The Big Express by XTC

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The Big Express by XTC
The Big Express by XTC

Album Released: 1984

The Big Express ::: Artwork

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1.Wake Up4:40
2.All You Pretty Girls3:40
3.Shake You Donkey Up4:19
4.Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her, Kiss Her3:58
5.This World Over5:37
6.The Everyday Story Of Smalltown3:55
7.I Bought Myself A Liarbird2:49
8.Reign Of Blows3:30
9.You're The Wish You Are I Had3:17
10.I Remember The Sun3:08
11.Train Running Low On Soul Coal5:10


English Settlement had marked the moment when XTC went out to play in the fields and streams, entering their much-celebrated 'mature' era of sprightly pop. But with The Big Express, the band took a big step back to their industrial railtown roots, and to the relatively rocking sound of Black Sea.

The album's not simply a regression though, it's also XTC's most studio-based record yet. The more-and-more heavily ornamented production combines with their earlier mechanized pop to form a thick claustrophobic mixture. It occasionally borders on overbearing, but ultimately works. Kinda. Okay, not really. But Partridge and Moulding come to the rescue with arguably the best batch of songs of their career up to this point.

The three flop singles are the obvious highlights. They’re just as utterly ill-suited to commercial radio as everything else here, but that’s a fairly normal state of affairs for an XTC album.

“Wake Up” starts things with a bang, being a progressive mini-epic with a catchy call ’n’ response chorus, and the kind of rhymthic interplay that would make Gentle Giant have a collective orgasm. We are put in the shoes of a Swindonian worker drone, as the music ricochets between sensory-overload rock and creepy dreamy breakdowns. Unfortunately, it’s one of only two songs contributed by Moulding (his killer B-side “Washaway” would have made a great addition to the album too *sigh*).

“All You Pretty Girls” was another single, where Partridge puts up a spirited defense of the often-impugned heterosexuality of sailors, backed by a chorus of drunken pirates. Huge crashing bawdy sea shanties based on old folk melodies aren't exactly my idea of radio friendly, but it works. Somehow. The contrapuntal grand finale is utterly perfect.

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by Reviewer: S M Hellebore

Whoa! ... talk about OVER-PRODUCED! And I don't toss that term around lightly. This album may constitute - without overstatement - the most insanely overproduced outpouring of musical product ever released.

And by 'over-produced' I don't just mean glossy (which The Big Express is). I don't just mean LOUD (which it damn well is, the musical equivalent of typing this entire review in block capitals). And I don't just mean over-arranged (which the busy-busy-busy-clockwork working overtime tunes most certainly are). I don't just mean headache-inducing (which it ... well, you get the picture).

WHALLOP! WHALLOP! WHALLOP! That's what this album feels like. The listener's head is incessantly pounded by drums mixed way, way, way up in the mix, that being notably the case with "Shake You Donkey Up" (which sounds as retarded as its title). In fact, every instrument is mixed way, way up high, from the opening pounding piano chords of "Wake Up", competing with Moulding's multi-tracked, beerily-shouted vocals.

Being studio-bound was obviously not doing Partridge and Moulding any favours, as bpth this album and Mummer suffer from what feels like a pair of grown man-children run amok. The actual sound of Mummer, obtuse as the tunes were, was actually pleasanter than this over-the-top fruitcake; however, this album's considerably better, as the tunes are more direct, poppily accessible and just plain good.

However ... however, however - getting past this album's production is a huge, huge hurdle. Partridge's lunatic excess gets so extreme that he almost buries the hooks and melodies by parodoxically over-emphasizing them. It's the aural equivalent of shoving a rich creamy chocolate cake in your face - delicious certainly, but not when it's rammed in your face.

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by Reviewer: Creative Noise (blogging at Creative Noise)

Well, this time the production ain't bad! The Linn drum used on some tracks puts the album squarely in the 80's, but it's put to good use supplying the clattering percussion of "Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her, Kiss Her".

The songwriting is getting more consistent, which is of course a good thing. Moulding only supplies two songs on this outing, but they're both bonus ... "Wake Up" features scratching guitars, an almost funky rhythm section, and a one-woman chorus on the fadeout. Now that's how to open an album. And "I Remember the Sun" is a wonderfully jazzy wistful ballad.

Partridge contributes several of the required bouncy pop tunes ... the overly silly country/western parody "Shake You Donkey Up", yet another tribute to the wonders of women in "All You Pretty Girls", and the impossibly catchy "You're the Wish You Are I Had". Then he goes 180 degrees and delivers a mournful tale of a post-nuclear holocaust with "This World Over".

Of course, nobody's perfect, least of all Partridge, and that's most apparent on Side Two. "Reign of Blows" and "I Bought Myself a Liarbird" really annoy the heck out of me, and "Train Running Low on Soul Coal" is ... well, it's okay, but the intro is the most clever part.

The bonus tracks aren't anything to write home about. The best is Moulding's goofy "Lady Madonna" takeoff "Washaway". Partridge's "Blue Overall" is really irritating, and "Red Brick Dream" is okay but inconsequential.

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by Reviewer: Cole Reviews (blogging at Cole Reviews)