KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

XTC Part 3 – Beating Hearts And Rainy Days

XTC Photo (circa 1983)This is the portion of the XTC catalog that I’ve been most eager to revisit, since I’ve never fully embraced two of the three albums I’ll be discussing. Here was my opportunity to finally devote some quality time to them, and reading about the songs and recording sessions…both in the Song Stories book I mentioned in my first post and via the invaluable information provided by the stellar Chalkhills.org website…has really helped me to appreciate them like never before. Neither of them has surpassed my existing favorites but some songs I had previously dismissed are now essential tracks that I’ll be revisiting frequently. Following several tumultuous years of touring & recording, main songwriter/singer/guitarist Andy Partridge had a breakdown that led to his (and consequently the band’s) retirement from touring. Much like The Beatles and Steely Dan before them, XTC would henceforth be solely a studio band, with only music videos & the occasional radio performance to help promote the albums.

Mummer (1983) was the first release by the newly studio-bound lineup that also included songwriter/singer/bassist Colin Moulding & guitarist Dave Gregory, along with new drummer Peter Phipps (he took over for the departing Terry Chambers, who only XTC - Mummerappears on the first two songs). The album was produced by XTC with Steve Nye, who also worked with Frank Zappa, Bryan Ferry & Japan…as well as Japan frontman David Sylvian. Before playing it again for the first time last week, I only recognized one song by title, and it took several listens before additional tracks began to make an impact. “Beating Of Hearts” has a blend of Asian & Middle Eastern influences in the swirling music & vocals, with more than a hint of psychedelia. Andy explained his thinking here as “affairs of the heart are preferable to acts of war.” Colin’s “Wonderland” is based on memories of a girl from his schooldays. The music is pastoral with bubbly synths & a noticeable Japanese influence, and  the programmed drum pattern makes it sound like a polished demo (which somehow works to the song’s advantage). There’s a great hook at “no dark horse like me can cramp all of your style.” “Love On A Farmboy’s Wages” was the one track that had always stood out for me. I love the folky English feel with acoustic guitars & hand percussion. It’s about Andy feeling that he’s a poor provider to his wife, at least in her parents’ eyes, but could also be a commentary on the low income the band was receiving. It features possibly Andy’s most subdued vocal performance with lilting melodies throughout, as well as a great rhythmic shift at the bridge.

“Great Fire,” which Andy wrote immediately after Virgin Records rejected their original submission of Mummer, features a beautifully sung chorus (“great fire burning through”) and a string section that includes two players who appeared on The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” Andy was equating fire with love in metaphorical lines like “No round of drinks can extinguish this feeling of love & engulfing bliss.” It’s nice to hear him so happy, a feeling that returns on “Ladybird.” This time they incorporate some jazz stylings with a XTC Photos (from Mummer)bouncy, McCartney-esque piano-led melody. There’s some nice brush work by Phipps and lovely vocal harmonies. Colin called “In Loving Memory Of A Name” one of his least favorite songs (he’s “moping ‘round the graveyard & just remembering the lives of the people there”), but I like this minor yet catchy song with its circular rhythm & melody. Andy described his “Me And The Wind” as “the bittersweet feeling at the end of a relationship.” The galloping rhythm & often yelping vocals can sound ecstatic or grating, depending on my mood, but I can’t ignore his gorgeous singing at “Have I been such a fool? Have I been sitting on your stool?” The remaining songs aren’t on the same level as the ones I’ve discussed, but my CD includes 6 bonus tracks, 3 of which are worth mentioning. “Jump” has an insanely catchy chorus (“Jump, jump, go ahead & jump jump, if it’s what your heart is wanting to do”) & light jazzy drumming in the other sections, although overall it sounds like an incomplete run-through. “Toys” is a bluesy semi-shuffle with harmonica that’s mostly half-baked but has an awesome chorus (“Oh dear what can the matter be, my children sweet children”). “Desert Island” features a slinky little groove and a Latin/Caribbean flavor with nice nylon string guitar work. The upbeat music is in contrast to the lyrics, which Andy described as “a comment on England in the early 80’s, one giant, soulless building site.” Mummer is still not up there with my favorites in the XTC catalog, but I enjoy it much more now than I ever did.

The Big Express (1984) was produced by the band with David Lord, who had previously worked with British folk legends John Renbourn & Roy Harper as well as singular artists like Peter Hammill and Peter Gabriel. Although the album bears all the trappings of its time, like Fairlight synthesizers, programmed rhythm tracks and an overall plastic XTC - The Big Expressproduction, they were a perfect fit for a collection of mostly loud & often abrasive songs. Peter Phipps returns, but he’s mostly relegated to playing electronic Linn drums which provide a key sonic texture throughout the record. According to Andy, “All You Pretty Girls” concerns “all my romance about being a sailor,” set to a sing-songy, almost childlike melody with the vocal line matching the music (“Bless you, bless you, all of you pretty girls…”). “Shake You Donkey Up” is about Andy’s attitude towards women in the guise of a Captain Beefheart-influenced tune with rockabilly guitar & a driving syncopated groove. It’s quirky yet catchy, especially in the chorus: “She really shake you…donkey up.” Andy was obviously in quite an emotional state when writing the songs for this album. This is never more obvious than on “Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her, Kiss Her,” where he addresses mixed emotions regarding his feelings for another woman while he was still married. The simple, slightly dissonant synth melody & ‘80s percussion tricks are a perfect match for his pleading vocal performance, and the key line might be “He who hesitates is lost.”

It took some time, but “This World Over” grew on me with each successive listen. Andy discusses his fear of nuclear war amid synth washes, an insistent rimshot groove and a slightly funky guitar pattern. I love how he builds to a vocal crescendo in the middle, almost recalling Wham’s “Careless Whisper,” before returning to the original feel. “The Everyday Story Of Smalltown” is bouncy & peppy with hints of The Beatles’ “Penny Lane.” Andy crams in lots of words, making this a difficult track to sing along with. It’s XTC Photo (from The Big Express)also very British sounding. In the Song Stories book, “I Bought Myself A Liarbird” comes with a disclaimer that they are “unable to discuss the lyrical content,” which is clearly aimed at their former management. There’s an off-kilter hook at “All he would say is I can make you famous,” and “I bought myself a big mistake, he grew too greedy, bough will break” is a particularly stinging line. The lovely recurring guitar figure obscures the angry nature of the lyrics. The clunkily-titled “You’re The Wish You Are I Had” features a fast-sung verse that leads to a sing-along chorus, and one of their best vocal arrangements to date. Colin may not have been contributing many songs during this period, but the ones he did were usually quite good. “I Remember The Sun” is a case in point. It’s a slow grooving jazzy song with a bit of dissonance that points toward “Miniature Sun” a few years later. The chorus, with alternating vocals of “most of all” and “I remember the sun” is glorious, and Dave Gregory’s guitar work is subtly masterful. The other songs are only partially successful, although some fans probably like them a lot more than I do. That’s one of the great things about their catalog; that one person’s clunker is another’s keeper. Of the 3 bonus tracks, only “Red Brick Dream” works for me. It’s a minor gem; a poem written by Andy about the Great Western Railworks set to a brief 12-string acoustic arrangement. I still don’t love The Big Express, but I have a much better appreciation for its strongest material after finally giving it the time it deserves.

They shifted gears in more ways than one for Skylarking (1986) by working in New York with legendary recording artist & studio wizard Todd Rundgren as producer. The band XTC - Skylarking(especially Andy) has never hidden their dislike for Rundgren’s approach in the studio, but fortunately those bad vibes didn’t carry over to one of the (if not THE) most satisfyingly consistent collection of songs they’ve ever recorded. With certain tracks connected by sound effects and a running order chosen by Rundgren before recording even began, there’s a sense that this is a concept album, but if that’s the case it’s more a sonic connection rather than a continuous lyrical theme. Just about every song is a winner and worthy of inclusion on a career spanning anthology. The various summery sound effects on “Summer’s Cauldron” immediately create a unique atmosphere, and I like the shift to a more peppy tempo at “when Miss Moon lays down…” This segues into Colin’s “Grass,” which is highlighted by a slow conga groove and a great violin melody. It’s a pleasant head-nodding tune with distinctly British vocals (“Shocked me too, the things we used to do on grass”).

“The Meeting Place” is a simple, sentimental & nostalgic look back at a girl waiting at the factory gate for her man, and the bouncy melody & lovely harmonies make this one of Colin’s most instantly accessible songs. I love the electric piano in the pre-chorus (“You’re a working girl now”). “That’s Really Super, Supergirl” is a sarcastic song by Andy about a conceited woman, having nothing to do with the titular superheroine. It straddles the border of lounge music & gentle pop, and Dave’s short guitar solo is a gem. “Ballet For A Rainy Day” could be a Queen ballad in the verses with its lovely, slightly melancholy melody. According to Song Stories author Neville Farmer, it’s “a rather cheerful look at a miserable day.” “1,000 Umbrellas” might be the one misstep on this record, but it packs a punch at “Now I’m crawling the wallpaper that’s looking more like a roadmap to misery, oh oh misery.” The original Side A closed out with “Season Cycle,” which was inspired by Andy walking his dog. Andy regards this as one of his favorites, even ranking it up there with one of his heroes, The Kinks’ Ray Davies. It’s sparse & lovely with vocals & accompaniment that recall the under-produced (and underrated) Beach Boys recordings of the late-60s. “Earn Enough For Us” is super catchy & upbeat, a perfect song to start off Side B (I wish I owned this on vinyl to experience that the way it was intended). Although XTC Photo (circa 1986)it wasn’t released as a single, it could (and should) have gotten more exposure. The melody at “Glad that you want to be my wife, but honest” is particularly noteworthy.

“Big Day” is Colin’s pep talk for his son, who was still very young, “aimed at the time when he would be marriageable.” It’s a bit grandiose but the psychedelic folk tinges and REM-esque jangly guitars set this apart from the rest of the album. I wonder how Colin really feels about marriage: “Are you deafened by the bells? Could be heaven could be hell in a cell for two.” Ouch! Andy’s “Another Satellite” is a slightly angry song about an obsessed female fan who, ironically, he would eventually settle down with after his divorce. The haunting phased guitar figure & vaguely psychedelic touches give it a unique atmosphere. Andy described “The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul” as “a John Barry thing…cod spy music.” Featuring one of his strongest vocal performances, this finger-snapping tune has a great lounge jazz arrangement and a killer shift at “And the sirens that sing…” The country-tinged “Dear God” was a controversial hit single that was originally left off the album, but its success forced the record label to re-press it, replacing “Mermaid Smiled” (that one’s included on a compilation that I’ll discuss in my next post). The idea of a child’s letter to God questioning the existence of God is a very clever concept, and it’s insanely catchy, but I can understand why some religious folks might have been displeased by lines like, “Did you make mankind after we made you?” It segues into Colin’s “Dying,” which is a somber but not maudlin tune inspired by his friendship with an elderly neighbor. His voice is gruffer, reminding me of Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, and he delivers some effective lines, i.e. “Don’t want to die like you” and “What sticks in my mind…” The haunting melody played on a Chamberlain organ is another excellent production choice. Colin described his album closer, “Sacrificial Bonfire,” as “an evil piece of music, and good would triumph over it.” I love the subtle rhythm, with shakers & syncopated beat, although I’m not a fan of the bombastic chorus. The rest of the song is beautiful, and it allows the album to slip away on a peaceful note. I can’t say enough good things about Skylarking, which has to be high on the list of must-haves for anyone checking out the XTC catalog for the first time.

Between The Big Express and Skylarking, they released an EP under the pseudonym The Dukes Of Stratosphear, where they allowed themselves to pay homage to ‘60s psychedelic music. They would release a full-length album two years later before returning as XTC at the end of the decade. Instead of including the EP in this post, I decided to save both Dukes releases for my next post, since they should fit well with the XTC album that followed. Until then, I hope to hear from you about the three albums discussed above. Are there any fans who consider this the best era of their career? Does anyone rate Mummer or The Big Express as their favorite XTC album?

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38 comments on “XTC Part 3 – Beating Hearts And Rainy Days

  1. mikeladano
    July 25, 2013

    (Following along quietly…)

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  2. fraxon63
    July 25, 2013

    Excellent article, Rich! “Skylarking” was the first XTC lp I ever heard, and it’s still a favorite to this day! I think the “concept” (loose as it is) is the cycle of life starting with the wide-eyed wonder of youth and carrying on through falling in love, getting a job, getting married, questioning the universe, and, ultimately death. It’s interesting to me that, even though they bristled against Rundgren’s production work on the album, it ended up informing so much of everything they did after. From here on I don’t think there’s a weak album left in their catalog.

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    • Thanks, and I’m glad we agree at the greatness of Skylarking. The concept is definitely a loose one, and I think the album would be just as strong in shuffle mode. It’s all about the quality of the songs. I hadn’t thought about how Rundgren’s techniques influenced them going forward. I’ll have to keep that in mind as I continue working my way through their catalog.

      Have a great weekend.
      Rich

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  3. Brian
    July 26, 2013

    Just revisited the great “Skylarking” as well recently. Always really loved it, but have never enjoyed it as much as I did recently. It may just be the best album of their career in my book- or at least of the albums I’ve heard.

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    • Hi Brian. Although I’ll always have a special place in my heart for “Oranges & Lemons” (the first XTC album I owned and was obsessed with for a long time), “Skylarking” might be the perfect entry point for anyone just discovering their music. Considering how unhappy they were recording the record, it’s amazing how content they sound. It’s a much more inviting record than “The Big Express.”

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  4. Hank Wirtz
    July 26, 2013

    My appreciation for “Beating of Hearts” increased exponentially after seeing this video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dXQBVvBtO8

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    • Not sure if it made me appreciate the song more, but it’s a very cool video and showcases how important Dave Gregory is to XTC. Thanks for sharing it.

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  5. stephen1001
    July 26, 2013

    I definitely got Kinks/Beach Boys vibes from parts of Skylarking as well – solid record. I’ll have to check out the other two & report back!

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    • Those are two influences they never would have admitted to during their early days, when it wasn’t “punk” to like melodic 60s groups. I’m glad they got over that. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Mummer & The Big Express. Neither is an instant grabber, but lots of great songs to be discovered.

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  6. dafros
    July 27, 2013

    Skylarking is a lost Classic, Didn’t sell that many copies on first release, but I prefer Mummer as it was the first album I bought by XTC after seeing them on some dinner time tv show singing Love on a Farmboys Wages. Admittedly there are a few tracks that take a while to get your attention but Funk Pop A Roll, Wonderland, Ladybird, Love on a Farmboys Wages are instant Classic XTC. Big Express is a Bit Clunky, but listening to it now Quality of songs stand up well

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    • Thanks for stopping by. It’s nice to know that Mummer gets such high praise from you. I don’t think it’s quite as consistent as Skylarking but I like it a lot more now. The Big Express is probably a victim of its production, although it might also be the angry nature of much of the songwriting. This era of their career was so drastically different than what had come before it (with English Settlement being a transition from the early years). I would have a hard time recommending a place to start for newcomers to their music, with at least three of the albums I’ve already discussed being pretty great from start to finish (Black Sea, English Settlement and Skylarking). Not a bad discography…and I’m only halfway through it.

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  7. theuglymoose
    August 1, 2013

    So you finally got to try out ‘grass’ 🙂 it’s a very unusual song. I can’t quite put my finger on what in particular draws me to it, but the title certainly matches the content. It’s also a shame they can’t go back and re-shoot the videos. If XTC had one failing in my opinion it was the terrible videos in an age when video was the doorway to success. Not touring is would be a disaster today (t didn’t slow down the Beatles, and Steely Dan in my opinion just got better and better.), but back in the 70’s-80’s a good video was the primary way to shift your vinyl/cd.

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    • I’ve always liked “Grass” (the song, of course) but it never made an impact on me like it did last week. That;s a great point about their videos. I haven’t seen all of them, and it’s possible that the questionable video quality is due to limitations of YouTube uploads, but they don’t seem to have any defining videos that non-fans would take notice of. There’s no doubt that the lack of touring hurt their sales, even in an age when videos replaced the need for live performances as a promotional tool. Of course, the important thing is the quality of the music, and they consistently delivered that. Thanks for your comment. Hope you’re doing well.

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  8. Marc Montefusco
    August 11, 2013

    First, thanks for the series! Next, I’ve always felt that Mummer is unfairly dismissed by critics and listeners. You didn’t comment on Human Alchemy, the most effective condemnation of the slave trade ever to be embodied in a pop song, and I think you missed the dark recesses of Ladybird – “the iron season, when Love was hanged and treason became something of a parlor game” – I mean, wow. Finally, Funk Poppa Roll is the ultimate in self-referential invective – a really catchy, commercially-viable tune that skewers catchy, commercial tunes -“across the backs of these willing slaves”. And so forth…

    On Big Express, I still find Wake Up to be an astounding composition, rhythmically, musically, and conceptually.
    We all have our take on music – thanks again for yours, and for the opportunity to reflect some more on XTC, the band that was too good for this sorry world.

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    • Hi Marc. I’m glad you’ve been enjoying this series. Thanks so much for your input on those songs. In looking at my notes, I was impressed by the lyrical content of “Human Alchemy” but thought the music was a little too obvious considering the subject matter, and it went on too long (which is an occasional issue with their music, when a 5+ minute song might work better in 3-1/2 minutes). In some ways this song might have been more effective as an instrumental b-side, since I didn’t think it fit in that well with the album. While I agree with your sentiment about the lyrics to “Ladybird,” I was more in awe of the music & vocal delivery than what Andy was singing. I’ll be sure to pay more attention when I play it in the future. I hope you won’t take offense, but sometimes I think Andy gets a little too clever with his lyrics (I have the same issue with Elvis Costello), throwing in too many words when fewer would be more effective. That doesn’t affect my enjoyment of their music, but it sometimes keeps me from fully embracing specific songs.

      I probably should’ve said a few words about “Funk Pop A Roll” in my write-up on Mummer, but I’m trying to highlight the songs that made the most impact on me rather than giving an in-depth review of every song and I had already written so much about an album that I hadn’t previously been familiar with. In my handwritten notes, I described it as “not a major statement but a nice diversion to end the album.” I also noted that there’s “more than a hint of Cheap trick in the melody,” which is a very good thing. To me it sounded like a throwback to the Drums & Wrires/Black Sea era, but wasn’t as strong as the best songs from those albums.

      As for “Wake Up,” it obviously didn’t have the same impact on me that it did on you. I do like the jagged guitars & off-kilter stop-start rhythm, but the group vocal of “Who cares?” was really the only hook for me. I don’t dislike it but most of the other songs (which I wasn’t that familiar with going into that post) hit me a lot harder.

      I had two reasons for starting this blog: (1) to get better acquainted with the lesser-played artists/albums in my CD & LP collection and (2) to start conversations with fellow music lovers, regardless of whether we agree or not. With this post and your comment I can happily say I’ve accomplished both. I really appreciate you stopping by & sharing your insight. I’ll refer to your notes next time I play these albums.

      Best wishes,
      Rich

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    • panchopete
      October 17, 2013

      Completely with you on Human Alchemy Marc. What ever musical deficiencies Rich might see in the song its lyrical content alone makes it for me one of XTC’s proudest moments.

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      • You know a song & album are special when fans can disagree about a song like “Human Alchemy” but even the one who’s not totally blown away by it (yours truly) can acknowledge its strong points. I’m not sure I agree that it’s one of their proudest moments if only because of the musical issues I pointed out above. It’s a very good song that’s flawed, but in edited form & a slightly different arrangement I might feel a lot differently.

        Again, thanks for stopping by & joining the conversation. It’s greatly appreciated.

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  9. Digital Dave
    August 12, 2013

    Interesting reading. I’ve never heard any of their albums. All I know of the stuff is Dear God (meh), The Man Who Murder Love, Generals & Majors both of which I like quite a bit.

    Would you consider reviewing Jill Sobule’s catalog? Nobody seems to give her any credit. She had 2 hits in I Kissed a Girl & Supermodel, but IMO all her albums except the 1st one are masterpieces.

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    • Thanks for checking out this XTC series, Digital Dave, especially since you’re not much of a fan. While I appreciate the suggestion of covering Jill Sobule here, it doesn’t fit my “mission statement” which is to revisit the complete catalogs of artists I already own but haven’t played as much as my favorite artists. You know, the ones that have taken up shelf space for years but never get played. Sadly, I don’t own any Jill Sobule records, although I remember liking her 1995 self-titled album. I was working at Atlantic Records at the time and she was one of our artists, so I think I had it on cassette & played it a few times. I also shared a cab in New York City with her after a concert (not her show, but I can’t remember who the artist was), since she was heading uptown & I was continuing on to Queens. We talked for about 5 minutes and she seemed like a really nice person.

      Based on your recommendation, and the fact that at least one of my friends whose musical taste I respect is also a fan, I will keep an eye out for her CDs in the future. So maybe I’ll write a series about her in the future, but it will be quite a while. My collection is in the 8,000 CD range, so there’s a lot I need to revisit first.

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  10. Digital Dave
    August 12, 2013

    Haha. Cool, man. You shared a cab with her?? Lucky bastard! Yeah, she was super sweet to everyone when I saw her in Pittsburgh in July. Really LOL funny, too. Classy lady. Anyway, sorry to derail this… Back to the XTC…

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  11. Glenn S.
    August 15, 2013

    By the time they got to Mummer, The Big Express and Skylarking, I think XTC were on a great roll of creativity. If there was ever an argument for a band not touring, this sequence of albums might be it. I love them more or less equally, though each has it’s own personality. Mummer merges pastoral and psychedelic and is the one I most have to be in the right mood for (and I agree with you about “Love On A Farmboy’s Wages” It’s truly the standout track.) The Big Express is more aggressive but behind the rough edges are some great songs. It was the first XTC album I found on compact disc so it may well be the one I’ve heard the most, and I’ve never tired of it. Skylarking is a fantastic song cycle, which probably works as well as it does because there really was no overarching theme to the songs until Rundgren came up with the sequence. Meanwhile they were doing the Dukes stuff too! This was a great time to be an XTC fan.

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    • Hi Glenn. It’s always great to get your input. As I mentioned, both Mummer and The Big Express were basically unknowns to me before revisiting them for this post. I’ve listened to them several times over the years but they just never stuck as much as some of their other albums. I wouldn’t consider either of them among my favorites…yet…but I’m getting there. At least in the future when I play them, there will be a number of songs I can look forward to.

      Glad we agree about “Love On A Farmboy’s Wages.” That was always a song I liked a lot. I’m often curious about how my opinions will compare with someone who was into these records when they were released. Glad we’re basically on the same page, and it’s nice to know that existing XTC fans were happy at the time.

      Also, great point about the positive side of them not touring. Of course, with technology what it is today, a full XTC tour would be a thing of beauty (kind of like seeing Brian Wilson or the recent Beach Boys reunion).

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  12. Tom
    August 15, 2013

    It’s very strange, though I would consider Nonsuch, Settlement, Skylarking and Oranges&Lemons as the pillars of XTC output, I always firstly revisit Mummer after I haven’t listended to XTC for a while. Maybe somehow it’s the most XTCesque of all albums (Beating of hearts, Wonderland, Farmboy and Great Fire being such a tremendous segue in itself)
    Also Washaway is the sh*t imo 😀 although not in the original album
    But you said it right: One man’s(XTC) junk…is my treasure 😀

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    • Hi Tom. Your four favorites are all great choices, although I would replace Nonsuch with Black Sea. Now that I’m much more familiar with their music, and the contents of each album, I know I’ll be revisiting Mummer a lot going forward. I love how the unknowns (to me) like that & The Big Express have been elevated by spending so much time with them.

      As for “Washaway,” I had to check my notes to remember it. I like the bouncy piano & steady drum machine rhythm, but I wrote “not bad but nothing special.” Sorry Tom…and Colin.

      Thanks so much for stopping by. I really appreciate your input.

      Rich

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  13. chudbeagle
    September 7, 2013

    Rich:
    Do you know why or how “Dear God” even got released when Geffen didn’t want it on the album? As an MTV nut I remember that “Dear God” won an award at the VMAs in 1987 (maybe we can get Miley Cyrus to do a tribute next year) and suddenly XTC were getting radio play again. Just another example of the cluelessness of labels.
    I think The Tubes’ Prairie Prince played drums on that album although my memory is shaky on that. I like how you mention lyric snippets-I always pay to much attention to melody and chord changes! D’oh!

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    • Pete, are you saying that a record company took advantage of a surprise success that they had little or nothing to do with? That’s unheard of. Haha. I had read that “Dear God” was a b-side but that various radio stations had flipped it over & made it a hit, which is what forced Geffen to add it to the album. Whatever the reason, it was a big moment for them. That is, in fact, Prairie Prince on drums throughout the album. I’m not sure if the band had a drummer in mind, so Todd Rundgren suggested the amazing Mr. Prince. Great choice.

      Like you, I usually respond to the music first, with lyrics only making an impression after a number of listens (unless it’s something sparse like country or folk where the lyrics are the focal point). One of the benefits of my thorough revisitation of each album for this blog is that I start delving into lyrics & meanings behind songs after a number of listens. It’s ironic that I’m doing this for the lesser-played artists in my collection, so in some ways I’m focusing on things I haven’t with my favorite artists. Maybe one of these days I’ll have to do a series on an artist I already know really well.

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    • Sennheiser
      November 8, 2013

      This year I have been investigating Utopia’s music for essentially the first time. Todd and Prairie Prince worked together extensively over the years, including the New Cars. It makes a lot of sense that he would have been chosen for Skylarking.

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      • Hi there, Sennheiser. I envy you for just discovering the music of Utopia. I remember how enjoyable it was for me to listen to those albums for the first time 20-25 years ago. I had forgotten that Prairie Prince was part of The New Cars. He’s a phenomenal drummer, and I love his work on Skylarking. It definitely makes sense to me that Rundgren recruited him for those sessions.

        Thanks for stopping by.
        Rich

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  14. Dave
    November 20, 2013

    Nice writeup, Rich! We disagree here and there on which songs are stronger and weaker, but I mainly wanted to comment about “1000 Umbrellas” — far from a “misstep,” it’s one of the most incredible songs on the album (and in their entire discography)! Short of “Eleanor Rigby,” I can’t think of another rock-oriented song almost exclusively backed by strings that is this great. Give it another few listens before you dismiss it. Listen with headphones on to get the full effect, but even without, just be sure to listen without distractions. The swirl of the strings and the seemingly discordant changes in melody that actually fit together so beautifully make this song truly a thing of wonder…

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    • Dave, I appreciate your passion for “1,000 Umbrellas” but we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. I don’t think it’s a bad song, but it didn’t hold up for me against so many other amazing songs on this album. As for giving it a few listens, it’s always possible that my opinion will change in the future, but I don’t write a post until I’ve listened to each album at least 3 times, and more often than not I’m listening 4, 5 or even 6 times, so I definitely give everything a fair shot. It’s one of the reasons I don’t post more frequently, but the goal is for me to become familiar with each album by playing them multiple times over a short amount of time. Next time I play Skylarking I’ll listen to the song with your comments in mind.

      Thanks again for your feedback.

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  16. Craig
    January 1, 2014

    Skylarking may be their most cohesive album in the truest sense of the word, but Big Express holds a special place in my heart. This World Over may be my favorite track of all.

    Love the series.

    Like

    • Thanks for the feedback, Craig. As you read in this post, “The Big Express” was never one of my favorites, but after spending a good amount of time with it for this series I now have a much deeper appreciation of it. It’s possible that it will become a favorite somewhere down the line, but of this batch of records it’s hard to top “Skylarking.” I’m glad you’re enjoying this series, and I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on their music. Happy New Year.

      Rich

      Like

  17. Pingback: Thirty Year Thursday – XTC “SKYLARKING” | KamerTunesBlog

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