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XTC Skylarking

XTC Album Reviews

Formed in Swindon around songwriters Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, XTC started their career as an abrasive new wave band with their 1978 albums. Once keyboardist Barry Andrews was replaced by guitarist Dave Gregory, XTC became a more conventional, guitar based band and built their reputation with strong albums like Black Sea and English Settlement. Their career changed course drastically in 1982, when Partridge suffered a nervous breakdown onstage, abruptly stopping their touring career. Drummer Terry Chambers left the group, leaving Moulding, Partridge, and Gregory as a studio based band, supported by various session drummers. XTC also found artistic success with this second phase of their career, with acclaimed albums like Skylarking and their Dukes of Stratosphear side project. The group effectively petered out after 2000’s Wasp Star; Gregory had already left the band, and Moulding had largely stopped writing songs around 1992’s Nonsuch .

I’ve started this page with 1979’s Drums and Wires – I haven’t heard their first two albums, but based on the singles I’ve heard, they’re a different band at that point with a more abrasive approach and Barry Andrews’ organ. From Drums and Wires onward, they’re remarkably consistent – I count only two sub-standard albums in their discography, 1983’s lethargic Mummer and their under-developed swansong Wasp Star. Andy Partridge is one of my favourite songwriters, able to navigate complex harmonic structures and sophisticated lyrics. Colin Moulding is the bass player and secondary songwriter – his simpler and more direct songs are a great foil for Partridge, while he’s one of my favourite bass players, reminiscent of  Paul McCartney’s work in The Beatles. Dave Gregory doesn’t contribute songs, but he’s an excellent utility musician with his keyboard and guitar parts, and he’s clearly missed on the band’s last album.

XTC do have weaknesses – they can sound quite mannered and overly clever. They’re certainly not innovators – their studio based era is more like a continuation of the sixties work of bands like The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Even more significantly, Partridge isn’t a first class vocalist, and he even sounds like The Muppets’ Miss Piggy on some tracks. But I find XTC consistently interesting and entertaining, and they easily rank among my favourite bands.

Ten Favourite XTC Songs

Easter Theater
The Meeting Place
Summer’s Cauldron
Harvest Festival
Wrapped in Grey
The Wheel and the Maypole
Chalkhills and Children
Vanishing Girl
Brainiac’s Daughter
Making Plans for Nigel

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XTC Drums and Wires

Drums and Wires – XTC

Drums And Wires (1979), 7/10 After releasing two frenetic new wave albums in 1978, XTC made a fresh start with … Continue Reading Drums and Wires – XTC

XTC Black Sea

Black Sea – XTC

Black Sea (1980), 8/10 1980’s Black Sea is my favourite album from XTC’s early period. With a fuller sound from … Continue Reading Black Sea – XTC

XTC English Settlement

English Settlement – XTC

English Settlement (1982), 8/10 Double album English Settlement was a definitive moment in XTC’s career, as they started to progress … Continue Reading English Settlement – XTC

XTC Mummer

Mummer – XTC

Mummer (1983), 5/10 XTC fell off the map with Mummer, to the extent that many fans assumed that the group … Continue Reading Mummer – XTC

XTC The Big Express

The Big Express – XTC

The Big Express (1984), 8/10 The Big Express comes across as a kneejerk reaction to 1983’s overly tepid Mummer. Colin … Continue Reading The Big Express – XTC

XTC Skylarking

Skylarking – XTC

Skylarking (1986), 10/10 XTC made many strong albums, but Skylarking is the consensus pick for their finest work. Producer Todd … Continue Reading Skylarking – XTC

The Dukes of Stratosphear Chips from the Chocolate Fireball

Chips from the Chocolate Fireball – The Dukes of Stratosphear

Chips From The Chocolate Fireball (1987), 9/10 1983’s Mummer and 1984’s The Big Express were so spectacularly unsuccessful that many … Continue Reading Chips from the Chocolate Fireball – The Dukes of Stratosphear

XTC Oranges and Lemons

Oranges and Lemons – XTC

Oranges And Lemons (1992), 7/10 After fighting with Todd Rundgren during the Skylarking sessions, XTC hired producer Paul Fox, a … Continue Reading Oranges and Lemons – XTC

XTC Rag and Bone Buffet

Rag and Bone Buffet: Rare Cuts and Leftovers – XTC

Rag and Bone Buffet (1990), 5.5/10 Rag and Bone Buffet is XTC’s b-sides and rarities compilation. Because a lot of … Continue Reading Rag and Bone Buffet: Rare Cuts and Leftovers – XTC

XTC Nonsuch

Nonsuch – XTC

Nonsuch (1992), 8.5/10 XTC recorded Nonsuch with long-time Elton John producer Gus Dudgeon, with Fairport Convention alumni Dave Mattacks filling in on … Continue Reading Nonsuch – XTC

XTC Apple Venus Volume 1

Apple Venus Volume 1 – XTC

Apple Venus Volume 1 (1999), 9/10 After a seven year self-imposed exile to sever their ties with Virgin, XTC returned … Continue Reading Apple Venus Volume 1 – XTC

XTC Wasp Star

Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2) – XTC

Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2) (2000), 6/10 Wasp Star clears out the songs that Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding … Continue Reading Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2) – XTC

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