XTC: Oranges And Lemons

Hyper-pop with extra mixes, demos, rehearsal tapes and videos.

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“He had something to do with the band Yes – I didn’t know what exactly but this was the ticket on which Paul Fox came to work with us.” So writes Colin Moulding in the sleeve notes to the latest remixed and expanded XTC reissue.

It was Fox’s production debut (he’d done some remixing work for Yes previously) but XTC’s rather sniffy comments about him overlook that he later helmed successes for The Sugarcubes, 10,000 Maniacs and others. Moreover, this LA recording helped the band to a hit (UK Top 30, US Top 50, and No.1 in the then-influential Billboard College Radio chart). In 1989, its shiny ringing art-pop put the famously frustrated trio in a strong position. Wry anthem The Mayor Of Simpleton and the Tears For Fears-esque rhythmic sheen of King For A Day got them on what MTV used to call heavy rotation. In 2015 it enjoys a warm spatula-stir from Steven Wilson [Who? – Reviews Ed], who dampens down the of-their-time reverbs and processing. We’re still smacked in the chops with the hyperactive, retina-scorching brightness of trebly pop so clever and knowing that it’s winking at itself in the mirror. The real reason XTC never surpassed 10cc or Tears For Fears is that they rarely knew when to stop being arch and take a breath, and let the music swing and flow. Yet their excess of competing ideas – in every area: lyrics, harmonies, arrangements – is well pitched here, with sheer exuberance. The Loving is a superb mesh of astute observation and melodic concision, while Scarecrow People resembles Syd Barrett gone disco (if you squint). One Of The Millions eases into a 68 time signature, while Chalkhills And Children is not alone in keeping The Beatles’ spirit alive. As ever, you wish XTC would calm down now and again. But then it wouldn’t be XTC. Strange fruit.

Chris Roberts

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.