Friday, December 09, 2005

XTC in the Rhizza

Play it: XTC Black Sea
Recorded at the height of touring mania. We were about as muscular sound-wise as we would ever be. It sounded like our live set, raucous and very tight and pumped up.
- Andy Partridge (Geffen released quotes with original cd release, 1991)
As widely reported in the cross-blogginating Rhapsosphere (Ribaldry and Schmaltz, Rhaps Radish,) the XTC catalog has been made Rhapsavailable, with several exceptions w/in albums. One of the few albums unscathed by indescriminate accessiblity issues is my favorite: Black Sea.

Like most late-to-the-party XTC fans, I didn't become XTC-aware until the Skylarking album, and the first album I bought in their back catalogue was Black Sea, which quickly became my favorite XTC album. I haven't heard it in awhile (never got it on CD - shame!) so it almost feels brand new. Now, you'll get no argument from me that Skylarking is their 'best' album, but that's a different scale. Black Sea sticks with me as my favorite for several reasons. The least personal of which, is it's importance in the progression of the band from a post-punk, Buddy Holly on speed band to the Beach Boys/Beatles studio-tricks-loving pop group they became.

Black Sea was their peak as a band. It was their second album with Dave Gregory, they still had Terry Chambers playing drums and they were still a touring band. (With the recording of English Settlement and Andy Partridge's subsequent breakdown, XTC became a studio-only band, and thus a different beast, you could argue they were more a collective then a band.)

As a result of their touring and time with the lineup, the songs are less nervous then before, and leave plenty of room to breath... creating a pop atmosphere not felt in prior releases. Featuring their first US hit, "Generals and Majors," it was the first album that broke them in the US (just not in the small town I grew up in.) Other songs like "Respectable Street," and the positively infectiously "Sgt. Rock (Is going to Help Me,)" it marks their growth as a band (and, in many respects, the end of their early muscular-sound.) A classic on so many levels, I'm glad to have the oportunity to listen to it again for the first time.

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