Skylarking by XTC

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Skylarking by XTC
Skylarking by XTC

Album Released: 1986

Skylarking ::: Artwork

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1.Summer's Cauldron3:18
3.The Meeting Place3:14
4.That's Really Super, Supergirl3:21
5.Ballet For A Rainy Day2:50
6.1000 Umbrellas3:43
7.Season Cycle3:21
8.Earn Enough For Us2:54
9.Big Day3:32
10.Another Satellite4:16
11.Mermaid Smiled2:26
12.The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul3:24
14.Sacrificial Bonfire3:45


I like Skylarking, though I can't figure out what the point is - really, it's pretentious perfection.

The album consists of a suite of 14 beautiful songs, each of them entirely memorable, such that even after just a few listens, the refrains of each runs through my head at least once while I'm walking to class, or talking to someone especially boring. In addition, the melodies are exquisite, and the lyrics range from creepy to brilliantly clever to poetic.

The instruments are impeccably played, with head honcho Andy Partridge providing some nice fills on guitar, Dave Gregory adding tasteful and inventive synth parts, and Colin Moulding earning his keep on bass (at least, I assume so - my stereo sucks). In addition, studio whiz kid Todd Rundgren gives each song a glossy sheen and lots of intriguing sound effects - check out the bee buzzing its way across your headphones during "Summer's Cauldron". And studio player Prairie Prince does a capable job on drums (XTC's drummer quit once they stopped touring).

But although the music ranges from eerie to calming, I can't stand the vocals. Partridge is grating, and Moulding is just annoying, his sneering even manages to negate the irresistable piano riff on the closing "Sacrifical Bonfire". But the main reason I find it hard to completely love this album is the ego on display, and I'm not even talking about professional egomaniac Rundgren. The three chaps in XTC know they're melodic, they know they've mastered the studio, and they know they can imitate their sixties idols, but in the end, that's all it is - a soulless imitation.

For example, Partridge creates a tuneful Beach Boys homage/ripoff with "Season Cycle", and it's bouncy and memorable and nicely harmonized, but without any humility in the mix it's ultimately off-putting. That's also why I can't see the bouncy "Earn Enough for Us" as a great rocker - sure, it's a great studio creation, but nothing more than that.

But to be fair, I do really enjoy Skylarking - it's a good solid album - I'm just hoping XTC's earlier rockin' stuff is more sincere, because here they don't even seem like a real band, more a tuneful, professional facsimile of one.

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by Reviewer: Cosmic Ben (blogging at Cosmic Ben [Defunct])

Skylarking has always been a bit of a disappointment for me. It’s often bandied about as XTC’s masterpiece, and it’s not hard to see why - the whole thing is smothered in a gorgeous pop production courtesy of Todd Rundgren, that recalls the 60’s classics, yet without feeling like a mere rehash.

Plus, the track-sequencing gives Skylarking the feel of a concept album. But then, I listen to the actual songs and I can’t help but feel they just aren’t the band’s best work. I mean, I have to punish XTC for putting together such a weak pair of songs as “Big Day” and “Another Satellite”. Sure, both songs have things to recommend them, like Partridge manages to muster up a truly astounding number of astronomic puns for the latter, but they’re a pretty obvious weak spot nonetheless. Every XTC album has some little weak spot like that of course, but I expected more from the band's supposed masterpiece.

I dunno, maybe I’m just entirely wrong about the whole thing, since hardly anyone seems to agree with me. But as far as I’ve been able to tell, this is a relatively weak XTC album. I blame Todd Rundgren and his fanatical desire to craft the band’s material into a concept album. Some of the best songs Partridge brought to the sessions, such as “Across This Antheap”, “Extrovert”, and “Little Lighthouse”, were rejected for not fitting into Rundgren's mold.

Partridge himself has to bear part of the blame though, for insisting on the non-inclusion of the excellent “Dear God”. Launched into B-side purgatory, the song became a hit single in its own right, and caused no small amount of controversy, including terrorist bomb threats from Christian fundamentalists on one side, and a near-school shooting from an unstable teenager on the other.

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by Reviewer: S M Hellebore

Whilst not quite the masterpiece some proclaim it to be, Skylarking is easily the fifth-best XTC album (after the classic '79-'82 trio and the 'Dukes of Stratosphear' side project).

Washed away completely are any jittery New Wave affectations, for which partial credit may go to producer Todd Rundgren, who smooths away any dissonant edges into easy-listening pop, but XTC had been attempting to go pastoral since Mummer.

The result is the most cohesive album XTC ever made. Intended as a song-cycle tracing the pattern of springtime birth-joys to the fading embers of death, magically Partridge and Moulding tie the concept all together with a collection of tunes that rarely falters, which is an achievement for what was previously a jarringly inconsistent band.

XTC's previous albums were often rough rides, thanks to their restless shifts in moods, genres, and up/down song quality, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing. By contrast, the songs here all flow together evenly in quality (more or less; there are still highlights and lowpoints) but - more importantly - there's a 'style of sound'.

Getting the freakbeat mid-60's affectations out of their system with the Dukes of Stratosphear, the mood of Skylarking is post-psychedelic late-60's - stuff like The Kinks' Village Green, The Beach Boys' Friends, McCartney warbling about mother nature's son, Donovan sending a gift from a flower to Syd Barrett.

Not that it's all for the better. Stripped-down to musical basics and simply delivering straightforward unaffected pop songs reveals some of XTC's songwriting to be a bit - well, simple - and not in a good way. Tunes like "That's Really Super, Supergirl" can sound shockingly basic in the songwriting department this late in the band's career - childish even, if I dare use that word.

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by Reviewer: Creative Noise (blogging at Creative Noise)

The aspect of Skylarking that I admire most is the way each arrangement is carefully tailored to maximise the impact of each song.

While early XTC albums such as Black Sea were arranged so that the band could recreate them live, Skylarking producer Todd Rundgren chooses song contexts seemingly out of a hat. Yet his meticulous arrangements work, even the big band on "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul", although the record never feels overproduced.

Along with its brilliant production, the other reason Skylarking is wonderful - even by XTC's high standards - is Moulding's songwriting. Instead of his typical quirky stories about his garden or bungalow, he tackles the big issues of sex, marriage, death, and animal sacrifice. And Partridge is also in splendid form, even getting away with rhyming 'cycle' with 'umbilical' in "Season Cycle".

Skylarking captures both of XTC's songwriters in peak form, further enhanced by Rundgren's innovative production. Dave Gregory also contributes some beautiful piano - his fills in "Ballet for a Rainy Day" are beautiful.

The only criticism of Skylarking I'd have is that parts of "Big Day" are irritating, but that's a minor price to pay for the moments of magic elsewhere, such as the switch from the messy psychedelia to refreshing piano in the chorus of "Summer's Cauldron", or the chorus of "The Meeting Place". Or the album's consistently wonderful lyrics.

Skylarking is lovely and sticky, indeed it's like a "Summer's Cauldron".

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by Reviewer: Fyfeopedia (blogging at Fyfeopedia [Defunct])

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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by Reviewer: Cole Reviews (blogging at Cole Reviews)