March Through Time: XTC

When one thinks of artists who earn well-deserved critical plaudits again and again, all the while selling records in diminishing numbers, XTC comes immediately to mind. As is so often the case from my personal perspective, the band’s middle period is its best, with the early and later material less compelling. But it’s all worth hearing.

  • White Music (1978) – Nervy, angular, quirky and decidedly noncommercial. One can’t help but wonder if Danny Elfman heard this LP when he was developing his vocal style. At least three classics in “Radios in Motion,” “Statue of Liberty” and the winning “This is Pop.” Nerdpunk, or punk for the thinking listener.
  • Go 2 (1978) – A more difficult listen, but bassist Colin Moulding is (for once) prolific. “His “I Am the Audience” is a highlight.
  • Drums and Wires (1979) – The first XTC classic album. Primary songwriter Andy Partridge delivers “Making Plans for Nigel,” and Moulding scores with “Ten Feet Tall.”
  • Black Sea (1980) – A massive leap forward. Dense production in places, but it fits the songs. Side One is the more immediate of the two, but it’s all great.
  • English Settlement (1982) – Created as a double LP (and released that way in the UK), Stateside it was whittled down to a single record. As stellar a songwriter as Partridge is, Moulding hits the bullseye with his three songs. “Senses Working Overtime” is a superb combination of ear candy melody and dark lyrics.
  • Mummer (1983) – A less accessible record that nonetheless contains at least two essential tracks, “”Love on a Farmboy’s Wages” and “Funk Pop a Roll,” both by Partridge.
  • The Big Express (1984) – This one is denser still, and makes its predecessor look like pop. A must-hear for aficionados, but most others will be left a bit mystified.
  • 25 O’Clock (1985) – As serious as the last couple LPs had been, this EP (credited to The Dukes of Stratosphear) was and remains a delight. Partridge demonstrates his stunning ability to write in the style of ‘60s psychedelia. He’d put those talents to excellent use in the coming years.
  • Skylarking (1986) – The battles between producer Todd Rundgren and Andy Partridge are the stuff of legend, but this record benefited by the tension. Guitarist Dave Gregory is the unsung hero as well. Must-own.
  • Psonic Psunspot (1987) – Perhaps a tiny bit less perfect than the Dukes’ debut EP, it’s still filled with gems. “Vanishing Girl” is pop transcendence.
  • Oranges & Lemons (1989) – Fully integrating the Dukes aesthetic into the XTC format resulted in one of the group’s best efforts. Essential.
  • Nonsuch (1992) – Somewhat more mannered than its predecessor, Nonsuch sounds like what it is: the product of a studio-only group. Still great. The last classic XTC record.
  • Apple Venus Volume 1 (1999) – Reduced to a duo with the sad departure of Gregory, this is a drawing room record. It has its moments, but what Gregory brought to the mix was truly missing and missed.
  • Wasp Star (2000) – This rocks a bit harder but is very much of a piece with its predecessor. Sadly, the last word from the band (not counting all manner of posthumous rarities-style releases).