XTC – Well I Never (Part 4)

Black Sea – 1980

r-2251082-1283817293-jpegI picked up my copy of this at a record fair this year and it was probably why I started listening to the band again and why I watched the documentary again. Released in September 1980 it spawned 5 singles the highest charting of which reached number 16 in the UK.  Produced again by Steve Lillywhite, the sound was complex but clear. Andy Partridge had insisted on recording only arrangements that could be replicated live which meant that if they included a keyboard, that would be at the expense of a guitar and so on.  I had often wondered about the cover shot for the album and recently discovered that the album was originally to be called ‘Work Under Pressure’, which makes sense with the diving suits, more so than Black Sea.

The first single taken from the album was ‘Generals & Majors’, written by bassist Colin Moulding and dealing with militarism and warfare and is one of the better known XTC tracks, but album opener ‘Respectable Street’, which was a also a single but didn’t chart, is probably a better track, although the 45 had different lyrics from the album version and was poorer for it. The original lyrics are exceptional as they tell of suburban neighbourhoods and their respectable facade:

Now they talk about abortions
In cosmopolitan proportions to their daughters
As they speak of contraception
And immaculate receptions on their portable
Sony Entertainment Centres

You can hear the rather disappointing replacement lyrics in the first video below, it is still good though:

What is clear from this album is what an intelligent pop force XTC were and, while they did have a number of singles that charted, they were never really recognised as being as good as they were, which I’ll talk about a little more when we get to the next album, but Sgt Rock (is going to help me) was their second highest placing UK single at number 16, which is catchy but it isn’t the greatest of their tracks. That isn’t just my opinion, it’s Andy Partridge’s opinion as well, and he wrote it:

Right, I’m standing up here and now, and saying this song embarrasses the shit out of me. Of all the tunes that I’ve written, that made it to tape, this makes me cringe the worse. It’s not the music, that’s solid enough. All the instruments in the track mesh nicely enough, but the lyrical sentiment, oh dear. It was supposed to be ironic, you know, nerdy comic fan imagines two dimensional hero can help him with his unsuccessful chat up technique. It did not work. It just came out limply crap. Virgin insisted it be included in this set, otherwise I’d gladly erase it from our history. We all make mistakes.

Tracklist

A1 Respectable Street – 3:37
A2 Generals And Majors – 4:04
A3 Living Through Another Cuba – 4:45
A4 Love At First Sight – 3:06
A5 Rocket From A Bottle – 3:30
A6 No Language In Our Lungs – 4:52

B1 Towers Of London -5:24
B2 – Paper And Iron (Notes And Coins) – 4:14
B3 Burning With Optimism’s Flame – 4:15
B4 Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me) – 3:56
B5 Travels In Nihilon – 6:56

Rating: 9.2

It was around this time that an often repeated quote suggested that XTC were like the Beatles if there was only McCartney writing the songs. I’ve thought about this a lot and having given it some consideration I believe it to be bollocks. I don’t mind comparisons, but not when they suggest that everything is owed to the band being compared against, The Beatles aren’t entirely original either, everybody has influences. Also, McCartney couldn’t write XTC tracks but XTC could write Beatles tracks (Controversial?).

XTC Part 3

Part 5

3 Comments

  1. Dave

    Richard Branson in the General & Majors video… Makes sense virgin label and all that…
    Great song!!! Oh to be a pop star and play in a bouncy castle for a music video.
    Cheers
    Dave

    Like

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