...the trio moved to an alternative universe where Yellow Submarine was everyone's...
Chris Jones 2002-11-20
Here at the Beeb we were never ones to prevaricate over matters popular and altogether classic. It's time to come out and say that XTC were always a VERY GOOD THING INDEED. From the new town nowhere of Swindon they came and conquered the world with their own brand of radio-friendly power pop. Well, in an alternative universe this would have happened. The sad truth remains that Messrs Partridge, Moulding and Co. tasted the fruits of chart success all too briefly and, overcoming label wrangles and personal problems, became somehow lost in the slipstream of modern marketing. It's a crying shame, but for all the converts out there considerable comfort has arrived in the form of this lavish box set.
Coat Of Many Cupboards contains an alternative view of XTC; tracing their trajectory from jerky sci-fi new wave popsters to Brian Wilson-worshipping psychedelic troubadours. Stuffed to the gills with demos, home-recordings, live versions and unusual mixes, you'll find all of your favourites here, but often in wildly different guises. As with all great bands, such archaeology doesn't detract one iota, but allows us to indulge in a kind of aural watch repairing. We take the lid off a small perfectly-formed rock 'n' roll machine and marvel at the glistening, intricate cogs and gears within. Lead singer/guitarist Andy Partridge obviously loved this aspect of their music himself, as his DIY dub experiments on The Lure Of Salvage demonstrated (their earliest incarnation is here in the form of a reworking of the theme from "Fireball XL5").
The first disc covers the band's earliest comic book incarnation: Angular riffs underpinned by Barry Andrews bleeping keyboards and incredible powerhouse drumming from Terry Chambers, the post-punk Paul Thompson. With "Life Begins At The Hop" it became plain that a very fine grasp of pop dynamics was at work in these west country minds. By the end of disc two and in the space of two years they'd lost Andrews, gained Dave Gregory on guitar, achieved chart success with "Making Plans For Nigel", had given up touring, and were pursuing loftier goals. Tracks like the synaesthetic "Senses Working Overtime" and "Towers Of London" with its ruminations on the painful birth of imperialism were a million miles from their New Romantic chart bedfellows.
Unfortunately the commercial zenith was now past but, after shedding Chambers, a renaissance was finally achieved at the hands of benign despot Todd Rundgren. From Skylarking onwards the trio moved to an alternative universe where Yellow Submarine was everyone's favourite film and the top forty welcomed intelligence and wit with open arms.
If only it were so. But listen to gems like "Grass" and "The Disappointed" or tracks by psychedelic alter-egos, The Dukes Of Stratosphear, and you too can believe in the healing power of hook-laden music which was never meant to sell in this cynical old world of ours. These days, reduced to a duo with their own label, XTC may feel that history has cheated them, but along with last year's sparklingly re-mastered back catalogue, Coat could finally see the Swindonians becoming more than just kings for a day.