I'm paying tribute to one of my favorite post punk bands with video and more this week.
Led by the brilliant songwriter Andy Partridge, with excellent songs also contributed by bassist Colin Moulding, XTC made its name as a great singles band starting in the late 1970s.
Melodic and rhythmically edgy tunes such as "Science Friction," "Statue of Liberty, ""Are You Receiving Me," "Life Begins at the Hop" and others caught the ears of hipsters on both sides of the Atlantic. I remember pop/punk aficionados in my town eagerly picking up the latest UK imports. I even named a previous version of this blog after the XTC tune "This is Pop?," exchanging the question mark for an exclamation point.
As they entered the 1980s, XTC secured a reputation for making great full-length albums, too. Black Sea in 1980 had nary a weak moment while English Settlement, a double LP released in 1982 is a stone classic. I've been listening to both in the car lately and they stand up just fine after all these years, a testament to the band's excellent pop-craft.
I'm also partial to the pastoral sounds of Mummer, particularly the lovely, touching "Love on a Farmboy's Wages."
As the decade went on, XTC became sort of a New Beatles. Their melodic pop, humanist lyrical sentiments (pro-universal love, anti-war, racism, nuclear arms race, etc.) and their willingness to experiment with different instrumentation and recording techniques had much in common with the Fab Four's approach to pop as art. There were plenty of Kinks and Beach Boys influences present, too. All good stuff.
For comic book fans like me, there was also the added delight of learning that Partridge was a kindred spirit, peppering his songs with references to the Justice League of America, Sgt. Rock, the Bottle City of Kandor and more.
XTC hit a high point with its album Skylarking, which earned Sgt. Pepper comparisons, and the EP and LP it issued around the same time as psychedelic parody band, the Dukes of Stratosphear. While the Dukes were meant to be funny, which they were, they also produced some great tunes. In particular, "Pale and Precious" from the Psonic Psunspot is glorious, sounding like something inexplicably left off of the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds.
Subsequent albums Oranges and Lemons (1989) and Nonsuch (1992) built on the Beatlesqe template of Skylarking and the Dukes' releases but, despite some strong tunes on both albums (including the hit "Mayor of Simpleton" on Oranges...), some self-repetition seemed to set in.
Then everything went hazy.
The band had a falling out -- and a long legal tussle -- with its record label (Virgin) and didn't release a new LP until Apple Venus Vol. 1 in 1999. The band was now forced to self-fund their recording sessions, which proved a challenge and slowed down production. Frustrated, longtime member, multi-instrumentalist Dave Gregory left the group, making XTC essentially the duo of Partridge and Moulton for the follow-up Wasp Star in 2000. It was nice to hear the band again and both albums featured nice tunes, but they still seemed locked in self-repetition. Maybe we longtime XTC fans were just jaded and spoiled.
There were releases of demos from both of these latter albums (adding to the self-repetition), and that seems to be that. There's been nothing new from XTC since. Moulding reportedly soured on the music industry while Partridge entered a cycle of bin-cleaning, issuing collections of home demos and remasters of XTC albums, but little new material.
I hope that after this long lull we'll get to heard something more from Partridge and/or Moulding soon. The world can always use some new crafty pop.
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