Their first album after the departure of keyboardist Barry Andrews and arrival of guitarist Dave Gregory, Drums And Wires was a transitional release for XTC, marking their progression from nervy new wavers to the contradictory position of pre-eminent post-punk classicists. This was where Swindon’s Fab Four established a reputation for experimentation while also confirming their mastery of conventional songcraft.
Of all 1979’s landmark releases – Wire’s 154, Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, Gang Of Four’s Entertainment!, PiL’s Metal Box, Talking Heads’ Fear Of Music and The Slits’ Cut – Drums And Wires was the one Beatles fans would have most enjoyed.
As though to further emphasise XTC’s appeal to traditionalists, prog hero Steven Wilson has here mixed Drums And Wires for 5.1 surround sound, with input from Andy Partridge (who also provides liner notes, along with Gregory and bassist Colin Moulding). There are two editions: a CD/DVD-A version with the 5.1 mix, a new stereo mix, the original master, the two tracks from the single that accompanied early copies of the vinyl album, plus two extended mixes; and a Blu-ray edition, featuring a trove of singles, alternate takes, B-sides, rehearsals, instrumental mixes and videos.
What emerges is a band caught thrillingly between their early attack – XTC the punk-pop brainiacs – and a more measured, expansive approach. Making Plans For Nigel couldn’t be more drum-heavy and wiry with its mutant industrial reggae. Helicopter invents Bloc Party/Franz Ferdinand 25 years early: dance music for people who wouldn’t be seen dead at a disco. Day In Day Out is what a plugged-in John Lennon might have come up with in 1979.
When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty invents a new paradigm: the pop nerd, the anxious antithesis of the braggadocious rock male (with joint credit to David Byrne). Ten Feet Tall is one of four compositions here from Moulding, the McCartney of the piece. Millions is angular funk for sociophobes – suddenly the band’s name seemed like an ironic comment on an inability to experience pleasure.
If Outside World was a throwback to White Music, last track Complicated Game brought phase one of their career to a juddering halt, all Robert Fripp-ish ‘hairy guitar’ and the creeping dread of Bowie in Berlin. This was the modern world, and XTC captured it brilliantly./o:p