Double album English Settlement was a pivotal moment in XTC’s career, as they started to progress to a more studio based sound. English Settlement has distinctive textures; Partridge began using an acoustic twelve string guitar to give the album a folk feel, which is contrasted with inventive and energetic rhythm patterns. Moulding’s opener ‘Runaways’ sets the tone for the album’s textural experimentation, with a smooth groove generated from the tasteful drum machine, Moulding’s fretless bass, and catchy rhythm guitar parts.
Moulding is in fantastic writing touch throughout English Settlement; ‘Fly on the Wall’, ‘Ball and Chain’ and ‘English Roundabout’ are all concise and vigorous, providing the most accessible entry points to the album. In contrast, virtually all of Partridge’s tracks are drawn out longer than five minutes; great for strong material like ‘Jason and the Argonauts’, but problematic for weaker songs like ‘Melt the Guns’, and the third quarter of the album in particular is heavy going. Partridge’s highlights include the group’s sole UK Top 10 single ‘Senses Working Overtime’, ‘Snowman’ (with the classic line “people will always be tempted to wipe their feet on anything with Welcome written on it,”) and the punkish ‘No Thugs in Our House.’ English Settlement marked a commercial highpoint for XTC in Britain; shortly afterwards the group ceased touring due to Partridge’s chronic stage fright.
English Settlement tends to be a favourite of XTC fans; there’s tons of great stuff here, but that weaker third quarter pushes it out of XTC’s top tier of records.