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XTC: Drums And Wires

That famously less-difficult third album.

Among copious new sleeve notes, Andy Partridge confesses that the original intro guitars on When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty were so out of tune, he asked Steven Wilson to cheat a little and tune them up for this 5.1 surround sound mix.

“Don’t worry,” replied Wilson, “I already have.” XTC do float at the outer limits of prog. This flawed 1979 buzz saw is new wave, as much a sibling of The Police as Sparks or Devo. It’s so hyperactive you sometimes wish they’d just calm down: though manic, the closing track Complicated Game is the only number that doesn’t seem intent on tripping over itself. The Ideas fly thick and fast. Partridge and Colin Moulding were both writing frenetically: the latter’s offspring, like Ten Feet Tall and the whirring, floating wonder Making Plans For Nigel, have aged better. Guitarist Dave Gregory replaced departed keyboardist Barry Andrews, and a first alliance with Steve Lillywhite beefed up the drums (Gregory handled the wires). This thorough, remixed and expanded edition offers Wilson’s new stereo mix, plus countless extras, from demos to rehearsals. Not a triumph, perhaps, but a vital tributary to its successor, Black Sea.

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.