Monday, 6 February 2012

The Smartest Monkeys

As a newcomer to XTC - where do you start? Well for me it was a handy best of entitled 'Waxworks: Singles 77-82', which I picked up for $4 in San Francisco back in '95. Well, i say a newcomer, not entirely, as a kid, i'd enjoyed their brief run of hits back in the late 70's / early 80's. 'Making Plans For Nigel', 'Senses Working Overtime' & 'Love On A Farmboys Wages' all struck a chord, but there never seemed a reason to delve further until that CD winked its eye at me.


The first thing to strike me was Andy Partridge's hiccuping, overtly mannered vocals. Marmite to the listener for sure, but as somebody who grew up loving David Sylvian and then Bryan Ferry, not a problem. 





After i left San Fran our next stop was New Orleans where i managed to pick up the rather wonderful, Todd Rundgren produced 'Skylarking' album ($3!), and an obsession started to form.





Skylarking was the peak of XTC's relevance in rock, especially in the states where 'Dear God', initially a flipside to 'Grass' was a big 'smash'. Almost unbearably fussy at times, the album is regarded by critics as XTC's peak, but it wasn't - 'English Settlement' was. Example 1





English Settlement was, like The Kinks 'Something Else' two decades earlier, a succinct yet rather baffling retreatment from the arena of USA baiting POWER POP, back into a parochial, lyrically observant and ornate take on English psychedelia (despite the restless nods to world music). And like The Kinks, what was America's loss, was music's gain. They could still cut it live too Example 2





Back in 1999 XTC enjoyed a brief renaissance, critically at least due to 2 albums (Apple Venus volumes 1 & 2), by this stage, they'd been at it for 20 years, but were still streets ahead of most of their contemporaries. Volume 1 was released the same year as Jim O'Rourke's seminal Eureka, both albums had staggering opening tracks:





I could write for ages about loads of other songs and albums they made, or could've easily written a post about their fantastic mid-80's alter-ego The Dukes Of Statosphear (where along with producer john Leckie they attempted to mimic every ace song on the Nuggets LP), could've bored you all for ages demonstrating all the bands who owe XTC a living (stand up Blur, Vampire Weekend & Field Music for starters) but maybe best you go and listen to them at your leisure instead.  

4 comments:

Rin said...

Jeezus, River of Orchids is GORGEOUS. I am a terrible person for never having heard this before. Thanks!

Dean Taylor said...

Yes, it's rather astounding innit? just can't think of many 'rock/pop' artists who could, after 20 years come up with something as inspired as that.

Rin said...

Ahhh it's so good, dropped back in here to get the Spotify link and think I will go 'head and listen to River of Orchids again RIGHT NOW.

Rin said...

Update: Can't stop listening to it. Absolute crazy beauty. Your blog is a big ol' glittering jewel.