How you stopped the universe from dying: XTC

“When they get too Rundgren/Beatles-esque I tune out. When the drums and guitars clatter I get restless. This means our relationship will remain fraught for decades.” I wrote this ten days ago about XTC, whom ILM polled. Their chart fortunes fascinate me. “King For a Day” and “Making Plans For Nigel” got lots of airplay on Y-100’s “post-modern music show” on Sunday nights, and my friend Greg bought me the redoubtable MTV “120 Minutes” comp with XTC’s “Dear God,” a song that struck me then as jejune and now as the work of grumpy English conservative pastoralists; their untroubled relationship with melody often leavens the crank and doesn’t hinder their flirtation with the rhythmic experiments of post-punk. Nonsuch I bought in summer ’92, lord knows why, to be honest. “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” has awful drums and another dumb lyric that isn’t as batshit as Oliver Stones JFK script, and even an album with “Dear Madam Barnum” and “The Disappointed” wastes time on trifles undeserving of the contortions and embellishments. Charmed by a rare airing of “Grass” on the college radio station, I bought the feted Skylarking from Columbia House in 1995. A song sequence — fine. Lovely.

That’s where matters remained for years until I bought the Upsy Daisy Assortment comp. Drums and Wires and Black Sea impressed me: Andy Patridge and Colin Moulding writing Cubist takes on Cuba, girlfriends, and their ambivalent relations with their own songcraft, the second album a particular favorite. I acquired the rest of the band’s eighties output, Mummer excepted. But I didn’t return to the catalog, committed to my first response. Fueled by a purchase of the taken for granted Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2) last week, I took a successful second plunge. Uneven for sure, pop in someone’s definition not mine, attenuated by the departure of arranger/multi-instrumentalist David Gregory, but home of “The Wasp and the Maypole,” one of the sharpest songs written about how everything sucks and all we can do is hum a catchy ditty as the end approaches.

Herewith, my top twenty, followed by favorite albums.

1. No Language in Our Lungs
2. Towers of London
3. Statue of Liberty
4. This World Over
5. When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty
6. Snowman
7. Senses Working Overtime
8. Grass
9. King For a Day
10. You’re The Wish You Are I Had
11. Runaway
12. Roads Girdle the Globe
13. The Meeting Place
14. Love on a Farmboy’s Wages
15. Life Begins at the Hop
16. Dear Madam Barnum
17. The Wasp and the Maypole
18. Jason and the Argonauts
19. Respectable Street
20. Helicopter
21. Complicated Game
22. Playground
23. Books are Burning
24. River of Orchids
25. Jason and the Argonauts

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4 Responses to How you stopped the universe from dying: XTC

  1. thanks for the erudite review of the XTC trajectory — time for me to revisit *Black Sea,* I suppose.

  2. Brence says:

    Thoughts on the Dukes of Stratosphear?

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