Happy New Year everyone! This time last year I was writing about Neu! and claiming that we have a tradition in my house where, every January 1st, I play the three classic Neu! albums (Neu!, Neu! 2 and Neu! ’75) which was so obviously a lie that only my daughter believed it. Hopefully by January 1st 2020 I’ll have reached Z and put this stupid project to bed once and for all. That’s only two more posts, one every six months, which is more or less do-able, I think.
So, XTC. Good in the 80s, went off a bit in the 90s… oh, sorry, that’s ecstasy. XTC (the band) were good in the 70s, 80s AND 90s, but I’ll fess up here, I only have one XTC album, the first, White Music, the one with their awesome punk-funk cover of All Along the Watchtower on, as well as the dislocated dancefloor skank of I’m Bugged and the groovy, Elvis Costello-like Statue of Liberty, with its chintzy organ, whoops and woos.
According to main man Andy Partridge the idea behind the album was “Captain Beefheart meets the Archies” reflecting the sum of the band’s influences, which included the Beatles, Sun Ra, and doomy prog rock dinosaurs Atomic Rooster. I get the Beefheart, Beatles and maybe Sun Ra references, but I’m struggling with Atomic Rooster, whose Death Walks Behind You sounds more like legendary Bristol band Rainbow Warrior to me (specifically, the hippy-punk classic, Police State).
Thing is, I’m never quite sure about XTC. Yes, they’re tons better than, say, Judas Priest or Kiss, but I know where I stand with those bands: on the cusp of camp bad taste (bad taste meets naked capitalism in the case of Kiss). With Priest and Kiss I can drink from the cup of guilty pleasure and feel bad about it afterwards, whereas XTC are wholesome and good for you. Would I ever sit down and listen, or even stand up and dance, to XTC? Only on the first album. After that, it’s all uphill, to the pop genius of Drums and Wires, Black Sea, which I used to have but sold, in the great New Wave/post-punk purge of the late 80s, when I converted to Funk, Soul and Disco, but kept my Judas Priest and Kiss records, and finally, the crowning glory of English Settlement, an easily accessible hillfort of pastoral pagan pop, which I should own and love, but don’t know well enough to say if I do or not (a bit like some people). I mean, it’s even got a picture of the Uffington horse on it, which I’ve walked past many a time – with my cousin Marc, my brother Matt and our dad, and my friend Steve Jackson, as we tramped the Ridgeway, following in the footsteps of countless ancestors, all the way back to circa 3000 BC, on the trade route between Swindon and Reading. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Couldn’t the ancients have chosen a couple of more edifying towns to link with a long-distance footpath?
XTC come from Swindon and somehow that will always define them for me. Partridge described his home town to a Rolling Stone journalist as a community “populated almost entirely by people with physical, mental or emotional defects” and who am I to disagree: they voted Leave in the Brexit referendum, after all. White music indeed.