Is this my favourite XTC album? Not quite, but we’re almost there on our journey through Swindon’s finest’s back catalogue.
I find it hard to separate those two new wave classics; this and its predecessor, Drums and Wires. They share many similarities, based as they are on the well-made pop song model. If anything Black Sea is even slicker on that count than Drums and Wires, Partridge and Moulding having had more time to practice and hone their art.
But maybe it’s the rougher edges of Drums and Wires that tips the balance its favour – but only by a gnats. And Black Sea’s singles – Generals and Majors, Towers of London and Sgt Rock – aren’t my favourite things. So, I guess, there are also more songs on Drums and Wires that I like than on Black Sea, a more obvious way to separate the two. But, don’t get me wrong, I love Black Sea. No album containing Love at First Sight and No Language in our Lungs can be unloved.
Although slicker, that doesn’t mean everything is heading middle of the road. Travels in Nihilon, for instance, continues the experimentation we’ve already heard in things like Go + and Scissor Man, making copious use of Terry Chambers’ tub-thumping. B-side from the time, The Somnambulist, also showed that everything wasn’t by the numbers.
On Black Sea, just before heading more into more bucolic settings, Partridge nails suburbia, in a way he would repeat on English Settlement’s No Thugs in our House, with the magnificent Respectable Street. Like The Members’ Sound of the Suburbs, this song appealed to the faux anger of us out of the city part-time punks.
Respectable Street has a special place in my heart. It was the song that the obligatory band that I was in at the time attempted to reproduce with alarming results. For every Buzzcocks who went to the Pistols’ gig and employed the DIY ethic to become great bands, there were dozens, maybe hundreds, more who inspired by punk started terribly and remained so. We were young, we were Burning with Optimism’s Flames.
If the gaze was soon to start shifting from suburb to countryside, on Black Sea we also see concern turning from the domestic and becoming more global, most apparent on Living Through Another Cuba, a big, hectic slice of early eighties panic about the bomb.
Black Sea is another great XTC album, but it’s time to head into the Chalkhills.
- Living Through Another Cuba
- No Language in our Lungs
- Burning with Optimism’s Flames
Toppermost of the Poppermost
- Respectable Street
In case you missed it …
A garden of earthly delights – XTC’s studio albums – White Music (1978)
Herky and, indeed, jerky. The sound of speed. 100mph. Non-stop.
A garden of earthly delights – XTC’s studio albums – Go 2
Probably the most unloved XTC album and probably rightly so. The second album of the year and it shows. (1978)
A garden of earthly delights – XTC’s studio albums – Drums and Wires
Ah, that’s better! Preceded by the criminally neglected single, Life Begins at the Hop, Drums and Wires is a really good album. (1979)
Fast forward …
A garden of earthly delights – XTC’s studio albums – English Settlement (1982)
English Settlement is the pivotal album for XTC with both cover and name signaling a shift in perspective for the band. A shift from suburban to countryside, from contemporary to timeless.