XTC - Skylarking reissue album review

Rundgren versus Partridge equals accidental classic

XTC Skylarking album cover

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Classic British pop album, or sitcom plot? Major label (Virgin) with floundering band (XTC) bring in all-American producer (Todd Rundgren) to help make the band more US-friendly. But Rundgren turns out to be a rampant Anglophile who cranks up the Beatledelic feel of the band and turns the record into a summer’s day concept album, while constantly butting egos with singer Andy Partridge. Then the label goes and chops off the one song – Dear God, a chamber-folk open letter to an imaginary sky pixie – that would eventually become a US radio hit.

With career-defining consequences. Skylarking – XTC’s ninth, reissued here with corrected polarity plus instrumental mixes and extensive demos – became their much-loved 80s fulcrum, enchanting fans with its misty-eyed portrayals of British pastoral, from the picnicky opening pairing of Summer’s Cauldron and Grass to the Trumpton-ish The Meeting Place and the gorgeously drizzly psych-pop of Ballet For A Rainy Day and 1000 Umbrellas. Here are the roots of Tears For Fears’ Seeds Of Love era, the Lilac Time’s career and Kirsty MacColl’s wonderful Kite.

Yet Skylarking is brightest during its irrepressible pop moments: That’s Really Super, Supergirl, Earn Enough For Us, Talking Headsy bonus track Extrovert and punchy atheist anthem Dear God, patching up a ‘side two’ prone to experimental, raga-tinged or beatnik-jazz meanders. What ‘Larks.

Mark Beaumont

Mark Beaumont is a music journalist with almost three decades' experience writing for publications including Classic Rock, NME, The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Times, Uncut and Melody Maker. He has written major biographies on Muse, Jay-Z, The Killers, Kanye West and Bon Iver and his debut novel [6666666666] is available on Kindle (opens in new tab).