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XTC - Skylarking (1986)

Skylarking as the closest thing to a breakthrough album in the US that XTC had in 1986, when for some unknown reason radio DJs started playing the B-side to the "Grass" single, a non-album track called "Dear God".

Hoping for a mega-success, the band's record company added "Dear God" to the US version of Skylarking, but of course, the album didn't even hit gold status. But because of that, damn near every copy now has "Dear God" on it instead of "Mermaid Smiled", which Partridge chose to drop because it was the shortest song on the album.

Why am I complaining about that? Because the song "Dear God" SUCKS! It's an abysmal attempt at fitting a complex religious issue into a 3-minute pop song, and even the song's author (Partridge) has since disowned it. In fact, if I had the version of the album with "Mermaid Smiled" on it instead of "Dear God", I'd probably rate Skylarking at 7 stars.

Todd Rundgren was brought in as producer (or rather, XTC used Rundgren's studio to record it), and he pulls out all the stops, filling the songs with a wonderfully summery atmosphere. A couple of highlights are the hazy "Summer's Cauldron", a fine way to start the day, and "Earn Enough for Us", a nice slice of power/pop.

Aside from "Dear God", the only other stumble is Moulding's miserable "Rain" ripoff "Big Day", but he redeems himself with the lolling "Grass", and the one-two closing punch of "Dying" and "Sacrificial Bonfire".

Overall then, Skylarking is an excellent album, and probably the best introduction to the music of XTC.

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Posted: Wednesday 22nd May 2019 10:31 AM

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album review
Chips from the Chocolate Fireball is a compilation, but it isn't any old collection of singles - rather, it combines the 25 O'Clock EP with the Psonic Psunspot album. And The Dukes of Stratosphear are XTC, with Dave Gregory's brother Ian on drums, paying homage to the music of '66-'67.

The 25 O'Clock EP was released in 1985, twixt The Big Express and Skylarking, and as it's shorter - and predates Psonic Psunspot - it's the more focused of the two. Its highlights include the doom-laden Electric Prunes takeoff "25 O'Clock", the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd tribute "Bike Ride to the Moon", and a "Strawberry Fields Forever" / "I Am the Walrus" / "A Day in the Life" combination titled "The Mole from the Ministry". The other three songs are great too, so I'd rate the EP overall at 7 stars.

Then there's Psonic Psunspot, which is less overtly psychedelic, but still firmly grounded in a pseudo-60's atmosphere, as evidenced by the Beach Boys pastiche "Pale and Precious", the Small Faces-like pub/rocker "You're a Good Man Albert Brown", and - my personal favorite - the Hollies-styled "Vanishing Girl".

The album also features some silly psychedelic dialogue inbetween some of the songs ... The puffin sipped at his herbal tea and sighed, 'you can't get the buttons these days!' indeed.

Overall, this is one of XTC's greatest collections of songs, and it has that special something, perhaps because their overt cleverness has been reined in to fit in with the 60's vibe.

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Posted: Monday 24th Jun 2019 12:03 PM

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