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.
But it’s not a revolution – babies aren’t thrown out with bathwaters. Earlier themes and early expressions remain. No Thugs in our House feels like it belongs with Respectable Street as a Sound of the Suburbs. Fly on the Wall retains the edginess of the punkier beginnings to the extent that it’s close to being a rip off of Wire’s I am the Fly, not just because of its pest based subject.
But we are stretching into new territory, both musically and thematically, best exemplified by one of XTC’s most famous songs, Senses Working Overtime. Senses Working Overtime is epic, especially for single, Swindon’s answer to Bohemian Rhapsody, consisting of movements heading towards that singalong chorus.
Talking of epic, Jason and the Argonauts wanders into the territory of Greek mythology – we’ve already come a long way from setting ourselves on fire. Myth would play an increasing part in XTC’s output, albeit usually English tales, like those performed by the forthcoming mummers.
Grand themes are a plenty on English Settlement, political statements, which would eventually reach their height with the infamous Dear God, abound – It’s Nearly Africa, Melt the Guns, Leisure, Down in the Cockpit. Not the first time we’d been on this territory with the boys – Living Through Another Cuba – but you felt they were very concerned, and, with it being the early days of Thatcher and Reagan, there was a lot to be concerned about.
But the weightiness of the subject matter shouldn’t detract from the increasing subtlety of the music, both Moulding and Partridge are producing really boundary-pushing tunes, Senses Working Overtime being the prime example.
And it’s a double album. The consistently high standard of the material is almost frightening, the dictionary definition of on a roll. They’d repeat the trick later on with the more psychedelic Oranges and Lemons, beloved of US student radio during the late 80s/early 90s.
And English Settlement also contains my favourite XTC love song, All of a Sudden (It’s too Late), which I still find heartbreaking after all these years.
It would be a while until XTC displayed such breadth in their music. Next ups Mummer was much more focused on the bucolic as XTC almost became the Village Green Preservation Society.
For so many reasons, some musical, some personal, English Settlement is my favourite XTC album.
- All of a Sudden (It’s too Late)
- Jason and the Argonauts
- No Thugs in our House
Toppermost of the Poppermost
- Senses Working Overtime
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)
A garden of earthly delights – XTC’s studio albums – Black Sea
Is this my favourite XTC album? Not quite, but we’re almost there on our journey through Swindon’s finest’s back catalogue. (1980)