XTC were one of the leading constituents of the British post punk/new wave scene of the late 70s into mid 80s. They were also one of the most enduring and eclectic acts to emerge from that era. Though lumped by some observers as ‘new wave’, XTC resided more in the power-pop zone of the movement. Early days their music was a meticulously crafted brand of art-pop, featuring inventive rhythm patterns, and sometimes weirdly placed melodic contortions. Early critical appraisal compared them to ‘Rubber Soul’ era Beatles, but XTC were never ones to be pigeonholed, even by their loyal cult following.
The band’s roots burrowed back to 1973, in Swindon, a rustic outcropping of London. Twenty year old Andy Partridge (vocals/guitar), recruited Colin Moulding (bass/vocals), Terry Chambers (drums), and Jonathan Perkins (keyboards), all three still in their teens. They dubbed themselves the Helium Kidz, and took to local music circuits to hone their craft and build an audience. Initially their style was born of a New York Dolls influenced brand of glitter-pop, mixing straight up rock& roll with quintessential English psychedelia that would inform their later work.
In late ‘77, XTC released the debut single, ‘Science Fiction’, followed in quick succession by ‘Statue Of Liberty’, and ‘This Is Pop?’ (which puts me in mind of Australia’s Sports - see separate posts), the latter garnering some critical attention for the band, and revealing XTC to be a power-pop outfit in punk clothing guise. Amongst the post-punk frenzy of Britain’s music scene in 1978, XTC found a loyal audience who pushed their debut album, ‘White Music’ (recorded in just one week), to #38 on the British charts. The album bubbled along with bursts of chaotic energy, capturing XTC at their early era rebellious best.
During the first half of ‘79, XTC laboured away in studio to record their third album, ‘Drums And Wires’ (UK#34/OZ#40), the band’s first U.S. release. The lead out single, ‘Life Begins At The Hop’, did reasonable business (UK#54/OZ#94), but it was the quirky follow up single, ‘Making Plans For Nigel’ that promised a major commercial breakthrough for XTC. Penned by, and featuring the lead vocals of bassist Colin Moulding, the song was backed by an eccentric video clip featuring the band members playing in some kind of asylum setting. The combination of music and video worked, pushing ‘Making Plans For Nigel’ to #17 on the British charts (OZ#94). The album wound back on some of the frenzied energy of its predecessors, offering a more cohesive sound, yet one that retained the band’s eccentricity and humour, evidenced by tracks such as ‘Day In Day Out’, ‘Ten Feet Tall’, and the anthemic ‘Roads Girdle The Globe’. In amidst a hectic performance schedule the prolific song writing of Andy Partridge found a vehicle beyond the frontiers of XTC, in the form of the February ‘80 album release ‘Take Away (The Lure Of Salvage)’, released under the unassuming name of Mr. Partridge.
The critically lauded album ‘English Settlement’ (UK#5/ OZ#14/US#48) was released in February of ‘82, and immediately made an impact, thanks in part to the lead out single, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ‘Senses Working Overtime’. The track became XTC’s first foray into the British top ten (#10/OZ#12), and was followed up by the single ‘Ball And Chain’ (UK#58/OZ#97) two months later. ‘English Settlement’ was, and has been, regarded as XTC’s finest hour, blending strains of folk rock, exotic rhythm patterns, and cutting edge synthesiser pop, blended through a prism of psychedelic rock - all up a more stylistically complex offering. Furthermore, Andy Partridge’s acerbic wit, and eccentrically challenging lyrics lured the listener to be immersed by each and every track. ‘English Settlement’ was released as a double album in Britain, but (minus four cuts) was reduced to a single album release in the U.S. Like so many British post-punk bands, significant mainstream crossover success in America eluded XTC, but the band’s profile continued to grow on the indie and alternative scenes, via college-radio.
An XTC ‘best of’ was released in late ‘82. ‘Waxworks: Some Singles 1977-1982’ (UK#54), also featured a limited edition companion album in the form of ‘Beeswax: Some B-sides 1977-1982’, to keep fans happy until XTC resurfaced once more to charm them with new material.)))