XTC – one of Punk / post-punk / new-wave, whatever you want to call its smartest bands entered the arena with White Music, a snappy, edgy and adrenaline fuelled romp through twelve songs, many of them having been in the band’s repertoire for some time – careering from the deftly defining statement of intent, “This is Pop”, to the fractured hiccuped deconstruction of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”, an expansive live favourite that was to prefigure extended workout versions of later album tracks like “Scissor Man”.
Back in the studio with John Leckie after an abortive meeting with Brian Eno, the band found themselves with the inevitable perennial problem of finding enough material for a new album. The resulting collection, Go 2 is I suspect greatly underrated in the XTC canon, not least by the band themselves.
“I think everyone contributed their worst songs to “Go 2” . I’d written a lot of rubbish because we were constantly touring and I couldn’t find the time to write. Colin was groping for an identity after the initial shock tactics of things like “X-Wires” – which I think was him trying to write a piece of fake Andy Partridge”. Thus spake the man himself in Chris Twomey’s “Chalkhills and Children” bio of the band. But further frictions – and not of the science variety – emerged during the sessions. “And then there was Barry (Andrews – keyboard player) steering the band off too quickly with things like “My Weapon” and “Super Tuff”.
This version of XTC however was road hardened and the rhythm section of Chambers and Moulding were as tight and innovative as any working in the field. Couple this with partridge’s terrific slash and burn guitar and Andrew’s psychotic organ and piano and you have a great starting point for any recording session.
So what of the songs dismissed so perfunctorily by Mr Partridge? AP himself has five songs, Colin Moulding four and Barry Andrews Two (others ended up on the cutting-room floor, later to emerge on the excellent “Coat of Many Cupboards” compilation). Quite a democratic effort then, and one in which the band do stretch out and attempt to develop the approach employed on the debut album.
We have an embarrassment of riches here, despite what AP says. A strong pair of partridge numbers kick off proceedings with the insect guitar led Meccanic Dancing (Oh We Go!) about the inanity of drink fuelled teen disco, leading into the hypnotic Battery Brides (Andy Paints Brian), an analysis of the banality of human expectation. Another later Partridge number stretches the boundaries of what the band had hitherto done, Life Is Good In The Greenhouse, with its chanting chorus that prefigures a song like Mummer’s Human Alchemy. The Partridge wit is on show in the biblical romp Jumping In Gomorrah,
“bring your horn of plenty,
gold calves if you got ‘em,
We’ll get stuck in history,
All aboard for Sodom”.
The Colin Moulding songs on offer are a departure from his out there contributions to WHite Music, nothing here to challenge I’ll Set Myself On Fire, instead he embraces his inner melodicist, with songs about the drunken social whirl of life in modern Britain, with Buzzcity Talking, Crowded Room – so crowded the others present are
“pushing me out, onto the fire-escape”
The two Barry Andrews songs which make it to the cut do sit a little uncomfortably, with My Weapon exploring relationship machismo, and Super-Tuff more street-wise than XTC perhaps ought to be. The album closer, Moulding’s I Am The Audience is again inspired by the crowded live band experience.
A mixed bag then, but by no means a disappointment, although the follow-up, the truly magnificent Drums And WIres knocks it (and most of its contemporaries) into a cocked hat for originality and wit.
Oh and the original vinyl package by Hipgnosis I think, is truly inspired, smart, cynical and perfect for the period.
Worth checking out.
An interesting insight into the Partridge composing cycle here!