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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

1979, 7/10. After releasing two frenetic new wave albums in 1978, XTC made a fresh start with Drums And Wires.

XTC Black Sea

Black Sea – XTC

1980, 8/10. 1980’s Black Sea is my favourite album from XTC’s early period, with a fuller sound from Steve Lillywhite.

XTC English Settlement

English Settlement – XTC

1982, 8/10. Double album English Settlement was a pivotal moment in XTC’s career, as they started to progress to a more studio based sound.

XTC Mummer

Mummer – XTC

1983, 5/10. XTC fell off the map with Mummer, to the extent that many fans assumed that the group broke up after English Settlement.

XTC The Big Express

The Big Express – XTC

1984, 8/10. The Big Express comes across as a kneejerk reaction to 1983’s overly tepid Mummer, as Colin Moulding’s opener ‘Wake Up’ bursts out.

XTC Skylarking

Skylarking – XTC

1986, 10/10. XTC made many strong albums, but Skylarking is the consensus pick for their finest work.

The Dukes of Stratosphear Chips from the Chocolate Fireball

Chips from the Chocolate Fireball – The Dukes of Stratosphear

1987, 9/10. By 1985 XTC were at a crisis point, and recorded a cute little EP in the spirit of their psychedelic sixties influences.

XTC Oranges and Lemons

Oranges and Lemons – XTC

1989, 7/10. After fighting with Todd Rundgren during the Skylarking sessions, XTC hired producer Paul Fox, a fan of the group, for double LP Oranges And Lemons.

XTC Rag and Bone Buffet

Rag and Bone Buffet: Rare Cuts and Leftovers – XTC

1990, 5.5/10. Rag and Bone Buffet is XTC’s b-sides and rarities compilation.

XTC Nonsuch

Nonsuch – XTC

1992, 8.5/10. XTC recorded Nonsuch with Elton John producer Gus Dudgeon and Fairport Convention drummer Dave Mattacks.

XTC Apple Venus Volume 1

Apple Venus Volume 1 – XTC

1999, 9/10. After a seven year self-imposed exile to sever their ties with Virgin, XTC returned in 1999 on a minor label with an orchestral album/

XTC Wasp Star

Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2) – XTC

2000, 6/10. Wasp Star clears out the songs that Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding wrote between 1995 and 1998.

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