a razor and some splicing tape and let me make this thing into a full on classic. On the other hand, after the piece of shit that followed this, "English Settlement" remained (for a while) as the last great XTC release.

Following the extroverted bombast of "Black Sea" and still only a few years into their career, "English Settlement" must have been kinda novel and neat when it came out, but as everyone now acknowledges, it's kind of overrated. It's got some filler, yes, but also, the pastoral sound that it's known for is mainly just a product of more acoustic guitars paired with a more muffled, ambiguous sound. Many of these tracks work wonderfully: "Jason and the Argonauts" is a great example of this fuzzy acoustic frenzy, with it's cyclical acoustic guitars and psychedelic mood. "It's Nearly Aftrica", however, takes it a tad far. And Colin's "Fly on the Wall" sounds pretty impressive at first but wears thin kinda quickly, as does his "English Roundabout."

Even so, there are plenty of classic XTC songs, enough to justify much of its praise. "Senses Working Overtime" frickin rules, as everyone agrees. What a great, original batch of hooks! And I'm a pretty big fan of two underdogs here: the lazy loping beat of "Leisure" (one of Andy's least favorite songs ever, apparently) is fun and catchy, and "Down in the Cockpit" is a wonderful dance tune that directly contradicts the album's pastoral reputation. Anyone who likes XTC is going to like this album, but if you're just getting into them, don't expect a masterpiece. 8/10.

My opinion on this one changes daily. At first it was easy to tell which songs were good and which sucked. Now I find my self liking things like "It's Nearly Africa", "Down In The Cockpit" and even "Yacht Dance"(at one time thought this was the worst song ever made). I have always loved "Fly On The Wall" and can't for the life of me figure out how everyone rips it acting like it is an obviously bad song. This is a classic. "5 Senses Working Overtime" deserves all the praise it gets, and there are tons of other classics like Roundabout, Thugs, Jason, Ball, Runaway, and Sudden so overall a really great album to keep discovering.

Comments on XTC's English Settlement...

Just because a drummer employs a Blue-beat/Ska-influenced rhythm hardly means that the songs are trying to be "all Caribbeany or Jamaican or something" or so went your little un-informed disclaimer as to why you didn't like it. Sorry, but if you're looking for basic 4/4 drum beats you should ignore XTC as a whole. Terry Chambers is one of few drummers to have influenced the likes of Stewart Copeland - while on tour with The Police (tastes aside S.C. does somewhat rule) to namecheck. You said the second half was very Jamaican and that's why you didn't like it. "Knuckle Down" sounds like an old English dancehall number (somewhere just South of "Your Mother Should Know"), "Leisure" sounds nothing like reggae and "Fly On The Wall" is (for XTC) straight-ahead rock. And if you think that "Down In The Cockpit" sounds remotely Jamaican you need to get you ears cleaned.

If anything it sounds like early Talking Heads with a drummer who can be something more than minimalist (via their own ability). "Melt The Guns" and "It's Nearly Africa" do have something of a reggae feel but, if you are at all familliar with reggae, you'll know it's never quite as A) intricate and B) busy - but you already stated your dislike for it (thus implying your vast knowledge of it) and Island music is never this tense and nervous sounding.

"English Roundabout" uses a heavy Blue-beat beat done somewhat against Colin Moulding's (the writer of the song) wishes but it was left this way as it does provide for an interesting overall feel for this playful song.

As far as the first half "moodier and slightly more gothy like The Cure or the later Damned stuff" - far from anywhere near an acurate description. Does echo constitute as gothy? I think not. The Cure could never be as medieval as "Jason" and "Senses" are in spades.

And didn't use an acoustic guitar until 1985 (three years after this release). And The Damned's later material, as crap as they became, sounds nothing like anything on side one. And as far as Andy's voice acting as instument (your ever witty "jai" uh, "desciption") - welcome to XTC! Glad you could make it! He's been doing this for a few albums now.

Funny that you think side two is "pretty crappy". The last song "Snowman" rates amongst XTC's fans (and band members come to think of it) as one of Andy's finest moments.

Must have been that damned excessive Terry Chambers drumming that every XTC fan adores that screwed it up for you.

What impostures, they're not Jamaican. Boy, what fools.

I note thats you complain about half the album buy the australian version all the craps not there apparently the story goes that the double album was to much for the australian market well its to much for any market in my mind.

I only noticed there was a longer version when i found the cd in import

Geeze, Ian Pillar, my Australian English Settlement consists of two vinyl 33 1/3's and all 15 songs present and correct, and its even numbered. Everey XTC record has a couple of duds, this being no exception, but in the main I think its the ducks guts.

Add your thoughts?

Mummer - Virgin 1983
Rating = 5

Christ on a Mustard Sandwich! This is a bunch of slow, morose, tuneless crap! Or at least 50% of it is (the half that I gave a 0) - you see, according to XTC legend, Andy Partridge went nutso beginnigo at the start of a concert and ran offstage all nervous to collapse. Thereafter, he refused to tour, citing "exhaustion," "stage fright" and "intense nausea at the mere thought of having to play for all those pricks that buy my albums." So this album may be some attempt to redefine himself or something. But it comes across almost like The Cure's The Top -- you sit there and wait for the songs to elevate themselves above mediocrity and they hardly ever do. And the songs ddddddddddddrag and dragggggggggg and draaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaag. (aww! That word looked like a cute dachshund! Look at it! Adorable!!!) It's like his pop sensibilities got embarrassed by his sissy "run off the stage" behavior and left to go hang out with John Cougar. LUCKILY, SAVING THE DAY IN THIS ROUGH PERIOD, the album honestly does start great, end great and feature one great song in the middle (this will remain nameless to pique your interest in this exciting puzzle, about which you and your friends should start a top-dollar betting pool), but golly Pete, every other song just seems to jiggle along with no direction. Occasionally they'll happen upon a fantastic pop la-de-da, but far too often, as in the cases of "Deliver Us From The Elements," "Human Alchemy" and "Wonderland," the songs get their musical tires stuck in layers of slow, sloppy, sappy, shitty goopy musical murk-mud. It's all too slow and dreamy, almost hippyish - dreary, bland, mostly synth and piano, very little interesting guitar. And even when the main riff is nice, it almost always switches to something with all the charm and precision of a guy falling asleep with his head resting on the "synthesizer strings and bird noises" button.

Reader Comments

I agree for the most part, except i enjoy a few of the bonus tracks on the version of the album i have ("Jump, "Toys") so i give it a 6. I absolutely love "Love On A Farmboy's Wages". I wish there were more songs like this on the album. "Beating Of Hearts", "Funk Pop A Roll" and "Great Fire" are also fantastic, but i could never get into this album.

cholt@sourcesuite.com (Chris Holt)
I can't believe nobody has pointed out the fact that "Ladybird" is one of Partridge's finest songs EVER. Justifies the album's entire existence, in my opinion.

dan@dankoster.com (Dan Koster)
You know what? I always thought this album sort of... bit. Hard. Then I got the 2001/02 reissue (yes, in the super-geek-fetish imitation vinyl sleeve, if you must know) and my opinion has changed considerably.

OK, certain songs were always great... Beating of Hearts and Funk Pop a Roll (beginning and ending the album with a bang, as you point out in your review), plus Love on a Farmboy's Wages, Me and the Wind, and... I always had a super soft spot for Deliver Us From the Elements and In Loving Memory of a Name, two of Colin's most underrated gems. But my overall impression of Mummer was that it somehow, despite its moments of greatness, on the whole, just... bit.

Upon buying the reissue, I have experienced twin revelations. One, that synth-heavy songs that sounded twee and lame previously, now have the digitally restored, remastered, rejiggered OOMPH necessary to take them over the top. And two, that Mummer's "penalty tracks", as I like to refer to them, having been stuck in between sides one and two on the Geffen CD, completely sabotaged the flow of the album and ruined the entire experience.

Let's talk about these extra tracks. Now, Jump is a classic, deserving of inclusion. Maybe XTC's greatest B-side not to make it onto an album. And Toys is good kitschy fun. Goofy, childish, but hey, that's what it's about. Two good ones.

But Gold? Andy's never sounded more like a parody of himself and that annoying 3-note descending "Go-o-old!" over and over in the chorus really irks me. Combined with the incessantly repeated 4-note rising line ("And it's O.K....") it adds up to a persnickety chorus that won't get out of my head, and I don't mean that at all in a good way. Then... Desert Island has been exiled to my own private desert island, where it and a small handful of XTC songs I'd be perfectly happy to never, ever, hear again in my life reside. (Right next door to Sgt. Rock and just across the way from Wounded Horse.) "Me and poor Crusoe sharing the same fate... Cast away on a desert island, with Great Britain written on its nameplate." Paging Dr. Obvious, Dr. Obvious, you have a call on the white courtesy telephone, please... It's the Metaphor Men and Ms. Simile and they'd like to remind you that *suggesting* a connection is generally much more effective than bloody spelling it out... on a nameplate, no less...

Finally, the two instrumentals. Now, I actually like them quite a lot... in proper context. When I'm in a funky electro-experimentational ambient jazzbo mood, one of my favorite listens is the Homo Safari series, 1-6, as put together on the Dear God CD-single. I've put Egyptian Solution and Mantis On Parole on mixes in the past. And I love listening to these outcasts across the years as if they were a coherent instrumental suite or concerto. Really enjoyable. Exciting, even.

Know what they are when you separate them and wedge them between actual songs with actual lyrics and actual foregrounded attention-demanding content? Lame. Really, really lame. It would be as if Tool stopped rockin' non-stoppin' and slammed weird ambient instrumentals between their powerdirges, breaking the flow. Oh. Wait. ...Tool do that already. Uh... er... OK, but nonetheless, Tool do it to build or release tension between songs, contributing to an overall mood across their albums. The instrumentals serve a purpose. When Frost Circus and Procession Towards Learning Land (the most ambient and most atonal of the Homo Safari series, respectively) interrupt Mummer, well, by the time Human Alchemy comes on, you've forgotten why you began listening to the album in the first place (or even that you're listening to XTC at all), and it never regains momentum.

By moving the bonus tracks to the end and allowing Side Two to directly follow Side One, the reissued Mummer has risen about 3 points on a scale of 10 in my estimation. Human Alchemy now *means* something, building on the steam of Deliver Us From The Elements. It's an expression of ultimate human disaster through human failing, following an evocation of ultimate natural disaster through cosmic indifference. And it sounds fucking fabulous. The album goes up another 2 points for the new fuller sound breathing life into that song, Great Fire, and even Wonderland... plus, all the ones that already sounded great sound even better. In the end, the remastering and resequencing makes Mummer rate as highly in my book as Black Sea, Skylarking, English Settlement, Oranges & Lemons and The Big Express. All of which have their weak songs and failings, but constitute the portion of the XTC library that never fails to bring a smile to my face and a hoarse-throated imitation of Andy from my lungs. Bravo!

(XTC. Instrumentals. Not, generally speaking, two great tastes that taste great together. I'm sort of intrigued about Instruvenus. And filled with dread at the prospect of Waspstramental.)

You may never want to actually play this album, but if you do put it on for some strange reason you will enjoy it more than you thought you would.

Or as I like to call it: "Wimper." This album was/is so bad that it nearly prompted me to put them into the same category that I put Ultravox in: shit to sell back to the record store when I need some fast cash for crack. A piece of tepid studio noodles that Mark has been, believe me, extremely generous on. Cheers to Dan (nice review) for trying to steer us to reconsider "Mummer" but it ain't going to happen anytime soon at my place.

I think of this as a failed attempt to do what they eventually did much better on "Skylarking." A mood piece, yes, but pretty darn inconsistent too. And although I can only think of one track that rubs me the wrong way ("Funk Pop a Roll" ... sorry...), about a third of the songs are pretty nondescript - but not at all bad. The best tracks are as good as anything they've ever done. "Love on a Farmboy's Wages", "Great Fire", "Ladybird", and "Beating of Hearts" would have made a great EP.

A word in defense of the "penalty tracks" (thanks to Dan Koster above for coining a great phrase! I'm gonna use that myself more often). I personally think "Gold" is a great tune, ascending/descending vocal hook and all. So there. "Toys" is pretty cool too, though the lyric is kinda corny. I personally can do without all those "Homo Safari" tracks (bonus B-sides scattered across several of the releases from this period, characterized by instrumental synthesizer noodling). 7/10

Thoughts change after you spend time with an album so I wanted to write about my new perspective. OK I feel pretty much the same. I think the slagging of this album goes overboard and still feel like when you play this album it is much better than you expect. The only songs I hate are "Great Fire", which everyone seems to like and always finds its way onto greatest hits compilations for some reason I can't understand and "Me And The Wind". I think "Human Alchemy", "Deliver Us From The Elements", "Ladybird", "In Loving Memory Of A Name", and "Funk Pop A Roll", are masterpieces. The rest is pretty darn good with "Love On A Farmboy's Wages", and "Wonderland", being deserved hits. I think this one doesn't deserve any of the slagging, even the bonus tracks aren't bad, and actually stands out as a highpoint in XTC's catalog.

Add your thoughts?

The Big Express - Geffen 1984
Rating = 8

My feeling is that the production on this album is from 1984. Not only are there big synthy drums, fake horns, fretless bass like Paul Simon would probably like and keyboards that would make the Human League sound like John Fahey*, but there's also TVs everywhere and this room where they make you confront your biggest fear (Supertramp). Most of the songs sound mighty happy though, and the poppiness will warm the hearts of even the most spaghetti noodle. Jazzy pianos, awful harmonica in "Reign Of Blows," the worst song EVER "Shake You Donkey Up**." Trashing the music industry. They're back to sounding like XTC is what I'm trying to say. Radio-ready chugalug dandy pie music. A bit of reggaefication here or there. Bounciness. Circusy. Cheerful. Sgt. Peppers. Clapping. Music that your mother would like, and I would know because I'm your father***.

Yesterday I bought my dog a soft plush saxophone that plays a catchy saxophone tune whenever he bites it hard enough. It's the cutest thing in the world****. But he keeps biting it while I try to review albums, so now all my reviews say things like "Fantastic McCartney-esque piano ballad! Until the middle of the 2nd verse, when a really out-of-place saxophone solo comes in. It repeats again at the beginning of the next song, continuing in a seemingly random rhythm for several minutes after the album is complete." Seriously! Read all my reviews! They ALL say that now! Go check the Led Zeppelin ones. Cut and paste them into a Word document, type the paragraph "Fantastic McCartney-esque piano ballad! Until the middle of the 2nd verse, when a really out-of-place saxophone solo comes in. It repeats again at the beginning of the next song, continuing in a seemingly random rhythm for several minutes after the album is complete." at any point you want in the review. Then do a search for the phrase.


*John Fahey plays the acoustic guitar.

**I'm exaggerating here. Obviously it's not as bad as "American Pie."

***Let me explain what I mean here. I don't mean that I raised you and nurtured you or even that I fucked your mother (though I did); I mean that I'm God, your heavenly father.

****I'm exaggerating here. Obviously it's not as cute as Luke Skywalker or the StormTroopers in Nazi Germany.

*****Tits play the acoustic guitar.

The BOUNCY acoustic guitar, that is!!!!!

Reader Comments

It does definatly have that 80's production quality, but the songs are all excellent. I couldnt picture any of them being big hit 80's singles, as most of em are weird and pretty inaccessable (except "This World Over", which is a very nice ballad), even though they all have excellent melodys. I love how they have 2 guitars playing in different beats on "Wake Up", and also the funny huge bombastic drums in "All You Pretty Girls". Hate "Shake You Donkey Up" all you want, but i think its hilarious, not to mention catchy as hell. "...Smalltown", "I Bought Myself A Liarbird", and "I Remember The Sun" are also enjoyable and "Train Running Low On Soul Coal" is an awesome ending to this album. I also enjoy the bonus tracks (except "Blue Overall" is kinda dumb). I give it a high 8.

jfiero1@lsu.edu (Joshua Fiero)
You, sir, are on crack. But it's funny crack.

Here we have one of Prindle's best record reviews and a great example of why I keep coming back here urinating in his yard. Everyone and their dog except Mark Prindle would have easily given "Skylarking" higher marks than "The Big Express." Yet, God bless him (wait a minute, he declared that he is the Heavenly Father) that Mark feels the need to praise the hyper-exaggerated production value of this lifeless studio fart.

Actually, the digital gloss is about the only thing wrong with this album, which is probably what Mark was getting at in the first place. So maybe I should listen to "Skylarking" again and curse Prindle for being right again. Let me again hint at my age by saying that even when I purchased this thing when it was originally released I thought it sounded way glossy. This was also during a time in which the only XTC albums available on cd were at fucking Tower records in the import section. And after "Mummer," the last thing I wanted to do was to shell out extra jack for an album that might suck as much ass as its predecessor. I did and the sucking is reduced to tracks like "Train Running Low On Soul Coal" "Blue Overall" or "Washaway." Everything else is pretty solid "look at me playing with my model train set" XTC pop rock, which is exactly what Partridge wanted.

It took a while to sink in but have to admit that Mark is right about this one and I can now easily see why he gave it a higher rating than 'Skylarking'. In my view the best songs on 'The Big Express' are far more memorable than those on 'Skylarking'. So even crap like 'Reign of Blows' and 'Shake You Donkey Up' cannot stop me from preferring it to the following album.

The Big Express gives me a headache. But pain is real... as real is pain... as real is now. All is mind... as mind is all... flesh is stone... as stone is flesh.... Anyway Saccharine Trust's first EP Pagan Icons is a raging cross between a railway station and a sea shanty. You couldn't ask for a more overstuffed leadoff sundae track than "Wake Up", which will make you do just that. Producer David Lord took one of Colin's most simple songs, and turned it into a clanging anthem. That ping pong effect with the opening guitars is just the SHIT! That's basically the whole song too, all 5 minutes of it... but it's so good you don't mind. Some of the tracks go way overboard, though, resulting in the headache mentioned above.

Wait, did I say Saccharine Trust above? Aw screw it, you know what I mean.

Tracks I can do without:
"All You Pretty Girls" - a bunch of Vikings singing a maritime song about girls they're gonna ram when they get home if they haven't already shot their wad from all that raping and pillaging.
"Shake You Donkey Up" - the soundtrack to said Vikings "strumming the big Open-E" in the ship's bathroom (did Vikings use bathrooms?) between rapings and pillagings.
"Shooting Star" - a ballad about a schoolboy who hears his first Beatles song ("Love Me Do", I think it was) and goes on to be a rock and roll star, only to be raped and pillaged by Vikings, thus resulting in the release of an album called "Dangerous Age"
"Reign of Blows" - a song about a gay Viking who rapes and pillages his own ship.

All kidding aside, 7/10.

This is a pretty darn good album that most ignore. Personally I like "Reign Of Blows" and "Train Running Low" a lot and don't understand why others don't. I do agree "Shake Your Donkey Up" is just stupid. This is better than Skylarking. Great review.


Thanks for posting my Sparks Propaganda comment. And now, swelling with a delightful surge of self-importance, I offer the following:

How come no one mentions "Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her"? Too obvious or something? It's one of the best songs XTC ever recorded. Way near the top. But since no one else mentions it here, maybe there's something uncool about liking that one, so actually it's a piece of crap that elevates the rest of The Big Express to such high levels. Wow, "Seagulls" is awful. Can't believe that they wedged that turd in between so many GEMS.

Glad we're best friends now!

Add your thoughts?

Skylarking - Geffen 1986
Rating = 7

I'm home from work again, and it's time to write another review. Let me pull out my notes. Ah yes, this is the CD that is very peaceful and meditative until halfway through when it suddenly gets awfully depressing. I remember it now. Filled with cricket noises, pianos, acoustic guitars, bongos and keyboards, Skylarking rescued the band from the 80s production of Tha Big Ex-To- The-Izzo Press-To-The-Ozo to create an intertwining, outerflowing collection of dreamy, timeless post-hippy peace, love and understanding. Scarlet eyes in the stream, leaves of beauty drifting over lazy streams and couples kissing in the grass.. Err. Umm, until the violin-driven "1000 Umbrellas" announces that "Now I'm crawling the wallpaper that's looking more like a roadmap to misery." But hey! Then there's more gentle peaceful pop songs about the change of the seasons, umm - then we're halfway through and suddenly we're confronted with worries about money, marriage, love, loneliness, religion and DEATH. Don't tell Roger Waters! He'll sue!

Is it a rock opera? Some (Rich Bunnell) might argue so. A couple of the tunes seem a little misplaced, but for the most part, it's quite incredible how both the lyrics trace a basically clear path from wide-eyed young innocence through adult pain and anxiety through to meditations about our final moments on Earth. As such, it's easy for me to understand why this is such a highly-regarded CD by most fans and critics. But not for me - too many of the tunes just aren't memorable enough! I don't want you worrying about which ones I might mean, so let me avoid controversy by being explicit: I find the "Supergirl" song only okay. I actually HATE the lyrics, so the fact that some of the music seems okay is a surprise to me: "Season Cycle" is awfully bouncy but necessarily creative: "Big Day" is more interesting than it is likable (it sounds like a George Harrison song!): I actively LOATHE the Tom Waitsy "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul" and the hit single "Dear God" - well, "dear god" is really all you can say about this pretentious failed attempt to recreate John Lennon's spiked anti-religious vomit.

But all the other songs (especially the odd-noisey "Satellite" and harmonious Beatlesy "Big Day") are so good, I forgot the fiber!

As such, would you mind sticking your cellphone up my ass to scrape the 40 pounds of dried waste out of my large intestine?

Don't tell Roger Waters! He'll record it and turn it into a "bread crunching" noise!

Reader Comments

mattro@raptorial.com (Mattro)
My favorite track from Skylarking (both then and now) is the brilliant 'Dear God'. If you recall the political climate of the mid-80s you know that this track is not some homage to (nor rip-off of) John Lennon's somber 'God'. XTC's 'Dear God' is a reaction to the puritanically oppressive politics and "spiritual values" of the Thatcher/Reagan era.

In 'God' (written around 1970), Lennon is giving up on his dreams allowing them all to fall like a house of cards. He declares he no longer believes in God, The Beatles, Elvis, politicians of his era and many other things he once found important. Lennon sounds exhausted as if the energy it took to believe in all these things finally just wore him down. 'God,' like much of Lennon's work, is deeply personal to him and is perhaps not as broadly applicable as 'Give Peace a Chance' for example. 'Dear God' is a much more focused open letter expressing specific frustrations with religion's contradictions. To me, Lennon's 'God' is about giving up on everything while XTC's 'Dear God' is at its core confrontational... the opposite of giving up.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I had been listening to XTC and 'Dear God' for many years before I ever explored John Lennon's solo work. In my mind, 'God' and 'Dear God' have no associated relation to one another and I don't find 'Dear God' contrived at all. This is not to say that XTC is free from contrivance ('President Kill Again' from Oranges & Lemons for example tries a little too hard to over state its point). 'Dear God' has always seemed sincere to my ears and noggin. I remember admiring how brave XTC was to release this song in such a conservative political climate (as a single no less!). Braver still were those DJs who played the track back in those days.

Enjoying the gulag fellas?

I do agree some of the lyrics are too precious even for a wimp like myself. I mean "Ballet For A Rainy Day", "Supergirl", and "1000 Umbrellas" are bloody awful, but "Dear God" is brilliant and about time rock actually showed any rebellion at all. I mean you listen to any group besides, "Motorhead", and their brainwashed little minds spout the same religious hypocrisy you would expect from Pat Robertson. It is pathetic. Just for that single this album deserves a place in every record collection, but if you don't mind music that sounds pretty the rest of the album is pretty enjoyable as well in a relaxing sort of way.

nator9999@comcast.net (Nathan)
This album is really overrated. For some reason XTC felt the need to create the 80's version of Magical Mystery Tour (also attempted by Prince on Around the World In a Day, another notoriously bad album) and the results aren't so great. The first two tracks do a pretty good job of establishing that morning vibe, but the rest is cheesy 80's crap like "Supergirl," "1000 Umbrellas," and "Ballet for a Rainy Day." Side 2 is a bit better, I actually like "Earn Enough For Us" and "Another Satellite" a lot. But "the Man Who Sailed Around His Soul"? Please guys, leave this stuff to Tom Waits, he's much better at it than you. "Dear God" would be okay if the lyrics weren't so dumb. If you don't believe in God, why are you sending him hatemail? If you were to send God mail, what address would you send it to anyway? In the end, neither of these questions are answered, and I'm left utterly disappointed.

Sometimes the greatest artistic albums are born in a sea of disparity. You take the worlds two weirdest recluses and stick them in a studio in Woodstock, New York, and even though the English Prog-Rock nerd, (no that isn't Elvis Costello,) goes crying home disappointed, what you have left is one of the very great albums of the eighties. The marriage of Todd Rundgren and Andy Partridge would seem a marriage in heaven to a disassociated music fan, unfortunately their egos clashed and created legendary animosity. What's also forgotten is the legend that Colin Moulding stormed out of the sessions threatening to quit although he was probably scared back to Todd's farm when he couldn't find the roundabout and was nearly killed by driving head on into traffic. All the while, David Gregory was happily perfecting his solo for That's Really Super Super Girl on one of Todd Rundgren's, axes which happened to be the paisley guitar that Eric Clapton used in Cream. Let's face it, the English are often homesick,(who knows why?), luckily the Runt pulled them into his studio and saved their careers after the drum machine from the Big Express was repossessed. Just listen to the music, Beethoven's sixth pastoral symphony would be a perfect intro-musick to a fantasy XTC live Skylarking performance with the London Symphony Orchestra. Todd Rundgren, who as legend has it is a chopsticks piano player, created some of the most beautiful electronic orchestration I've ever heard on Colin's ode to either sex, cannabis, truancy, or ice cream on the second track. The analog cricket's chirping and the lyrical imagery of Mister Partridge on the albums first track are masterful. The open chord tuning and chorus to the Meeting Place are some of Colin's finest moments. The revolver styled guitar rock of Earn Enough, the incredible D.Gregory string arrangements on Two thousand...., the secret agent 60's style arrangement of the Man who Sailed around..(the flute was incredible!), and even the last set of songs, (I wouldn't want to drop dead at the supermarket!), resonate with a kind of studio virtuosity which is very rare to find in the bubblegum machine of 80's, 90's, and 21st century pop. As far as the hulabalu about Dear God and the Mermaid, I say put 'em both on the album. Perhaps in an earlier life Andy Partridge was burned at the stake as a heretic, but hey, Skylarking with all of its tracks was one of the twentieth century's great lost albums, and, except if you are living in Florida, most of the witch hunt's are long over. Regardless of what your particular burning question is, Dear God is a great pop song. Forests have been levelled to page the lengthy tomes that have been written and burned regarding theological disputes, but leave it to my man Andy to put it down in a three minute pop song with one of the greatest lead-in drum fills I've ever heard . Throw in some ridiculous technical electric guitar work with a beatle-esque chord progression and what your left with is a song that will hold its own regardless of its lyrical content. But, hey, let's face it, in the words of the Monty Python's-You Can Never Escape The Spanish Inquisition.

Skylarking is one of my favorite albums of all time. I'd love to pick it apart like I've done with all the other XTC albums that have enriched my life, but I can't. Sometimes Todd Rundgren threatens to turn the album into his own, but I like his work too, so my hands are tied here. "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul" sounds like cheesy spy music, but I love cheesy spy music, so I keep coming back. Rabbit turds. No matter how you slice it, it comes up peanuts. Everyone should buy this album, especially if you like chocolate. I should really go on a diet.

Some time has passed since I first wrote about this album. I basically feel the same. "Dear God" is a classic and there are a lot of other really good songs. "Big Day", "Earn Enough For Us", "Grass", "Season Cycle", the summer song and bonfire song are all really good. "Satellite", "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul", and "Dying" stand up pretty well and the rest keeps it from being a classic. I mean "Ballet For A Rainy Day", "1,000 Umbrellas", "The Meeting Place", "Supergirl", and "Mermaid Smiled" are some of the worst XTC songs ever. God do I hate "1,000 Umbrellas.

prindle my man you are one good record reviewer, and i am an expert on the reviewing process. i love your humor and creativity. i love the skylarking lp and am fond of a few of these songs too. manage to diss an xtc lp without pissing people off. but i love the skylarking lp, you are forgiven. also agree that the mummer lp in all its japanese-cd sonic glory is not that bad afterall. sounds rich and kinda cool. love xtc. good job

As someone born in Swindon, I found out XTC were from there too and felt obliged to listen to some of their stuff. I already knew and liked their hits. But as Swindon was only known for Diana Dors and the Magic Roundabout (English Roundabout on English Settlement is about this traffic nightmare) at that point in time, I wasn't expecting too much. But after borrowing their early albums from a library, I went out and bought Black Sea and Big Express. I spent most of my childhood in small rural villages near Swindon but far enough away from this uninspiring dull english town. I left home around the time Skylarking was released and moved into a bedsit in the city of Gloucester. Skylarking completely captures the essence of rural Wiltshire and helped me forget the alien surroundings of my basement hovel with buses thundering past a few feet away. Whilst other XTC albums have more memorable tunes, I love this one because it still reminds me of where I come from.

This is a great site as I now know I'm not a wierdo for thinking XTC were/are great!

Also thanks to this site I can now get Dukes of Stratosphear on CD, my cassettes have long since died and the original albums were never released on CD as far as I'm aware. But I wasn't aware of Chips From The Chocolate Fireball which is on CD - so thanks for that!

Rian Yirkah
I love this band. XTC is one of the last radio friendly pop-rock bands that's worth a damn. Fanboy asslicking out of the way, this album is the 1980's equivalent of Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. A good album but not worthy of the exaggerated hype and universal critical praise. No. Fucking. Way. A "legendary" or "classic" album should have a healthy amount of "timelessness" to deserve those labels, in my not-at-all humble opinion. At least a handful of these tracks sound unbelievably corny and dated, as if they were recorded for the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. Drums and Wires (which was released a full SEVEN years earlier) sounds a hell of a lot more timeless (and exciting). Listen to that album if you want intelligent pop-rock that will erect your private parts.

Oh yeah...I almost forgot to mention..."Dear God" is TERRIFIC.

5/10 (6/10 if I'm in a particularly good mood)

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Chips From The Chocolate Fireball - Geffen 1987
Rating = 8

Released under the false moniker of THE DUKES OF STRATOSPHEAR, Chips From The Chocolate Fireball is comprised of an EP entittied 25 O'Clock and a full album called Psonic Psunspot. The schtick here is that all the music sounds like it comes straight out of the Psychedelic Psixties, but - and here's the thing - the members of XTC weren't OLD enough during the 60s to have actually created this music during that era!!!!!! Using deductive reasoning, one comes to the conclusion that either (A) Some other group filled with people who were old enough recorded these songs in the 60s or (B) XTC actually recorded these songs in the late 80s, and the whole "sounds like the 60s" thing is a mere optical illusion. I have spoken with many experts on this matter and general consensus is that I read somewhere that B is correct.

But MAN! What a trick they pull off - these songs are written, played and developed EXACTLY like all the best stuff from 66-67. Hints of Syd-era Floyd, John-era `tles, Brian-era Boys and Pre-David Prunes permeate the proceedings, but the great riffs and melodies are NEW. And WONDERFUL. Unlike The Rutles, who parodied the period by simply taking Beatles songs and changing a couple of chords here and there, The Dukes Of Stratosphear have written oodles of delightfully catchy original compositions in the fields of acid-drenched fuzz rock, music hall piano tap, shiny bubblegum pop and Eastern-influenced groove. Hecky, one song even sounds as the EARLY SURFY Beach Boys!

Bubbly bass lines, wild sound effects, 60s-era organs, uber-British vocals, backwards tape loop samples, strings and horns - all present and accounted for! Whether or not you enjoy XTC, if you're a man (or naked lady) that enjoys listening to Nuggets under the influence of sodium hydrocarbonate (LSD), you'll LOVE Chocolate Chips On Fire by the Psychedelic Dukes Of Hazzard.

My personal favorite song = "Little Lighthouse," an uptempo guitar pop/rock song with vocal harmonies so gorgeous, they bring back magnificent memories of the Hollies song "Stop Stop Stop," with which I became enamored in the 6th grade, thinking it was the Monkees, and thus purchased the astonishingly lame Present LP, hoping that the song "Oklahoma Backroom Dancer" was the song that I knew as "Stop Stop Stop All The Dancing" -- Hey, it wasn't out of the realm of possibility - it took me MONTHS to discover that that awesome Moody Blues song that goes "Listen To The Tide That Is Turning" was not, in fact, "And The Tide Rushes In" (a completely DIFFERENT Moody Blues song), but, in fact, "The Story In Your Eyes," even though that phrase is only said ONE TIME in the entire goddamned song, and the Tide line is sung at least three and possibly 58,0000 times. So I cried about Present sucking and my Dad said "Hey you stupid asshole, that song is by The Hollies, you stupid stupid asshole who always strikes out because you suck."

He didn't really say that, but it's hard to justify taking all these pills when my childhood was so normal and mostly pain-free.

So why only an 8 instead of a 10? Because only 10 of these 16 songs are so great, I'd hurl myself under a train if there was a guy under there singing them. Most of the others are okay, you understand, but I would be remiss if I didn't warn you that the sissy bouncy Fuckathon "Brainiac's Daughter" makes me so angry, I throw my entire apartment building out the window every time it comes on.

Reader Comments

The Dukes of Stratosphear was a fantastic idea, and on this EP and LP, XTC really does a fantastic job at executing a pretty risky project - so much so, in fact, that it's one of my favorite XTC albums. Hats off to John Leckie for using his vast production experience to create something that sounds pretty faithful to the psych/garage aethetic, especially given the normal embarrassing and prevailing production values of the mid-80s. Andy Partridge (as usual) leads the creative attack, showing off his knowledge of semi-obscure bands from the late 60s, even being so tasteful as to NOT include a pastiche of the likes of "Pushin too Hard". Most of these songs are perfect. I even like "Brainiac's Daughter" - but then again, I grew up listening to Beatles/McCartney/Wings, so I've got a soft spot for that stuff. Colin Moulding contributed his usual brilliant couple of tunes ("What in the World", "Vanishing Girl", "Shiny Cage" and "The Affiliated" - the last two of which are simply astonishingly good!), even though he knew jack about the psych era. Dave Gregory again proves that he is the ideal musical adaptor - that guy can play anything, it's a shame Andy was never really open to Dave contributing his own tunes, assuming he could write worth a shit. Listen to "Mole From the Ministry" and then immediately put on "I Am the Walrus" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" - you'll be impressed.

OK, so I'm sat here reading up what you think of the Flaming Lips' albums, Clouds Taste Metallic specifically. I see you call it "Dukes Of Stratosphear happy," and then the goddamn intro to "Making Plans For Nigel" starts playing on the TV! But of course, this poses a very complex question with an even more complex answer: do I now make a comment for Chips From the Chocolate Fireball or Clouds Taste Metallic? Well, since said Lips album has about a billion comments and XTC's moniker album has one, my mathematical/economical fucktard of a brain is pushing me to do Colin and Andy. Not before I review the album!!! HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

First off, I wish Prind would specify which 8 goddamn tunes he finds to be not as great as the ten he said were "so great, he'd hurl himself under a train if there was a guy under there singing them," as to be able to aptly rip apart his opinions. Now I'ved used a quotation, can I have an A* for English GCSE yet, or do I have to describe Prindle's language techniques?

Anyway, you can tell the band didn't want anyone to find out that it was really XTC doing all these songs and not an actual band called "The Dukes of Stratosphear" because Colin and Andy write under the uber-subtle monikers, "The Red Curtain" and "Sir John Johns." Unfortunately, their nerdy-as-hell vocals give them the fuck away. I think Dave and Ian Gregory had monikers too, but I can't remember. This is basically XTC's "tribute to the music of their youth" (i.e. massive musical self-indulgence), that being '60s psychedelia n' Nuggets comps n' shit like that, and what a tribute it is! It's like they'd just finished Skylarking and thought "Fuck it, we can go more psychedelic than that!" Unlike a lot of '80s albums, the overproduction actually WORKS!! And there's not a bad song in sight!! A couple of average numbers though...

Let's start with the near-stinkers, so I can end with the greatness. I don't hate "Brainiac's Daughter" as much as Mark does, but it's just one of those "Yellow Submarine" moments in my mind -- a song that's OK in a sing-along way, but that pales against the rest of the material on its respective album. I'm not too big on "Albert Brown" (still like it though!) as I feel Andy tries too hard at pulling a Ray Davies-style social commentary, and "Respectable Street" absolutely blows it out of the water. Still, the lyrics are pretty funny! "Your Gold Dress" has a very nice chorus, and given time the verse gets pretty swirly and droney thanks to the sitar, but it takes too long.

That's three I'm not especially keen on, but the rest is fantastic! I'll stick to my favourites as I've already written too much: on "The Mole From the Ministry" it sounds as if Andy actually fused "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "I Am the Walrus" together, and it's so damn smooth even the most diehard Beatles fan could be forgiven for not noticing on first listen. "What In the World??..." is arguably Colin's best song here, but his other three are all fantastic songs! It sounds kinda like "Only a Northern Song," only BETTER!!! "Little Lighthouse" has an absolutely gorgeous hook that makes me want to dance and overuse exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!! See? I coulda sworn "Vanishing Girl" takes a couple of chords from an ABBA song or something -- not very psychedelic if you ask me. Anyway, it's a great song, with an other great hook.

Play "My Love Explodes" straight after The Doors' "My Eyes Have Seen You." Notice the similarity? XTC stole the bloody riff, but "adapted" it enough for it to be really difficult for anyone to notice. "Pale and Precious" starts like one of the more tender moments on Pet Sounds, but it quickly picks up some hilarious low-voiced Beach Boys parody backing vocals, and THEN some early Beach Boys style surf guitar to parody it even further!! GREAAAAAT!!!

In conclusion, I write too much in reader comments, which explains my reluctance to write them. As for the album, I'll be happy giving it a happy 9. It's one of my favourite XTC albums!

S Fall
'Brainiac's Daughter' is by far my favourite track. How can you not love this gem? The tune is so inside-out fantastic, looping back on itself improbably and wonderfully, that I marvel at how they came up with it. Then there are those addictive backwards guitars. It's a blast of good-natured fresh air and melodic joy. This album is masterful and I far prefer it to anything XTC released as XTC. Then again, I prefer Pink Floyd's (Alcoholics Anonymous-sponsored album) The Final Cup to (their earlier Alcoholics Anonymous-sponsored album) Wish You Were Beer, so what do I know?

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Oranges & Lemons - Geffen 1989
Rating = 5

There's only one thing that separates us from the animals, and that thing is this: Animals think that XTC's Apples, Peaches, Bananas & Pears is a good album and we don't. NEVER FORGET THIS, LEST YE BECOME BEAST THYSELF. That's what it says in the Bible. It goes on to bitch and moan about how many songs on here are completely nondescript. Let's speak of a few songs at random:

"Here Comes President Kill Again": marching drums, very slow, piano, bland vocal melody, atrocious "politically aware" lyrics. Then a guitar comes in, playing a "melody" that I won't remember four seconds after I turn the song off. NEXT!

"Poor Skeleton Steps Out": African-sounding talking drum thingies, instantly forgettable bass "line" and vocal "melody." Another one that just screams at you, "I'M SCREAMING AT YOU! WHY CAN'T YOU REMEMBER HOW I GO???" next:

"Cynical Days": Slow, bendy note bass, tambourine (possibly fake), keyboard - COME ON, THIS DOESN'T EVEN COUNT AS A SONG, DOES IT???? IT'S NOT DOING ANYTHING AT ALL!!!! AND IT'S SLOW!!!!! Next please, sir:

"Across This Antheap": Oh great. There's a jazzy horn at the beginning. OH GREAT, it's an EASTERN song, like the hippies used to do in "Continental Drift" on the 1989 Steel Wheels album. Shit SHIT shit Shit shiT shIt sHit sHiT ShIt ShiT. In any language, it's No Good! NEXT!

Ah here we go, "Pink Thing." Wait a minute.. "Anytime you rise, I'm here"? "When I stroke your head, I feel a hundred heartbeats high"? "Spit in my face, I'd love you for it"? HEY!!! THIS SONG IS ABOUT A PINK BIRD THAT'S RUDE TO PEOPLE!!!!! I don't like songs about asshole birds. NEXT!

"Miniature Sun". A trumpet. A bass line. A piano. Lounge jazz. So somebody please explain: At what point did Joe Jackson acquire the rights to the "XTC" name?

They try to be all things to all people, but in doing so, they've completely alienated all of their listeners (me). Where's the awesome upbeat guitar pop and catchy vocals that I so deserve from Ecstacy? Oh! There it is! It's called "The Mayor Of Simpleton" and it might be the greatest song that any band has ever recorded! And okay, a few others are good too, but not enough. Just simply not enough. 5 great out of 15, don't cut it. There's lots of pianos and horns, and less guitars than I personally would enjoy. But again, my main concern is the complete lack of hooks on a full half of this lengthy album. But I guess that's what you get when your whole band is gay and addicted to heroin!

Oh, I'm sorry - I didn't mean to imply that XTC are gay and addicted to heroin. I was just thinking that, you know, if your band was gay and addicted to heroin, then you might have trouble writing good hooks.

Maybe this isn't the right forum to discuss how having sex with a guy makes your creative juices wind up dripping out of his ass.

Reader Comments

I give it an 8. "Mayor Of Simpleton", "King For A Day", "The Loving", "Cynical Days", "Pink Thing" are all fantastic pop songs. The record is a bit overproduced but i think the songs are mostly great. Some are quite dumb ("Merely A Man", although supposedly tongue-in-cheek) and some i just plain dislike ("Miniature Sun"). I love "Chalkhills And Children" the most, as its a beautiful, soothing ballad. Woulda even better as a single album, i think.

Colin T.
this has absolutely nothing to do with your review, but

i think you're doing the wrong drugs.

Good album. I give it an 8. Most of the songs sound over-cluttered right away, but upon multiple listens, the hooks really reveal themselves. This purchase served as my introduction to XTC, and at first, I thought it only had four or five good songs (including "The Mayor of Simpleton," of course). But now I think Oranges and Lemons has several upstanding moments--I just think (like everyone) that the double LP is overproduced and overlong. The overall effect of this album is bright and engaging, if you're not overwhelmed right away and if you give it enough chances to grow on you.

todchy@openaccess.org (Todd Lee)
Sure this album is a bit over produced, but so is Apple Venus Vol 1, and you liked it. Maybe there is a tad too much social commentary on this album, but you must remember, this came out in '89, when a lot of pretencious social commentary shit was starting to surface in adult pop (and lasted the whole of the '90s). Also, they had just come from a very turmultuous recording period with Todd Rundgeren on Skylarking, whom they grew to dispise, but copied in their next effort, Oranges and Lemons. (The band later admits that egos ran amuck and that Skylarking was their most cohesive effort to date) These songs are every bit as well written and performed as anything they've put out, and a damn sight better than Black Sea and Mummer. Everybody wants this band to be one of those one hit wonder '80s new-wave bands, only their music isn't dated and shallow enough, nor is it full of really bad synth and drum machines (or bad hair).

The last time I checked we were animals. We fuck like animals, eat like animals, shit like animals, and in every way are animals. Maybe you are a vegetable or a mineral, but that is beside the point. This album is overproduced and has some of the worst lyrics ever along with some brilliant ones. Too bad some brilliant producer didn't step in and make this the album it could have been.

itpatrick@ucsd.edu (Ian Patrick)
A pop record to please your music teacher via smart changes and dense grooves. But yes, also a painfully indulgent double LP that really should have been cut down. It's a shame, really, because there are so many good ideas on this record.

Pretty much agree with your review. Mayor of Simpleton and Chalkhills and Children are the only songs that do anything for me. But Pink thing is not about a bird its actually about Andy Partridge's penis! he himself has admitted it (Partridge that is not his dick!)

What a tragedy. There are some good songs here, but they promote the godawful, "Mayor Of Simpleton"(even a wimp like me can't relate to how much of a wimp Andy proclaims to be), "The Loving", and "King For A Day". All just awful. Than they ruin "Pink Thing" and "Daddy", which are good musically, but the lyrics deal with a baby and unrequited love of a father that are the sappiest I have ever heard and it sickens me making them unlistenable. Than they continue with the atrocious lyrics in "President Kill Again". I'm even a liberal. They continue to ruin the album with terrible sound. I never mention this and find many production techniques acceptable, but this production job is just awful. Everything is cold, distant and harsh. Ironic in a way as having such sappy liyrics that would require a soft touch. It is really a shame because I love the rest of the songs, lyrically and musically, but find them unlistenable because of the terrible sound. What could have been?

God, I have such mixed feelings about this one. There's clearly some good songs going on here, but there's WAAAY too many mediocre songs, and those that are on the fence are so dated by Paul Fox's production that it's a wonder anyone still listens to it today as anything other than an 80s period piece. But ask most people who know/like only one XTC album, and chances are this is the one. The record company really pushed this one to be a blockbuster pop album I suppose, and XTC even did a "tour" of radio stations, playing unplugged versions of a few of these songs live on the air! I've got a recording of one such performance (KROQ), and it's really great! But these studio takes are mostly kinda cold and lifeless - I hate to quibble, cause it's my wife's favorite XTC album, and it's an album we can agree on music-wise. I do love "King for a Day" - Moulding sure has a nice way with melody. And "Scarecrow People" is very cool, but only because I got to like the song via the aforementioned unplugged bootleg.

The "superb quality" of this album inspired a couple of unlikely talent scouts in the music biz: Pat Mastellotto, who plays drums here, was soon recruited to play drums for KING CRIMSON! It was either this album or that kickass Mr. Mister album he played on.... Also, producer Paul Fox was recruited by none other than PHISH to produce their stab at the commercial life, "Hoist". So this album influenced a lot of people. All the while the venerable Terry Chambers, long having tired of Andy's refusal to tour, sits in a Swindon pub with his mates, getting pissed.

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Rag & Bone Buffet - Geffen 1990
Rating = 7

This is a ragtag collection of rare cuts & leftovers, ranging from BBC sessions to B-sides and remixes to garbage. It's really long and in my opinion gives a dandy overview of all the types of music that XTC is wont to play (it sure helped to turn ME into a fan!). Plus it has alternate versions of such great-o-riffic songs as "Ten Feet Tall," "Respectable Street," "Another Satellite" and "Scissor Man" (right there, that's four of my favorite XTC songs right.. THERE!). Also featured are a couple of Christmas songs, a Colin Moulding solo release, some Eno-style electronic nothingness, a bit of bad funk, a tad of GOOD funk, a little piano lounge snazzy, some pop so happy you'll tell your pappy, a bit too many songs where they go "Oh oh oh oh oh oh!" at the beginning and a 22-second "History Of Rock'n' Roll" that will have you rolling (joints) on my floor.

Aaah how music will take you back. This CD was one of the ones that I bought in Arizona before my wedding so we were able to listen to it during our honeymoon in Hawaii. Not on Kuaui - no no NO! But on The Big Island. We stayed in the jungle with these meditation sex therapy hippy freaks who set us up with a CD player and told us where the nude beach was. So almost every day we cruised a good hour or so down the ol' Highway to the tunes of XTC or Thatcher on Acid or any of the other CDs I had bought as cheapies in Arizona, just to get naked and look at naked college girls. Not that I could CONCENTRATE on all the pretty girls as I spent most of my time in the water with a boner, gazing lustfully at all the 65-year-old stoned naked smelly men with huge beards and little shrively ding-dongs.

My point being that my wife got really sick of this CD and made me stop playing it.

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Transistor Blast: The Best Of The BBC Sessions - TVT 1998
Rating = 6

The BEST of the BBC Sessions? It's FOUR FUCKING CDS!!! How many BBC Sessions did they DO!?

As such, this CD features alternative renditions (some live with an audience, others studio produced) of:
- 10 White Music songs WHOOPYGODDAMNDO
- 7 Drums & Wires songs JESUS WEPT
- 0 Mummer songs GOOD IDEA
- 3 The Big Express songs I'M TIRED AND HUNG OVER

As demonstrated by this wide-ranging collection, XTC wrote some really fun songs! They were a bit too reggae-poppy for my tastes at times, and every once in a while they'd get purposely super-ugly, but you can't beat their early forays into 'new/no wave' or later sweet McCartney pop. Of particular interest to fans might be Disc 3, a live show recorded when the band had only been together for 15 months. Energy was high!

If I were to rate each disc separately, I'd give disc one a 7, two and three each a 6, and disc four an 8. However, there's also a bit of overlap (six songs are repeated across multiple discs), so I'm sticking with a full-box grade of very high 6. But remember that I'm not the hugest fan in the world of these guys; I don't even know their work well enough to recognize the differences between these versions and the better-known LP recordings. If you're a big XTC fan, you should probably check it out because I absolutely love the BBC Sessions discs of bands I'm more familiar with (Kinks, Who, Pink Floyd, The Fall, others). It's just neet to hear alternate well-recorded studio takes of songs I've loved for years - to hear them interpreted in a slightly different way by the songwriters themselves.


So that's my review for today. I hope you are all doing well.


Reader Comments

I think your rating is about right. The first two discs were the real BBC sessions, and the other two were straight up live. I don't blame you for not really being able to tell the difference between the studio and BBC recordings...I do the same thing sometimes and I'm a huge XTC fan. Those discs you can listen to once or twice, but they really don't do anything new to the songs, and they don't even jack up the tempo. So why not be satisfied with the studio versions? Disc three is a fine and punchy recording, but the band is fairly sloppy. Disc four is the real jewel for me, a recording from the Black Sea era, with a good amount of energy and a great track selection, but even then there's a problem, Andy seems to be suffering from a cold and his voice sounds hoarse. So instead of singing the lyrics to "Respectable Street" it sounds like he's just making seal noises. It's still good stuff though. If you really need 4 discs of XTC, you should get the Coat of Many Cupboards set instead, where the different renditions of the songs really ARE different, and there's lots of great songs as outtakes too!

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Nonsuch - Virgin 1992
Rating = 6

Suddenly they're all mature and low-key, with mostly piano/keyboard calm pop music and vocal melodies extremely reminiscent of post-Wings McCartney. Actually the entire mood of the CD is pretty similar to something like Tug Of War. There's no exuberance or excitement - it's just a collection of poorly-arranged songs. Let me clarify what I mean by that: In my opinion, more than half of these songs start with a really great hook and then almost immediately shift to another part that is so non-descript, you'll swear that an Alien came down from space and sucked all the "verve" out of your cd player. Quite eerie and not more than a little lot of small kind of eerie thing.

Unfortunately the music itself is NOT eerie. It's really pretty basic low-key pop stuff. If this sounds astonishingly exciting to you, then you have no choice but to run outside, hop in a horse-and-buggy and galumph on over to Old Man McGarnigle's Compact Disc Store That's Open and buy NonGOODSONGS by X-D-cent-band! OH! ZINGED YOU, COLIN MOULDING FUCK!

I do love five songs though, so let me point those out for people who already own the record and wonder which songs I love: "The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead," "My Bird Performs" (although admittedly, the second part is awfully weak), "The Smartest Monkeys" (DARK ECHOEY GUITAR AND THE COOLEST LYRICS EVER. I appreciate songwriters that don't feel the need to outright EXPLAIN the social point of their songs, as if the listeners are too dim to figure it out for themselves), "Omnibus" and "Then She Appeared." Please note that "Crapped In Grey" is not on this list.

Reader Comments

rbunnell@uclink.berkeley.edu (Rich Bunnell)
Rule of thumb when writing for a music review website that you do not also maintain: don't insult one of your maintainers' five favorite songs of all time. FROM NOW ON, THE LETTER "E" WILL NO LONGER APPEAR IN YOUR REVIEWS.

todchy@openaccess.org (Todd Lee)
I'll have to agree with your assesment here. I really like about 4 or 5 songs, and the rest sounds like great ideas left unfinished. And leave it to Colin Moulding to turn any little pop diddy into a boring and depressing dirge. I guess he usually adds a bit of irony to all Partridge's pop, but he's too moribund on this release. Other than the 4 or 5 gems, the rest of this album plays out like a contractually obligated, piece mealed effort.

6/10 is about right. apart from 5 or 6 tracks this is pretty weak. the bad stuff isn't as laughable as that on Oranges and Lemons. Its just plain dull. Have to disagree about the Smartest Monkeys though. used to think it was ok but these days its heavy handed lyrics really irk me.

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Apple Venus Volume One - TVT 1999
Rating = 8

Well, I'll pull a big goopy blob of snot out of my nose and wipe it on your cheek, it IS possible to mature without being boring! Urm. Let's go back and try that again.

Well, I will be a son of an uncle, it turns out that it IS possible to become more mature without becoming dull! This CD is REGAL. Knightly and fit for a queen and princess in love. Full of beautiful strings, royal trumpets and British church organs, reserved yet danceable. You won't find any rock and roll on this LP, but you also won't find any bad songs. Having a good SEVEN YEARS to come up with strong material while trying to stop Virgin from, in a move of unprecedented irony, "screwing them," they have plied their trade, galoshed all the tardo bubblies and Blando Calrissians, and gived up a whole big bowlful of haughty fair for the elite. Even the song titles are wearing dapper mustaches and asking for your daughter's hand in marriage - "River Of Orchids," "Easter Theatre," "Knights In Shining Karma," "Harvest Festival" - 15 Huzzahs for a GRAND, BEAUTIFUL collection of non-XTC-esque material!

Reader Comments

Colin T.
that is ironic! also, the guy below me has something to say.

No bad songs!!! What do you call "Fruit Nut", "Frivilous Tonight" or "The Last Balloon". They are as boring as the worst XTC songs ever. I am an XTC fan. I think all their albums are worth getting because 50% or more is usually excellent, but consistency has always been their problem and this album falls right in line.

A bad XTC album : only 3 good to very good songs ( River,Easter and Green ).

It's a fantastic album!
The highlights are among the best songs written the last 10-15 years: River of Orchids, Easter Theatre, We're all Light, Greenman and Harvest Festival all in one album. Incredible!

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Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume Two) - TVT 2000
Rating = 7

Rich Bunnell wants me to hurry up and finish my XTC reviews, so here's a hurried, half-ass review of their newest CD. They brought the guitars back - LOTS OF DISTORTED AND EVEN NON-DISTORTED GUITARS - playing catchy rock riffs for the kids to dig (while their parents sip tea to the last release). Only problem is that all the songs are super-SUPER-simple, as if they were really were all thrown together in the ONE year between the last release and this one. You'll get a catchy guitar hook, start tapping your foot and three and a half minutes later, you'll realize that nothing in the song has changed. No chorus, no new instruments, no nothing. OH NO! I MADE A DOUBLE NEGATIVE! THE WORLD HAS TILTED ON ITS AXIS!

Oh hang on.

Sorry, it was like that to begin with. As I was saying (or was I washing dishes? Hmm. I'll be fucked all if I can remember!). Wash wash wash wash wash wash wash wash wash wash OH THIS ISN'T RIGHT AT ALL

The songs all feel like instant gratification. They're instantly catchy, but will they sound as good ten listens on? I can see myself getting really sick of some of `em, by golly. The repetitiveness almost makes me feel like they were shooting for direct Alternative Radio success. Which is icky! It's like when REM did Monster - I just got the feeling that they were dumbing themselves down for popular tastes. Plus XTC is using dancier beats on here, which is never a good sign of the times.

It's still a supercatchy album. I just hope it's a one-shot and they return to the complex pop songwriting that they're so good at - check "River Of Orchids" from the last album - WOW! THAT IS A GREAT, CREATIVE, AWESOME SONG.


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(Mattro reviews) Coat of Many Cupboards - Virgin 2002.
Rating = 9

Though XTC got pissed at Virgin and split after Nonsuch, Virgin and the band hooked up again for this gorgeous 4-disc box set of their years spent together. It collects early live tunes, b-sides, demos, rehearsal recordings, later live tunes (you heard me!), two Dukes of Stratosphear tracks, and a small handful of hits selected by the band themselves. The package is in the form of an actual hardback book with four nifty CD compartments in it. The book portion consists of a long (but very interesting) history of XTC / essay thingy on why they are the bitchenist band ever. It's written by a dude named Harrision Sherwood who runs an important XTC website somewhere out there in cyberland. Though Sherwood's article is great (I enjoyed how it helped flesh out historical curiosities such as the Dukes of S.) the coolest thing about the written portion of Coat of Many Cupboards is this: Every single track (and there are 60 of them here) has commentaries by Andy Partridge and/or Colin Moulding. There are even two commentaries by Barry Andrews corresponding with songs he wrote (and the band rejected) for Go 2. XTC historians will quickly point out said rejection of these tunes is ultimately why Barry quit the group. The tracks are 'Things Fall to Bits' and 'Us Being Us'. Partridge also writes little blurbs for the Andrews tracks and admits to liking them very much even though HE was the one who convinced the producers that including these tracks would take XTC in the "wrong direction". There are sixty little stories like that for you to read here (most equally as interesting).

The live material is raw - a word rarely used when describing XTC which has been exclusively a studio perfectionist outfit for the past twenty years. The live material is also great sounding and historically precious. From the write ups, one gets the sense Partridge and Co. wishes they'd recorded more of their live shows. Ah remorse! But you do get to hear 'Spinning Top', 'Meccanik Dancing', 'Atom Medley', 'Paper and Iron','Crowded Room' and 'Snowman' with crowd noises. XTC are also nice enough to include live versions of 'Yacht Dance' and 'Books are Burning' from rare TV appearances that took place long after they quit touring! Other interesting bits: Moulding's home demos of 'Wake Up', 'Grass', 'King for a Day' and 'Let's Make a Den'; a band demo of 'Dear God' (sans singing kids and orchestra); demos of never released tracks: 'Terrorism', 'The Troubles' and 'Find the Fox' (all Rundgren rejects from the Skylarking era); and 'Didn't Hurt a Bit' (from Nonsuch).

I could go on and on. With all the reading material and photographs and all the tunage, there's a ton of stuff to review here. Let's just say Cupboards is a nice package that XTC fans should love. I have no idea how much this set runs for in the stores. I requested my local public library order it for their catalog and was very pleased when they agreed and placed me first on the waiting list to loan it out when the postman finally delivered. For four solid weeks, Cupboards was mine and I paid not one dime! King County Library System will save us all (lots of money)!!!

Reader Comments

rabartlett@onetel.com (Peter)
If you chaps on the other side of the Big Pond are at all interested in music which reflects what being British is like, and you may not be, if you are at least interested in something original, then forget Led Zep pretending to be black men, forget the twee warblings of Morrissey, forget The Clash pretending to be radical, XTC is the real thing. Check out the Libertines as well.

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