Yep "Complicated Game" is indeed a great song to end this stellar album.
Dave Gregory was always one of my favorite guitar players because he did all these great riffs underneath everything. With a frontman like Andy, he could never be anything more than a supporting player, but listen to his little solo in "Reel by Real" on your Drums and Wires. It's just so tasty and economical and fits in so well with the rest of the song.
It's kinda why I always liked George Harrison. Although he didn't have the virtuosity of other guitar legends, he knew where to put in little parts here and there that just fit like a glove.
Post by Mighty Jack on Jan 26, 2013 0:44:28 GMT -5
Yeah that solo in "Real by Real" was sweet. Short, but sweet.
Another one that sticks out off the top of my head -where his playing was a huge asset, was "Love on a Farmboy's Wages" (from vastly under rated "Mummer")
There are a few songs where I wish he'd gotten the spotlight. Peter Pumkinhead for example, Andy felt it went on too long and perhaps should have cut out a verse, but I think if he'd just broken it up a bit, let Gregory do a cool little solo before or after the slow down. Break up the sameness.
(BTW, that's not a slam - I do like Peter Pumpkinhead)
Just to keep the thread hopping I thought I'd feature an XTC album of the week. I'll offer my opinions (underlining my favorite tunes on a given LP). And if anyone is so inclined, they too can add thoughts, links, viewpoints etc. We start at the start...
White Noise Recorded at The Manor, Oxfordshire, England. Produced and engineered by John Leckie. Originally released on 20 January 1978 in the U.K. Reached Top 20 on the U.K. album chart.
Andy Partridge - guitar & voice Colin Moulding - bass & voice Barry Andrews - steam piano & clapped out organs Terry Chambers - just drums
Track Listing:Radios in Motion / Cross Wires / This Is Pop / Do What You Do / Statue of Liberty / All Along the Watchtower / Into the Atom Age / I’ll Set Myself on Fire / I’m Bugged / New Town Animal in a Furnished Cage / Spinning Top / Neon Shuffle
Bonus Tracks:Science Friction / She’s So Square / Dance Band / Hang On To the Night / Heatwave / Traffic Light Rock / Instant Tunes
As with the first LPs from the Beatles and Ramones, White Music was recorded on the quick and nearly live, which gives it an immediate, unpolished, super charged vibe. The songs are hyper, humorous and hooked fueled punk pop, and while it’s often a kick, had they stuck to this sound they would likely have been one of several bands from this era that came and went without leaving much of an impression (lets be honest, they weren’t operating at Clash like levels). XTC had to evolve... or die. And so they did.
Still, it's a fun, sloppy curio, with Partridge offering up some catchy gems like Radios in Motion and the upbeat Into the Atom Age. And This is Pop showcases APs signature songwriting style of merging an off kilter verse with a hooky chorus. Unfortunately Colin Moulding had yet to find his voice and was perhaps trying to mimic Andy (and failing). While his bass playing is impressive, his songwriting is slight and grating. At times it sounds like he's doing a bad early Devo impression, even worse, on Set Myself on Fire his vocals anticipate the Sugarcubes Einar Örn. Interestingly, Andy’s vocals have him sounding like the love child of Joe Strummer and Joey Ramone. His quick delivery gives the feeling of someone on a sugar high, and he admits to being so excited about being in the studio that he wasn’t thinking straight. Barry Andrews supllies his funhouse organs which leands the bands early releases a distinct flavor. They can be a kick, espeically on tunes like Neon Shuffle and the reggae tinged/50s style Statue of Liberty.
Oh, and yes, that's a Dylan cover they do... and it's at once facinating and terrible at the same time.
The remastered CD includes 6 bonus tracks, 3 from their "3D EP" and I actually liked much of this material more than the LP proper. Moulding's two were an improvement - I liked his goofy ode to summer rock of old, Heatwave. And Andy's jittery Science Friction and She's So Sqaure are pluses.
I agree with your favorites choices and I would add New Town Animal as well. I do prefer the Mutt Lange produced single version of "This Is Pop?" much more to the album version. Starting off with Andy's "Yessssss" and with much more of Barry's keyboards lurking in the background and a much clearer punchier mix, it just blows the album version out of the water for me.
I remember a friend of mine making a homemade version of Andy's pants pictured on the cover.
Last Edit: Feb 10, 2013 15:13:39 GMT -5 by Deleted
Post by Mighty Jack on Feb 15, 2013 1:08:16 GMT -5
Album of the week. Feel free to disagree violently and call me silly names on this one.
Go 2 Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London, England, August-September, 1978. Produced by John Leckie Originally released on 13 October 1978 in the U.K. Reached No. 21 on the U.K. album chart
Andy Partridge - guitar & vocals Colin Moulding - bass & vocals Barry Andrews – keyboards, piano, organs, saxaphone, vocals Terry Chambers – drums and vocals
Track Listing:Meccanik Dancing (Oh We Go!) / Battery Brides (Andy Paints Brian) / Buzzcity Talking / Crowded Room / The Rhythm / Red / Beatown / Life is Good in the Greennhouse / Jumping In Gommorah / My Weapon / Super-Tuff / I Am The Audience / Are You Receiving Me?
Recorded a mere 9 months after their début album, and cast under a cloud of squabbling and discord within the band – “Go 2” is considered a bad record by many listeners… and I always considered it so. But revisiting it again and living with it this past week, I find it has aged remarkably well. It might be time for fans and critics to reassess this record.
While it’s not as frantic n fun as White Music and Andy admits they didn’t have enough time to ‘live’ with the songs and polish them up – I believe the record reveals a musical maturity. They guys wanted Brian Eno to produce but he felt they had enough good ideas on their own and did not need him. So while John Leckie was given a Producer credit, he was –according to Andy- effectively an engineer, with the band assuming most of the production duties. Songwriting wise: Moulding shows a marked improvement here, especially in the melodies (though Andy says he was struggling with lyrics). He’s still drawing inspiration from Devo (sounding like Bob Mothersbaugh on Crowded Room) and Roxy Music (The Rhythm), but there’s enough of his own personality in them that they don’t sound like lesser imitations this time out. (Oh and Partridge does a killer Devoesque song as well with Life is Good In The Greenhouse)
The arrangements and instrumentation on this LP are more assured, even if done on the quick. Colin’s melodic bass stylings are a standout in tunes such as Beatown and the ska-laced The Rhythm. Barry Andrew’s branches out from the funhouse organs of White Music - employing a wide variety of keys and bringing layers of distinct and memorable sounds to each track. The under appreciated Terry Chamber’s will always be XTCs greatest drummer, and while Go 2 does not display his most expressive work; he gives the album a solid backbone. And Andy? Well I imagine that he’s operated in rarefied air from birth. But in addition to his skills as a tune smith, he also added some choice licks on several songs.
The pluses include (among others): The frantic album opener, Meccanik Dancing with it’s skewed ‘Twilight Zone’ guitar riff. The icy bass and crumar keyboards in the trance-like dream-scape Battery Brides, the blistering ska/rocker Red, with it’s group sung chorus. And the final song Are You Receiving Me? Added later to get a single, is a raw, catchy rocker (It wasn’t included on every album, but it was released on my LP here in the States). In addition: Colin’s I Am The Audience is a joy if for nothing else than the musicianship. I love hearing Andy’s spidery guitar riff coupled with Barry’s wide selection of piano and organ bits. These are grounded by a steady backbeat provided by Colin and Terry.
Of the weak material? Andy’s Buzzcity Talking is fair at best and the album does lose a bit of steam with Barry’s tunes. They are not horrible, but something doesn't completely click with me, and his vocals don’t mesh with the whole. Colin and Andy fit together like a glove, but Andrews’ vocalizations sound like they belong on another record with another band. I guess he was pulling a power play for control of the group, and lost. This LP will be his XTC swan song.
I made a video of Meccanik Dancing mashed with clips from "Carnival of Souls". It got some good response but YouTube pulled it. If you know the movie, the scenes where the zombies are dancing and spinning around is basically where the "Meccanik Dancing, oh we go!" comes in.
Of course that tune is my number 1 fav off that album but I see you and I differ in that I like Red, Beatown and Jumping in Gomorrah.
Judging by Barry's contributions it was fun while it lasted but Dave Gregory was a MUCH better replacement.
Post by Mighty Jack on Feb 22, 2013 7:22:22 GMT -5
Drums and Wires Recorded June–July 1979 at The Town House, London Produced by Steve Lillywhite Released 17 August 1979
Andy Partridge - vocals, guitars, synthesizers Colin Moulding - vocals, bass Dave Gregory - guitars, keyboards, background vocals Terry Chambers - drums, percussion, background vocals
Dick Cuthell - trumpet on "That Is the Way" Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, Dave Gregory, Terry Chambers, Steve Warren, Hugh Padgham, Al Clark, Jumbo Van Reinen, Vernon Yard Male Voice Choir on "Roads Girdle the Globe"
Track Listing:Making Plans For Nigel / Helicopter / Day in Day Out / When Your Near Me I Have Difficulty / Ten Feet Tall / Roads Girdle the Globe / Real by Reel / Millions / That is the Way / Outside World / Scissor Man / Complicated game
Bonus Tracks:Life Begins at the Hop / Chain of Command / Limelight
Drums and Wires is considered the turning point for XTC. Guitarist (and keyboard player) Dave Gregory was brought in to replace Barry Andrews and his arrival signals a more focused sound. The arrangements are minimalistic but are injected with assured performance. The album also sees rise of a distinct lyrical identity for the band. One that is cynical, features biting word play – can be straight forward and scolding, or humorous and sarcastic. – at times there will be references to literature, history and art.
The title reflects the move to a big drum and guitar (the wires) centric sound. And while I welcome the shift and the treasures it will bring in future releases, I've never loved D&W as much as many XTC fans do. I feel the record generally lacks a musical range and diversity. While there is only one song I flat out skip (Millions) and there are stellar bits to be heard in each tune (like the repetitive mantra of Moulding's bass in Roads Girdle the Globe), I find my mind starting to wander and my interest flagging as the numbers play.
The songs work best when they break from the sameness (wash, rinse, repeat). The deft finger work in Gregory's guitar riff for Real by Reel. The breezy Beatnik trumpet in That is the Way... but those are few and far between. One reviewer I read considered the LP "defused" on the whole -- and I agree.
D&W doesn't really pop until the end: It is here that the band offers us the frantic ‘Oingo Boingo-esque’ Outside World (Dave does this unique guitar lick that sounds like something that would normally be played by a fiddle). The record closes with the eccentric standout Scissor Man. And the brilliant, angst fueled, psychedelic, echo heavy screamer, Complicated Game.
The remastered CD includes 3 bonus songs that maintain the LPs energy levels. The best of these is Colin's Life Begins at the Hop, which challenges Game as my favorite track on this version of the record. It has great rhythm and some of the best vocal arrangements heard on an XTC song -- those tight harmonies and backing vocals are notable. Terry adds a steady beat (I love the short bass & tom build up near the end) and Andy and Dave's guitar work delivers an ear catching hook and a cool 'muted string' lead spot. These kinds of change-up flourishes make the tune standout, and would have helped the album had they been employed liberally throughout. (Note: The final 2 songs here recall the Devo-like stylings heard in Go 2)
Nevertheless, despite my nitpicks there is enough good material to warrant a high mark...
Drums and Wires opens strong with Colin's hit single, the new wavy Making Plans For Nigel– which is about domineering parents. Here's the music video for that number. Complete with Andy –in mad Joker makeup- hopping in and out of screen.
I still remember reading the credits on my old vinyl Drums and Wires and getting a chuckle out of them. The trumpet in That is the Way being credited to "Herb Helpless and the Marijuana Brass" and there was something about being recorded against all odds with "complaining Ian Andersons" down the hall or something to that effect.
Terry really came into his own style on this album in his signature tom-heavy style of play.He and Colin created a very innovative foundation for the band's sound. It's a shame he left the band but he liked to tour and Andy didn't, bottom line.
I remember whenever I got to talking to friends about XTC it was always inevitably "oh yeah, they're the guys that do Making Plans For Nigel". The band was so poorly promoted in North America that any other minor single releases were ignored and "didn't they do Making Plans for Nigel?" always popped up.
In a way it was a blessing and a curse because as much as I wanted the band to really hit paydirt, it was just as nice keeping them as a little secret to myself and other hardcore fans. I always liked the fact as well that despite the lack of commercial sales they were always liked/loved by the critics.
This was my first XTC album and of course I went and bought Go2 and White Music after. I know what you mean about "Millions". It's so damned monotonous which is a shame because I like the lyrics and the guitar work in it, but yeah I skip that one too. I would add to the favorites "Helicopter" I just love that song because it's so goofy. "Doo-doo-doot doot-doot-doot-doooooo..........."
Helicopter is pretty fun... I should have underlined it. And Speaking of an album where I could have underlined almost everything...
Black Sea Recorded at the Townhouse Studios, London, England, June-July 1980. Produced by Steve Lillywhite Originally released on 12 September 1980 in the U.K. Reached No. 16 on the U.K. album chart. Reached No. 41 on the Billboard album chart in the U.S.A. Reached No. 1 on the New Zealand album chart.
Terry Chambers - Tama drums, Snyper drum synthesiser, free form vocals Dave Gregory - guitars, synth, piano, vox humana Colin Moulding - vocals, Epiphone Newport bass Andy Partridge - vocals, guitar, synth
Track Listing:Respectable Street / Generals and Majors / Living Through Another Cuba / Love at First Sight / Rocket From a Bottle / No Language in Our Lungs / Towers of London / Paper and Iron (Notes and Coins) / Burning With Optimism's Flames / Sgt. Rock (is Going to Help Me) / Travels in Nihilon
Bonus Tracks: Smokeless Zone / Don't Lose Your Temper / Somnambulist
I was reluctant to underline anything, because I wanted to underlined everything... just about. Apart from the so/so repetitive Living Through Another Cuba, this album is perfection. It's XTC at it's most accessible, but commericiality doesn't detract from it's brilliance. It is ferocious, catchy and alive! It offers music that punches you in the gut and others that are pure pop confections.
Sea is primarily Andy's baby. He wrote 9 of the 11 numbers (and came up with the chorus for Colin's General's and Majors). But make no mistake, every member of the band sparkles. In going over the album for the week, I focused on each instrument. In one run through I might zero my ears on the guitars, on another, the drums - and came away even more impressed with the album than ever.
Colin's bass for example: While he rarely indulged in accents (ala John Entwistle) he wasn't without imagination or skill. He can lock into the rhythm section and deftly play those sweet arpeggios with the best of them. Listen to Respectable Street and hear the McCartnesque triads, given Mouding’s thick tone.
Check out the muscular Paper and Iron, in which Terry pounds on the drums with a ferocity that calls to mind Peter Gabriel's Security. One could argue this was Chamber's best work on an XTC album, (though that will be challenged with the groups next release). I especially liked his primitive, primal work on Travels in Nihlon
Dave and Andy are working brilliantly together on the guitars. They were trying to get a crashing, twin sound here – sometimes colliding as one (Rocket From a Bottle), sometimes playing an octave away (the funky Love At First Sight, which has a cool stabbing guitar lead bit). Their intertwining play in No Language in Our Lungs is another one to pay close attention to. On the last LP (his first) Gregory felt a bit intimidated by Partridge, but with this record he was confident and not afraid to allow his ideas to bloom. Ala, Towers of London - which Andy called Dave's 'digging in and wailing', British Blues style of play (Oh, and listen to Colin and Terry merge on that same track, very industrial). Piece by the piece, one can hear that the musicianship on Black Sea is impeccable.
Vocally Andy really shines. Listen to his full throated approach to Towers for an example of a guy who has matured and is no longer leaning and relying so heavily on affectations.
lyrically? Critic Chris Woodstra said it best... "Where Drums and Wires implied social commentary, Black Sea more directly addresses sociopolitical concerns, handling them not strictly in a theoretical sense, but rather showing a human response to the circumstances."
She claims she's found a way to make her own light All you do is smile, you banish the night
The record also sees the guys having some silly 60s style fun – Rocket From a Bottle is a jittery pop number that gets you tapping your shoes, and Sgt Rock... well yeah Andy complains about it and the attention it received, but fluff or no, it's a kick.
There's so much good to address that I could gush for pages, Heck, I haven't yet spoken of Colin's delightful Generals and Majors. Where the instrumentation is pure joy and the flavor of fun is delivered through hums and electronic whistles. Just give it a listen for yourself.
If your XTC curious but not sure what to get. This is the record I’d recommend sampling.. It doesn’t slip in too many of the discordant elements the band is known for (which might be a roadblock for some ears) And is just full out, muscular, hook laden, bombastic British pop rock.
Note: There are 3 bonus songs. My favorite being the sleepy submarine ride, Somnombulist and theirs some sharp playing in the hip n’ snappy Don’t Lose Your Temper. But I often skip this trio and listen to them later. There’s such a feeling of perfection on Black Sea’s 11 tracks -- of an album as a unit, and a sense of completion after the exhausting Nihilon -- that I don’t want to continue on. It would be like adding to the Beatles Sgt Peppers… it’s just wrong somehow.
I wanted too keep these short, but things got out of hand with this one. It’s a double album so I’ll split it in two. Note: anything in yellow is a link to the song.
Cover inspired by the Uffington White Horse, which is about 6 miles east of Swindon, the home town of XTC.
English Settlement Recorded and mixed between 5 October and mid-November 1981 at The Manor, Oxfordshire, England. Produced and mixed by Hugh Padgham and XTC. Originally released on 12 February 1982 in the U.K. Reached No. 5 on the U.K. album chart.. Reached No. 48 on the Billboard album chart in the U.S.A.
Andy Partridge - lead vocals, backing vocals, electric guitar, semi-acoustic electric 12-string guitar, semi-acoustic electric guitar, acoustic guitar, mini-Korg, Prophet V, anklung, alto sax, percussion, frog Colin Moulding - lead vocals, backing vocals, fretless bass, Fender bass, mini-Korg, piano, percussion Dave Gregory - electric 12-string guitar, electric guitars, nylon-string Spanish guitar, semi-acoustic electric 12-string guitar, Prophet V, mini-Korg, backing vocals, percussion, piano Terry Chambers - drums, drum synthesiser, percussion, backing vocals
with: Hugh Padgham - backing vocals on "Ball and Chain" and Hans de Vente - backing vocals on "It's Nearly Africa"
Track Listing:Runaways / Ball and Chain / Senses Working Overtime / Jason and the Argonauts / No Thugs in Our House / Yacht Dance /All of a Sudden (It's Too Late) / Melt the Guns / Leisure / It’s Nearly Africa / Knuckle Down / Fly on the Wall / Down in the Cockpit / English Roundabout / Snowman
And this is the record that changes everything. It moves away from the jagged, biting trebles of the past 4 albums, and offers muted, bassy tones - and ushers in XTCs ‘pastoral’ age, which embodies 3 albums. Andy and Gregory brought in new 12 string acoustics while Colin experimented with a fretless bass, which lends a loose, smooth, rather rubbery sound to his instrumentation. Chamber’s drumming is expressive, thumping toms and subdued snares and roto toms in substitution of snares that might have come off low-key, had he not played with such force and color.
The texture and tone of the album is established from the start with Moulding's Runaways: An ethereal mantra with steady drumbeat set to the repetitive melody. The sound is stripped down and dream-like. Lyrics are straight forward, and match the music, as it spins around itself. The cycle never ends. Colin follows this up with the single Ball and Chain, which is take-off on the Beatles "Getting Better" and was about the destruction of Swindon Town Centre (It was a call for landmark preservation)
And then Andy steps in and LP become epic: With 3 songs that rank among the bands greatest. It begins with Senses Working Overtime. It should be no surprise that this was a merging of two unfinished songs. The verses are pure ‘Renaissance Fair, which leads to the power poppiest, hookiest chorus ever heard. The musicianship throughout the song is impressive, with layers of instrument, from jangly 12 string guitars to the backbone provided by Terry’s skilled drumming and Colin’s bass, which goes full out McCartney during that sweet bridge. Gareth Morgan of Guitar and Bass Magazine (UK – May 2005) said of Colin’s work… "Moulding's playing simply soars, and his fretless work is revelatory: it's as if he had a cupboard-full of killer ideas in waiting, and he lets them all out on one record. And yet it's in no way a chops-fest. Taste and musicality are the watchwords, and our snippet — based on the two-bar phrase at the end of the chorus in the sublime Senses Working Overtime — also features wonderful legato slides, solid grooving and high-register fills."
Lyrically: On first blush it seems optimistic, a celebration of the senses -- but there is an underlying feeling of harsh nature of reality. Life can be tough, try to keep it together and find the beauty. In the end the Church bells chime (but what of the crows at the end? What do they signify)
XTC: Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, Dave Gregory and Terry Chambers
After this memorable piece we are taken on the high seas in Jason and the Argonauts. This tune is musically picturesque and is a prime example of the band's new direction. Jason is not simply a quick pop song, but one that creates an image, a feeling, with music that is rich and textured and evocative. The track includes a long instrumental piece -- Andy said of it, "You were supposed to get lost in the hypnosis of the middle section, in the mechanical repetitiveness of it", he later added… "The long passage in the middle is not meant to be a guitar ‘solo’, but more of a hypnotic suggestion as to the expanse of the sea. You know, repetition, slight variation, big, broad, blue. It was even longer in the studio but we edited it down by a few nautical miles."
Terry's drumming is distinct in that he gives an odd push on the snare: Keeping to a steady four-on-the-floor with the bass drum, he plays the snare on the word "and", before the one. He also added 1-2-3 roto-toms, which were funneled through a heavy echo effect.
The guitars are played in an ascending/descending pattern – Andy noted that it’s "... Just a one-note figure, with another note in constant harmony"
With the vocals, Andy spoke of liking the "little stagger in the melody, made up of slow and fast triplets."
Lyrically it's about Jason's quest, and about touring... and it's also about the journey of life -- the things you see as you grow up and how it makes you cynical. Partridge was known for peppering his lyrics with literary, historical references and the like. Here, of course, he is inspired by one of his favorite movies – there’s also a tip of the hat to "The Island of Dr. Moreau"
And finally we come to No Thugs In Our House Despite the fact that it’s backed by an acoustic guitar, this is one of the more hard rocking XTC tunes -- a snarling kick-in-the-teeth number that gives the album a rude switch-up from its pastoral foundations. Lyrically it reminds me of the Oingo Boingo song Only A Lad -- though Thugs is more poetical. Andy weaves his words beautifully and creates some striking imagery with this one.
This first album cools down with its final tracks. Yacht Dance is a waltz in 3-4 time. I love that pretty -Spanish-style- noodling on the guitars, and the contrast between the nylon and steel strings being played. Andy had a clear idea on what he wanted this to sound like. He had the producer put a phase effect on Terry’s cymbals, and a heavily reverbed roto-tom was used instead of a snare…
Andy – “I wanted it to sound watery. So, smash wasn't enough -- I wanted it to be smash-sh-sh-sh. Much more wave-like."
The bassline is melodic, adding an underneath harmony to the guitars. Colin played the fretless, allowing for smooth slides here and there. Lyrics are sung like waves, rolling in and around… It’s a little more optimistic, though with a bite. Andy said it might have been a poke to his wives parents, who didn’t approve of him.
And last but not least All of a Suddden. It's one of those 'capture the moment before the moment is gone' songs. I've always liked the number, but Partridge seems pretty down on it. He feels it's too preachy, that his vocals were affected, and that goes on too long. But I think it has a lovely sound, so length isn't an issue for me.
It's one of those 'capture the moment before the moment is gone' songs. I've always liked the number, but Partridge seems pretty down on it. He feels it's too preachy, that his vocals were affected, and that goes on too long. But I think it has a lovely sound, so length isn't an issue for me.
Dave is playing the 12 string, which sound pretty in those intermediate bits between the vocals. And I like -what one critic described as- "the lulling minor chord repetition." and the chorus hand-offs between Andy and Colin.
The music video for Ball and Chain
Tomorrow: The second half of this double album
"I'm not a man who approves of definitions. Labels belong on luggage as far as I'm concerned; they don't mean anything in art" - Fellini
Had XTC stopped with the first half of this album there would be no debate about it’s classic status - but they continued and many fans a critics feel that the songs on the second LP aren't as strong as what was had on the first. In fact when it was released as a single record in the States, much of the tunes that were cut, were cut in this section. It’s not that they are terrible songs – more that the middle tracks don't seem to fit tonally with the rest of the record, Fly On the Wall for example, seems more a kin to what was done on Go 2. As for me, I'd rather have the songs than not.
A quick going over track by track...
Melt the Guns With it’s odd rat-a-tat drum pattern, serpentine bass line – desperate vocalization and staccato rhythms, Melt the Gun is nothing if not distinct. It is another example of the perfect marriage of lyric to illustrative music, heard on the album. Lyrically, Andy wags a scolding at the United States and the gun culture in general. It's a good song that gets the 2nd part of the double album off to a good start.
Leisure An off kilter stroll of a song about being out of work, replaced by technology - and then sinking into that tech by sitting on our asses, getting drunk and playing video games. It's actually more relevant today than it was in 1982. At the end Andy reveals his inspiration by singing a little Lazybones from Hoagy Carmichael (and make reference to the trashy UK tabloid, “The Sun”).
Not many XTC fans like the tune... and while it isn't my favorite track from the album, it's not terrible. There's a fun weirdness to it.
It’s Nearly Africa World beats, horn stabs, and a melody that Andy called "old fashioned swing", comes front and center in this one. It’s a tune I skip a lot; don’t have much to say about it.
The electric guitar was played unplugged, with the microphone placed inches from the strings
It’s an amalgam of two unfinished song, "Jazz Love" and "It’s Primitive Now"
Andy: “The body of the song was written in 1975; I never thought about finishing it till 1981. The original song was called ‘It's Primitive Now.’ It was a little celebration of all things primitive, of how we should slow down and appreciate being basically animals, in the good sense of the word; how we should realize we're really very primitive and find the joy in that, rather than racing onwards through technology and losing our realness.”
Knuckle Down And now Andy gives shuffling reggae a shot (quite an eclectic mix of sounds on this album), which allows the record to rebound after the 2 lesser tracks that came previous. It’s a simple but nicely constructed number that puts me in a positive mood. The album (and Andy in truth) is often cynical; the lyrics here are a bright call for love and tolerance.
Fly on the Wall Colin wrote this one and it was tabbed to be a single, but the studio heads hated the production...
Andy: “Virgin's Simon Draper was convinced this was a single and Colin was still the golden boy, everything he touched turned to Fablon in their eyes. I, on the other hand was the nutty, arty one, left to sweep up my brain droppings into the semblance of an album. Colin had the looks and the melodies, I had the glasses. For some reason Simon Draper changed his mind when he heard this finished version. Was it the fuzzy, out of focus, fly's eye vocal, or perhaps the stinging, insect wing keyboard? Who knows, but in his mind we were purposefully ‘spoiling’ what could have been a hit. Funny that, we thought it swung like a maggot's mutha.”
The track was left off the US release and that’s too bad, because it’s a fun little synth pop ditty. Not substantially great like Senses or No Thugs, but I like it.
Colin: “Every time I hear this blast from the past, I seem to raise a smile. Although written with the sinister subject of Big Brother in mind, sinister it ain't. But in a way I'm rather thankful for it. Its buzzy keyboard and unusual vocal treatment give it a much lighter manner than I could have foreseen and I'm saved from being viewed as taking myself too seriously... phew!”
Down in the Cockpit Andy writes feminists ska number, that is repetitious and infectiously catchy.
The album then closes with a bang and gets back to it's roots with the final two tracks...
English Roundabout Colin’s final offering on the album is a pleasant reggae-style piece in 5/4 time. With its ornate flourishes, the song continues the standard of sharp guitar work that was prevelant throughout the record. Lyrics are straight forward beatnik poetry, saying – “Get me out of this rat race!”
Snowman To me this sounds like Partridge took the “Iceman” bridge from his song, “When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty” and expanded it into a full number. Andy said he liked the “clattering clockwork” sound and the nervous energy of the number. I do as well. It closes English Settlement as it began, as a repetitive circling mantra.
Grade: First LP: A+ / Second LP: B+ / Total Grade: A
XTC talk about the cover and do an into for All of a Sudden Video
Post by Mighty Jack on Mar 15, 2013 2:08:51 GMT -5
Continuing with the album of the week: I'm ditching the underline thing, as I end up wanting to underline almost everything anyway.
Mummer Recorded at The Manor, Oxfordshire, England, and Genetic Studios, winter 1982. Mixed at AIR Studios, London, England, January 1983. Produced and mixed by Steve Nye/XTC. Tracks 2, 4, 5, 6 and 10 remixed by Alex Sadkin and Phil Thornalley / XTC at RAK Studios, London Originally released on 30 August 1983 in the U.K. Reached No. 51 on the U.K. album chart. Reached No. 145 on the Billboard album chart in the U.S.A. on 10 March 1984.
Andy Partridge - vocals, guitar Colin Moulding - vocals, bass Dave Gregory - vocals, guitar, keyboard, piano
with: Terry Chambers - drums on "Beating of Hearts", "Wonderland" and the bonus track "Toys" Peter Phipps - drums on all other tracks Steve Nye - mini-korg on "Wonderland", mellotron on "Elements" Gavin Wright and Nigel Warren-Green - strings on "Great Fire"
Track Listing: Beating of Hearts / Wonderland / Love On a Farmboy's Wages / Great Fire / Deliver Us From the Elements / Human Alchemy / Ladybird / In Loving Memory of a Name / Me and the Wind / Funk Pop a Roll
Bonus Tracks: Frost Circus / Jump / Toys / Gold / Procession Towards Learning Land / Desert Island
Mummer suffers from a centered mix, with not much separation. I have no idea why –for example- Colin's bass was buried in this manner. His playing has been such strength that it's an inexplicable artistic choice. In addition the drumming was rather tepid in places.
Take the Harrison-esque Beating of Hearts, what a cool sweeping landscape it presents. I like it... when I take my ears off the repetitive drums. Terry did some unique percussive work over the years, but it was always full bodied and played with passion. He didn't just lamely tap on his toms over and over, which is what happens here. There's simply no life in these skins.
The follow up track, Colin's Wonderland is likewise played with such timidity, as if Terry was afraid to go all out. (Which is actually Andy's fault, not Terry's. The drum patterns were Partridge's choice). Chambers was working on Love on a Farmboys wages when he stopped, said he couldn't do it and quit the band.. Andy said Terry felt the songs were too weird and didn't like the poofy drumming. Can't say I disagree with the drumming part of his argument.
The album in total has a tinny quality to it -- so removed from the bluster and muscle of Black Sea, and the exquisite layers and fullness of the drums and bass in English Settlement.
But as for the weird, I liked the weird. And it gets weird right in the middle with Deliver Us From the Elements and Human Alchemy but I dig ‘em both. They are each rather eerie. Colin’s Elements is like Nine Inch Nail's meets Brian Eno meets the Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows, with it’s springy opening bits and Mellotron loops. While Andy's Alchemy is riffing on Oingo Boingo (as with this song, you’ll hear Andy’s vocals sounding a lot like Danny Elfman's in future tracks). Alchemy is about slavery and greed, and the lyrics pack a wallop. The drumming, thankfully, is interesting and adds to the tone of the piece, as do the split-vocals. Even producer George Martin had a small hand in the production; he lent and set up his ‘sub-octave device’ they utilized on the track. The overall soundscape is stunning; Andy said that he was, "trying to make a picture of people in misery, in music -- the tribal drums and the mournful vocal refrain, and the dark, scary emptiness of especially the last part of the track.”
Aside from that, there’s also some genuinely pretty and decidedly not weird music on the LP. The acoustic Love on a Farmboy’s Wages is simply one of the loveliest numbers Partridge ever wrote, aided greatly by Dave Gregory’s guitar work. And his Ladybird is a catchy, breezy jazz-pop number that is also an album highlight.
While there are many delightful little noises and instruments and vocal accents sprinkled throughout the production, the music is caught by the ‘sameness bug’ that is found on their other pastoral releases (even Skylarking). So much so that when the hyperactive Funk Pop A Roll starts playing it was rather jarring. The numbers on Mummer were all in the mid-tempo range, so this sputtering drum heavy tune wakes you up. Oh, and there’s a real cool chiming 12-string lead from Dave on this number.
After Funk (Andy's caustic dig at the music industry) the bounciness continues with several of the bonus songs. Chief among them, Toys and Gold. The bonus tunes also include two oddities, a couple of instrumentals, which a few critics have knocked, but I rather enjoyed them. They are kind of “Eno meets Mothersbaugh”.
To sum it up, I like the songs; I like the musical bells and whistles, but I'm not fond of the mix and much of the drum work.
"I'm not a man who approves of definitions. Labels belong on luggage as far as I'm concerned; they don't mean anything in art" - Fellini
Post by Mighty Jack on Mar 22, 2013 1:15:24 GMT -5
This will be the last ‘album of the week’ for a spell. These took up more time than I anticipated -- Maybe I’ll make it an album of the month, or if someone else wants to take over that would be okay with me. If not, I’ll return with the Dukes sometime in the future.
The Big Express Recorded at Crescent Studios, Bath, England, and Odyssey Sound, London, England, Spring 1984. Produced by David Lord and XTC. Originally released on 15 October 1984 in the U.K. Reached No. 38 on the U.K. album chart. Reached No. 181 on the Billboard album chart in the U.S.A.
Tracks: Wake Up / All You Pretty Girls / Shake Your Donkey Up / Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her, Kiss Her / This World Over / Everyday Story of a Smalltown / I Bought Myself a Liarbird / Reign of Blows / You’re the Wish (You Are) I Had / I Remember the Sun / Train Running Low on Soul Coal
Bonus Tracks: Red Brick Dream / Wash Away / Blue Overall
This was XTCs worst selling album, and not highly regarded by many fans and critics. I recall disliking it on my first listen. But you know - when an album makes you work for it, sometimes those end up the most timeless. They are difficult at first because they are unconventional, but stick with them and they yield rich rewards. The Big Express is a return to the crunchy pop rock sound we heard pre-English Settlement- but it isn’t as easily digestible as the tracks heard in Black Sea. Express challenges you, forces you to focus and take some time getting to know it.
I’m not alone in my boundless affection for the LP. Critic David Woodstra wrote of it… XTC took full advantage of their studio-bound status (by) creating their most painstakingly detailed, multi-layered, sonically dynamic album to date. The more upbeat material and brighter sound recall some of the band's earlier moments, but most of all, The Big Express signals a turning point for the band, setting the blueprint for their later approach -- a combination of studio perfection matched with impeccable songcraft that results in a thoroughly consistent and enjoyable album beginning to end. Skylarking, the album that followed, gets much more glory, and certainly its impact was greater (this one was virtually ignored), but really, The Big Express covers much of the same territory and is just as strong an album in many ways.
Express opens with syncopated, stabbing twin guitars, which give harbor to lyrics that express an existential crises. Colin, who wrote the song titled Wake Up! explained… “Mechanically played guitars symbolise day job monotony. Same faces, early mornings, people yawning into closed fists. Wake up to life..you get the picture.” The kicker for me is the female voice, the angelic, yet somewhat scary choir that is heard throughout the song, an idea that was arranged by producer David Lord, and adds a striking flavor to an album filled with such accents.
From there Andy offers up a delightful sea shanty and then moves to one of his goofiest, Shake Your Donkey Up -- an absurd western parody, stocked with fiddles, whip cracks and Andy’s high pitched, “Yeee-Haw’s!”
From this silliness the album takes a turn into brilliance – Seagulls Screaming Kiss her, Kiss Her (great title) is an urgent dream - bristling with a nervous energy that accompanies lyrics about a guy trying to screw up his courage and kiss a gal he’s with on the seashore. Bottles and plates and such used in the percussion, cannon shot drums explode as dramatic horns pop in - heavy filters give Andy’s split-vocals an eerie quality. Seagulls bleeds into the unforgettable This World Over. Written in open E-tuning, it’s one of Andy’s most soulful pieces (reminiscent of a Tears For Fears ballad) and is about weighty end of the world concerns, nestled within mundane matters. Partridges voice is world-weary and nearly drowned out as the music builds and builds… and then drops. Powerful!
Speaking of Tears For Fears, they lent XTC the use of their E-mu Emulator for the brass section in the next song The Everyday Story of A Smalltown. Dave Gregory –who plays a 12 string Rickenbacher in this one, felt that a lot of the musical details were lost in the mix (especially guitars, brass and children’s vocals). Never the less it’s a hell of a fun number – kind of Andy’s version of Penny Lane, complete with colorful lyrics that take us on a stroll through a small town. The marching beat, snake hissing cymbals, kazoos and Colin’s melodic bass lines... concerns with the mix notwithstanding, producer David Lord was one hell of an arranger and his contributions are a boon to the number.
After this trio of giants, XTC continues the hit parade by giving us the bluesy, jazz guitar centered I Bought Myself a Liarbird (with clever lyrics that take a poke at the bands former manager) and then it picks up again with a distorted locomotive-fueled Reign of Blows (killer harp in this one)
Next: You’re The Wish (You Are) I Had highlights one of Andy’s signature songwriting moves - Where he marries discordant beatnik verses to the sweetest Beatlesque hooks at the chorus. It’s a style that keeps their sound distinct, challenging and timeless. Colin was using a new Wai bass that had (as Partridge described it) a burping quality that you can hear here. The song opens with a side-winding pattern that gives way too snappy choruses and bubbly vocalized “wish, wish, wishes.”
Finally: Moulding returns with a smooth jazz-pop number and then the album closes with it’s weakest tune… which is odd since great closers were a staple for the band. But Train Running Low on Soul Coal is constructed of 3 distinct pieces that don’t blend well as one, and by the end Andy’s painful squealing is like a drill in my skull. I will give it props for the illustrative instrumentation; it does bring to mind a snarling, steam-spitting freight train.
3 Bonus songs are had, and they match the tone of the album well. Red Brick Dream’s nursery rhyme melody is laden with heavy reverb. Wash Away is Colin doing McCartney’s “Lady Madonna” meets “1991” and Andy tops it all off with a screaming blues number. Blue Overall
And overall I think this unheralded and ignored LP ranks among XTCs very best.
"I'm not a man who approves of definitions. Labels belong on luggage as far as I'm concerned; they don't mean anything in art" - Fellini