I don’t know anything about XTC really, just that one of their early ’80s albums has been on my “to listen” list for a very long time. I sort of assumed they were a post punk band but knew basically nothing else. Not knowing anything was good, as it often is, because I didn’t see this coming.
The songs are relatively brief but full of different ideas. There’s a nice balance between hooks and quirk.
I don’t love the lyrics – I’m not always sure what they’re talking about – but I do feel like they are above average. At the very least, they are interesting and mostly not dumb or awful. There are lines here and there that I really like but I often find the chorus lyric lets the rest of the song down.
What really grabs me are the arrangements. Sure, the songs are interesting and pretty good, but it’s the arrangements that really sell everything. There’s a healthy dose of world music in the arrangements – not as far out as Peter Gabriel perhaps, but in that general realm. Obviously this varies from track to track but it adds a great deal of variety to what would be normally just some ’80s progressive pop. And the band has managed the rather remarkable feat of incorporating contemporary technology – drum machines, synthesizers – without having them horribly date the record. I think this is because organic instruments are equally present.
The record does sound ’80s, but nowhere near as many records made in this era, in part because the organic instruments are allowed to sound themselves. And they manage the rare ’80s feat of having the record sound super professional without it having been dated by the technology used.
If I liked the lyrics more, I might like this record even more. But it’s still a pretty great introduction to this band I didn’t know, and it makes me look forward to listening to more of their records.