Nonsuch by XTC

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Nonsuch by XTC
Nonsuch by XTC

Album Released: 1992

Nonsuch ::: Artwork

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1.The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead5:00
2.My Bird Performs3:50
3.Dear Madam Barnum2:53
4.Humble Daisy3:39
5.The Smartest Monkeys4:17
6.The Disappointed3:23
7.Holly Up On Poppy3:04
11.That Wave3:33
12.Then She Appeared3:52
13.War Dance3:22
14.Wrapped In Grey3:46
15.The Ugly Underneath3:55
17.Books Are Burning4:50


In which XTC's march to bland sissy-pop mediocrity continues unabated. Even though there's over an hour's worth of music here, there's precious little sonic variety.

Instead, this album is merely one tastefully-arranged acoustic guitar or piano based mid-tempo 'rocker' or ballad after another, reaching for the thematic consistency of a formerly quirky New Wave band aiming for bland alternative rock for aging menopausal 30-something ex-hipsters.

The music is fundamentally uninteresting. There aren't any overblown arrangements or production excesses or wild failed experiments, and Partridge and Moulding even sing somewhat better than before (I said somewhat). But it's just a collection of songs. 17 songs, in fact, and all falling into roughly the same style, such that I find myself nodding off.

Nonsuch is the dullest album XTC have ever recorded. It's not as if some of it isn't alright, it's just that there's too much of it, and it's all DULL DULL DULL. I mean, when the strongest cut on the album is titled "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead", you're in trouble. Oh, that wacky Andy Partidge and his totally NON-OBVIOUS metaphors! Hint: it's about Jesus.

As for "My Bird Performs", Moulding obviously would've had no way of knowing that - in Chinese - 'my bird' is slang for 'my penis'. Nevertheless, this song has me in stitches because of that. That's its only redeeming feature.

"Dear Madam Barnum" is boring Adult Contemporary crap, and you know what - screw it, it's only track [3], and I realize that no way am I going to analyse all 17 of these songs one by one. That would be almost as tedious and boring for me as actually listening to them all.

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by Reviewer: Creative Noise (blogging at Creative Noise)

Another double album (or single CD.) Even longer than the last one. Oh lord.

Thankfully, XTC haven’t lost their songwriting touch. The question is, have they lost their ability to make coherent albums? The sessions for this one were reportedly stormy, resulting in the longest wait yet for a new XTC album, and one made up of an odd hodgepodge of styles at that.

I suppose the band were never all that coherent really, but there was a time when XTC had a strong sonic identity. On here, that identity has largely been dissolved in pop classicism and beefy modern production values (but not that modern. This is very much pre-Nevermind, in spite of the release date).

Whilst a sonic identity is nice, it’s never really been a major concern for me. What the band hasn’t lost is their very clear songwriting identity, and that’s what keeps Nonsuch from descending into the mediocrity that has claimed so many other classic acts.

“The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” may sound utterly alien to an XTC fan who'd been cryogenically frozen since 1978, it may be slightly harmed by the bizarrely overloaded drum sound, but it’s obvious that only Partridge could've written it. Ironically, it flopped in its first go-round as a single, but later became a hit in an inferior version by XTC imitators Crash Test Dummies.

But whatever your opinion of the 90’s alternative rock scene, you are contractually obligated to admit that “Rock” and “Wrapped in Grey” are beautiful, miraculous ballads that shoulda been all over the charts. The latter was slated to be the album’s third single, but it was recalled and destroyed in an act of petty violence by Virgin Records. A short time later, the band went on strike, refusing to record new material for 5 years, until they were finally dropped.

What more needs to be said about another album of XTC songs? What if The Beatles were still together, still making albums as good as Abbey Road every year? Would the public continue to care? I doubt it. Similarly, no one cared about this album, except of course XTC devotees. It’s good though, dammit.

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by Reviewer: S M Hellebore

Nonsuch was XTC's last album for Virgin before going on strike, in order to escape from what they considered to be an unrewarding contract. It was also their last album until 1999, when the band re-emerged on an indie label minus guitarist and keyboardist Dave Gregory, who quit after conflict with leader Andy Partridge.

Partridge has a proven track record of fighting with collaborators, notably Todd Rundgren, who produced 1986's Skylarking. He was also fired from producing Blur's Modern Life Is Rubbish after three tracks, following complaints from management that the drums were not sexy enough.

During Nonsuch, Partridge fought with producer Gus Dudgeon, who he fired for his unsatisfactory original mixes. So full credit goes to bassist Colin Moulding who's been able to stay with Partridge for nearly 30 years, although he quit for a day during the making of Skylarking.

Despite all the animosity and bad vibes, singer/guitarist Partridge hit a rich vein of songwriting on Nonsuch, turning out classic song after classic song. His work extends from the quiet piano ballads "Rook" and "Wrapped in Grey", to mid-tempo pop/rock "The Disappointed" and "Books are Burning", the weirdly boppy "Omnibus", and the more raucous "Crocodile" and "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead". Partridge's lyrics are also top notch.

The album runs for more than an hour, and its worst moments are not Partridge's fault. Unfortunately, Moulding has nothing interesting to write about, although there's enough happening musically to rescue most of his compositions from ignominy, such as the guitar solo in "The Smartest Monkeys" and the horn parts in "My Bird Performs", while its production makes They're resurrecting Churchill and bringing National Service back from "War Dance" sound ominous. Absolutely nothing can be done however to save Moulding's tribute to his "Bungalow".

Moulding and Gregory were forced into vehicle collection to raise funds for Nonsuch, which may explain the lack of substance in Moulding's material.

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