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Matthew Berlyant: March 17, 2013

XTC

I’ve been on a massive XTC kick recently, so here’s a list featuring my ten favorite albums in their long, illustrious career.

  1. XTCSkylarking (Geffen/Virgin)

    When I was younger, I would’ve pointed to either Drums and Wires, Black Sea or English Settlement as their greatest achievements and while all of these are great, as I’ve gotten older I play this one more than any XTC album. The songwriting is top-notch (“Earn Enough for Us” and “That’s Really Super, Supergirl” are two of their all-time best), Todd Rundgren‘s production is perfect and this album won them a foothold on college radio in the U.S. that would lead to their later success with the albums Oranges and Lemons and Nonsuch.

  2. XTCMummer (Geffen/Virgin)

    The most underrated of all XTC records, perhaps because it followed English Settlement and also perhaps it’s the first record they didn’t tour on, I’ve long considered this one of my favorites regardless. Andy Partridge‘s songwriting (especially the singles “Great Fire” and “Love on a Farmboy’s Wages” but also check out the opener “Beating of Hearts”) shines here though most of these songs were written after his 1982 nervous breakdown on stage in Paris. Colin Moulding also delivers the gorgeous “Wonderland”, which despite the ’80s-esque production, shines as well.

  3. XTCBlack Sea (Virgin)

    It was very tough to determine whether to put this one, Mummer or English Settlement in the number two slot. Regardless, while Drums and Wires is their first really good album, this one was where everything came together. A good approximation of their then current live sound, slightly shinier but still appropriate production courtesy of Steve Lillywhite helps make their (up to that point) best set of songs really come alive here. Colin’s “Love at First Sight” is my favorite track of his period while Andy’s “Living Through Another Cuba” (despite the somewhat dated subject matter) sparkles with its incredible riff and jumpiness.

  4. XTCEnglish Settlement (Virgin)

    This nothing less than their London Calling, a watershed double Lp that both encapsulated all of the styles they’d tried up to that point and pointed the way for their future direction as well. “Senses Working Overtime” is the most well-known track here, but don’t miss others like Colin’s “English Roundabout” or Andy’s excellent (if somewhat pandering) “Down in the Cockpit” along with side four closer “Snowman”. There are also early excursions into what would later be known as “world beat” on “Melt the Guns” and particularly “It’s Nearly Africa.”

  5. XTCDrums and Wires (Virgin)

    Once Dave Gregory replaced Barry Andrews, XTC went from a competent, if occasionally brilliant, new wave band to one of the best bands of the late ’70s up to the late ’80s. This, their first album with Gregory, laid that foundation with Colin finally finding his songwriting voice on gems like “Making Plans for Nigel,” “Ten Feet Tall” and “Life Begins at the Hop” (which actually opens the ’82 repress Lp I have as that version has a better track order IMO). Though this is the rare Lp where Colin outshines Andy, the latter’s “Complicated Game” (the album’s closer) pointed the way for future classics like “No Language in Our Lungs” or even the noisier, more experimental “Travels in Nihilon” (both from Black Sea).

  6. XTCWasp Star (TVT)

    Many fans dismiss this album, their last to date, because it’s a guitar-oriented effort without Dave Gregory. I wonder why because when it came out, I thought it was their best album since Skylarking and a return to the sound of albums such as Black Sea and The Big Express. It also doesn’t hurt that “Playground” is one of their best openers while “The Wheel and the Maypole” may be one of their most ambitious closers. Most of what’s in the middle is great, too!

  7. The Dukes of StratosphearPsonic Psunspot (Virgin)

    This was the short-lived psychedelic side project of XTC (credited under the hilarious names Sir John Johns, The Red Curtain and E.I.E.I. Owen) as it only produced a 1985 12” EP called “25 O’Clock” and this 1987 Lp (along with some outtakes and a great 2003 tune on a charity album). Both are great, though, and though I slightly prefer the EP, the Lp does contain the Dukes’ best song (“Vanishing Girl,” a tribute to The Hollies) as well as many other gems.

  8. XTCThe Big Express (Geffen/Virgin)

    This 1984 album may be slightly misproduced and in some respects a product of its time (the anti-nuclear screed “This World Over” is proof here, though it is an excellent tune), it’s one of XTC’s more underrated efforts. “Wake Up” is one of Colin’s best and “You’re the Wish You Are I I Had,” despite its odd title, is one of their very best as well!

  9. XTCApple Venus (TVT)

    When this album came out in 1999, it was a breath of fresh air. Their first album since 1992’s Nonsuch and their first not for Virgin, it’s surprisingly understated and heavy on the kind of orchestral pop more common in their later years. The lack of big production is key here, as is the strength of tunes like “I’d Like That” and the incredible “Easter Theatre.” Also included is “Your Dictionary,” a bitter song about Andy’s divorce and the more subdued “Greenman”.

  10. XTCNonsuch (Virgin)

    Of their last two albums for Virgin (both of which were sizable hits in the U.S.), I much prefer this one. Gus Dudgeon‘s production is still bigger than it needs to be, but overall the songwriting here is much stronger than on the previous album and the production doesn’t get in the way nearly as often.

 

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