XTC - English Settlement - Classic Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

XTC - English Settlement

by Bill Golembeski Rating:10 Release Date:1982-02-12
XTC - English Settlement
XTC - English Settlement

Andy Partridge says (in Chris Twomey’s Chalkhills and Children) that this album is “a big friendly giant of a record.”

I say it’s the embodiment of the Peter Brown album title, Things May Come, Things May Go, but the Art School Dance Goes on Forever. Peter Brown (of Cream lyrics, The Battered Ornaments, Piblokto!, and solo fame) cut that record for the Harvest label in 1970, when record covers suddenly became Ummagumma weird, music was full throttle all over the place and rock bands did whatever they so desired.

And I loved all that progressive rock stuff for the next few years.

But then Yes released Tormato with a tomato smashed against its cover and Jon Anderson lyrics that everyone, unfortunately, could understand. Sure, Don’t Kill the Whale. That’s a novel idea. ELP recorded Love Beach, which, in a parallel universe, an equally evil and ugly Medusa is a parallel universe prog head, who took one glance at the silly cover and turned to stone. Phil Collins and Genesis recorded ABACAB which had reduced their wonderfully clever “Supper’s Ready” to a song called “Another Record.” There were four differently colored covers, so true fans shelled out cash for the complete set. Clever commercial blokes. Oh my! And, I honestly felt ashamed to buy Jethro Tull’s Broadsword and the Beast” because Aqualung had been so hip, and this record was residue one-legged flute playing silly.

I loved the punk stuff: “God Save the Queen,” “Safe European Home,” The Jam’s “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight.” I saw Elvis Costello during his This Year’s Model tour with Mink Deville in support. The guy next to me wore a tie and danced all night in the aisle. It was a great concert.

But we prog guys were left, sadly, without an odd time signature and the Tarkus monster threat to call our own. Of course, Wire’s Pink Flag was a life preserver, as was The Cure’s Faith.

And then, like light from the first page of The Bible, there was this English imported double disc masterwork by an already well-loved XTC. This one, right from the first glance at the absolutely lovely textured cover with Celtic memories and Brit Uffington prehistoric beauty, was a passionate purchase. Odd: big record companies once cared about artistic stuff, rather than pushing product.

The songs come without rhyme or reason. But they are all great. A double barrel beginning blast from Colin Molding hits the bullseye. Both “Runaways” and “Ball and Chain” rock and pop with sophisticated studio weirdness.  And then “Senses Working Overtime” is Andy Partridge perfection. “Jason and the Argonauts” and “No Thugs in Our House” rock with a new sense of dimension. “Yacht Dance” is oddly acoustic. Then “All of a Sudden (It’s Too Late)” simply explodes in pop-rock slow dance vibration.

XTC are often compared to The Beatles. Well, Andy and Company don’t sound like The Fab Four, but they do, especially on this record, play rock, and in some sort of mystical way, elevate that backbeat pop street music into the realm of art. You know, there is no such thing as an original idea, but some artists are at least able to re-arrange the jigsaw pieces in a new configuration. The Beatles did that. XTC does that, too.

In all fairness, Skylarking may be a better record because it is confined to a single disc that traces the daily rise and fall of forty minutes of acoustic, rock, and sometimes psych conceptual unity. And “Dear God” was one hell of a song.

But this one, like The White Album, is just a wonderful collection of tunes. Of course, perhaps, like The Kinks’ album Misfits, this record is a unified concept (which Raymond Douglas was prone to write in the ’70s), simply due to the fact that all the songs are linked by their misfit indifference to any other song. Sir Ray Davies created a concept album about not having a concept. Perhaps, that irony is at play here. Ray Davies is brilliant, as is Andy Partridge.

And I’ve read that both are also rather difficult geezers with whom to make an album.

The second album delivers more idiosyncratic brilliance. “Melt the Guns” is both great and obvious. That’s a tough truce. “Leisure” and “It’s Nearly Africa” are acoustic tunes and equally profound. And just an idea: these songs were never meant for the concert stage. Talk about foreshadowing! “Knuckle Down” is just way too clever pop music. The same can be said of “Fly on the Wall.”

But in all fairness (again), “Down in the Cockpit” and “English Roundabout” may well over extend the double rock record welcome. But they are decent tunes. And I’m sure they are somebody’s favorite songs.

Finally, “Snowman” is apocalyptic. It’s a great rock song because it sings to the universe, yet it never escapes from the simple question: “What I want to know, man/Why oh why/Does she treat me like a snowman?” It collapses weird pop profundity into the compression of an equally weird teenaged heart.

That may well be the essence of rock ‘n’ roll.

So, sure, this is “a big friendly giant of a record.” Andy Partridge is an oddball genius. And Colin Moulding is not that far behind. This record rescued my lifeboat desire for progressive rock; and although it’s not exactly full-blown ELP, Genesis, and Yes prog, it is still definitive proof that, indeed, Things may come, things may go, but the art school dance (thankfully, and always) goes on forever.


Comments (1)

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While I don't share your Prog enthusiasm, I do love this album. Life preserver indeed. When I think of the great albums of the 80's, this tops the list. Game changer for me. Been an XTC fan ever since.

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