By 1982 XTC had 12 singles ( from 5 LPs) compiled as ” Waxworks: Some Singles 1977-1982″. The band did not call it a Greatest Hits, only one of the releases had reached the U.K. Top 10. It is a fine collection, from the abrasive electro pop punk of the “3D EP” through the hook-laden, wry, radio-friendly 45s which served as effective ads to albums which were becoming more successful. Unfortunately in 1982, while touring to promote the LP “English Settlement”, singer, guitarist & composer of two-thirds of the songs, Andy Partridge collapsed. His subsequent breakdown & major aversion to performing live interrupted this momentum. The biggest band to come out of Swindon were never to regain their visibility and acceptance as creators of considered, intelligent, polished British pop music.
We played that “Waxworks” collection regularly. It was a toe-tapper, “Making Plans For Nigel” a guaranteed ear-worm for the rest of the day and a high quality throughout. I had friends who were still buying their subsequent 5 records. A couple of psychedelic LPs released as the “Dukes of the Stratosphear” caused interest. In 1996 Virgin released “Fossil Fuel: The XTC Singles 1977-1992”. It is a 2 CD set and it was the second CD, post Waxworks, which has become a big favourite over the years.
It is understandable that Andy Partridge’s music became more introspective in this later stage. There is an acoustic, pastoral atmosphere to the later LPs. There had always been a craft to the writing but now, being studio bound, the production became more immaculate, the lyrics more mature. The music had always been touched with the brush of the Beatles. Now Partridge’s songs could be tagged McCartneyesque and I mean that in an “Abbey Road” way not in a Wings way.
“Mayor of Simpleton” is a lovely, self-deprecating love song. “The Disappointed” is a great 30-something anthem. For a while then it did seem that they did “congregate at my house” It’s a very funny song…really, people don’t come around to tell you how happy they are but if they have something to beef about…well…try keeping them away. The hits just kept on coming only they were not hits.
I do not want to ignore the contribution of Colin Moulding, bassist & composer, to XTC. It’s just that my own preference is for Partridge’s work. This final song, placed at the end of “Fossil Fuel”, was withdrawn as a single and marked the end of the band’s relationship with a major label. Andy has continued to record music for his “Fuzzy Warbles” series. Even for someone like myself who still keeps an eye out for interesting music they seem to have been released in secret.
“Wrapped In Grey” is a song to be put on repeat. It needs to be folded into “Carry That Weight” or “Mean Mr Mustard”. “Nonesuch”, the final XTC LP is perhaps the most consistent of all the later records. OK the band were not sticking themselves in front of your face begging you to buy it but surely music of this quality should be able to make an impression on it’s merit. Apparently not. Lyrically the song is the best advice possible to the youth to ignore those who have allowed the world to wear them down. Just because it has happened to them does not mean you have to follow. I don’t think I have pasted lyrics into any of these things I write. This is an exception because I do think it is a great and important verse.
Awaken you dreamers
Asleep at your desks
Parrots and lemurs
Populate your unconscious grotesques
Please let some out
Do it today
Don’t let the loveless ones sell you
A world wrapped in grey
Man, that’s some good advice.