Friday, 21 July 2006


Let me just say, before I begin this post, two things:

1. I love XTC.

2. Partridge and Moulding are the equals of Lennon and McCartney, as chroniclers of provincial English life and morals in the latter half of the twentieth century (not in any other way).

But, I have barely listened to XTC in the last five years. This is not because "post 9/11 the world is too serious blah blah blah". It is because something struck me when I listened to Nonsuch in around 2001.

Rook is rubbish.

Then, later, it occurred to me that Dear God is a pile of old crap as well. I also think Chalkhills and Children, War Dance, Melt the Guns, Knuckle Down, Easter Theatre, Your Dictionary, This World Over and Respectable Street are also crap. This is not because they are unmelodious, utterly without interest, cliched, hackneyed, plaigarised, or anything else.

It is because Partridge and Moulding, for all their tuneful, harmonic, whimsical, penetrating genius, cannot do the big issues. When XTC tackle religion, history, hate, racism, war and death, they are way out of their epistemological depth. When they tackle the little, but essential, bothersome aspects of people's lives, they are wonderful. This is why I love Science Friction, Chain and Ball, Sgt Rock, English Roundabout, Snowman, Love at First Sight, Ten Feet Tall, Limelight, In Loving Memory (which is not about death but about memory) and Bungalow. When they tackle something on the fringes of utterance but inside people's feelings, they are fabulous. This is why I love Senses Working Overtime, Green Man, Scissor Man (whatever its inspirations), That is the Way and My Bird Performs. And they are quite good at the smaller, human -living side of love too.

Once, when Colin Moulding got to grips with the decay of 1970s Britain, they did tackle a big issue with brilliance and insight. But only once (Making Plans for Nigel). Which Andy loathed him for doing at the time. OK. Maybe Jason and the Argonauts. But that is debateable. Generals and Majors is only good because of its guitar riffs, not because of its approach to war. And if Living Through Another Cuba were to be the last testament of the twentieth century then my god, we deserved it. Alright, alright, Complicated Game is ok. But only for the way it utterly trivialises serious issues. "Little boy asked me should he put his vote upon the left, eft, eft, eft, little boy asked me should he put his vote upon the ri-i-i-i--ight..etc", not because any issue of politics is actually addressed. How do people move your stuff and why? You may reply, exasperated, well that isn't Andy or Colin's job, theirs is just to point all this out. Well, cobblers. You can't skim such an issue so easily. And that is it. They skim the serious stuff. When they don't, the effect is nauseating. Who really thinks Dear God is a good song ("no thorny crown..." Jeez, you're right Andy, everything it says in the Bible is crap. Every single word. Now you put it like that I'll join the Secular Society right away."), or Rook ("for ****'s sake, Andy, yes, people die and there is little left of them and their deeds are only recorded in memory. So what? Are you going to put it an existentially agonising way, a la Joy Division? No? Well I'm going back to Closer then.")

Let me just say, before I end, one thing:

I love XTC.

As chroniclers of English life they are unparalleled (alright, alright, unparalleled in the late 1970s and early 1980s). As wits, ironists, surrealists, they are great. As moralists or metaphysicists - forget it.

Maybe that is the point and I missed it all these years. I still will be grateful to Andy, Colin and Dave for seeing me through tough times in my life and telling me: "Hey - England is flawed, rubbish, wasted - but great and beautiful. And ridiculously creative. Join us." It is testament to my weakness that I never could and to their greatness that I still sing lines from Senses Working Overtime when walking down the street. Maybe that heaviness is not needed.

So a toast to XTC - but in ale, not neat double whiskies, Chateau Rothschild, or thick, black coffees.

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