Two volumes in, and it's already looking like a memorable ride...who cares if it's...
Chris Jones 2003
If someone told you that the main songwriter of a second-league band who haven't had a top 20 hit in over twenty years had decided to unleash 13 (!) albums of home demos on the world, you'd probably be a little underwhelmed. That is until you discovered that the 'second-league band' was the criminally undervalued XTC, and the songwriter is Andy Partridge; a man who, like Robert Wyatt, is fast becoming a paragon of that rare breed, 'The Great English Eccentric'. For this is no ordinary writer, and these are no ordinary demos.
Admittedly these sets are no starting point for anyone wishing for an introduction to the popsy-turvey world of Swindon's finest, but for dedicated Partridge-fanciers this is a real treat. Mr P demonstrates the lure of salvage by adopting a 'warts 'n' all' approach to these collected snippets. However,for a musician with this amount of skill and experience most songs have a studio sheen that far-surpasses a 'drum machine and a four track' set-up.
Most tracks fall into one of three areas: instrumental noodles (such as the lovely Mellotron-based ''Ridgeway Path'' on volume 2 or fifties sci-fi guitar twangathon ''Space Wray'' on volume 1); nascent XTC gems in either solo versions or studio rough cuts (''Merely A Man'', ''Miniature Sun'', ''Complicated Game'', ''Then She Appeared'' etc); and songs that remained Patridge's alone, such as his work for film soundtrack A Bug's Life (ultimately rejected in favour of Randy Newman. Were they mad?).
As always with Andy, humour is never far away. Check the jolly studio banter (and hilarious Robert Smith impersonation) on ''That Wag''. Likewise, his wordplay is relentless and turns the sleevenotes into a genuinely warm, and humbly informative document of his mind's inner workings. As a man whose own crippling stagefright curtailed a live career, he's never less than candid about his feelings at the time of composition (cf: ''Ship Trapped In The Ice'') and this turns a potentially self-indulgent exercise into a fascinating glimpse into one of the late 20th century's greatest pop brains. Two volumes in, and it's already looking like a memorable ride...who cares if it's slightly fuzzy?