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XTC: Nonsuch

Album Review

Swindon’s smartest monkeys’ retooled studio-era peak.

Despite having attained fruition in the frantic scrum of punk, Swindon craftsmen XTC always echoed the ornate curlicues of prog, never more ingeniously, efficiently and effectively (three chart hits can’t lie) than on 1980’s Black Sea. By 1992 though, their artistic ambitions and expectations had been recalibrated by Andy Partridge’s panic attack-hastened withdrawal from live work, and Nonsuch is XTC’s Village Green Preservation Society, shortly pre-dating Britpop’s unlikely elevation of kitchen sink drama to mock(ney) heroic ubiquity.

Here, there are echoes of the Beach Boys-aping sixties Who, hints of string quartet, but it’s the sheer brilliance of the scalpel-sharp lyrics and apparently effortless precision of the songcraft that’s quintessentially and pricelessly XTC. 

Pin-sharp stereo and 5.1 remixes by producer du jour Steven Wilson simply serve to accentuate the sunny commerciality of lead track/ album exemplar The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead (judiciously calming the previously ever-so-slightly intrusive snap of Fairports import Dave Mattacks’ snare). 

With plenty of extras on its second Blu-ray disc, Nonsuch’s latest incarnation is little short of essential.

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