At around this point in XTC's history, Andy Partridge suffered a nervous breakdown onstage, and the band gave up touring entirely. I suspect that retreat into the insular confines of a studio is to blame for this cluttered mess of an album.
I don't even know where to begin describing half these tunes, they are so intricate and stuffed full of interesting ideas that in general go nowhere. Over-cleverness had threatened to topple the band's innate tunefulness on previous encounters, and here XTC's eccentricities completely overtake them.
The material isn't presented as conventional pop songs, but instead announce themselves as meticulously constructed lego-block sculptures that scream 'Look at how much time, effort, and thought we put into building these tracks'. And as such, it's bloody difficult to find the melodic core of most of these tunes, that gets lost in the distractions of the rococo shuffle.
Unlike English Settlement
, which likewise proved initially difficult to absorb, repeated listens don't uncover that many frosty nougats hidden within. And it doesn't help that the mood intended is pastoral, which translates as mellow and energy-drained, with the only exception being the hectoring closer "Funk Pop a Roll", which feels totally out-of-place, and is the worst track on the platter.
Sure, there's a handful of decent songs, but only the sprightly acoustic-based jig "Love on a Farmboy's Wages" and the big-beat cello-pop "Great Fire" are up to XTC's usual standards. Two other songs are decently passable - the shuffling loungey "Ladybird" is a pleasant trifle, and the WWI eulogy "In Loving Memory of a Name" barrelhouses rollickingly enough to provide a sliver of amusement.
by Reviewer: Creative Noise
(blogging at Creative Noise