Album of the day: XTC, "Skylarking"

Album of the day: XTC, “Skylarking”

“Skylarking” (Virgin CDV 2399)

When the record company proposed to the members of XTC to have their new album produced by Todd Rundgren, musician, producer and eminence grise of pop (who we will find again in our Almanac in a couple of days), the members of the group were absolutely enthusiastic, being all big fans of the author of “Hermit of Mink Hollow”.
Unfortunately, as soon as the work began, strong personal conflicts broke out between Andy Partridge and Rundgren, which poisoned the climate of the sessions to unbearable levels. Both egomaniacs, they fought ferociously, blow for blow,
to take the lead in the recording studio, and of course Rundgren threw all his weight of decision-making as a producer on the table.

He chose the songs for the album (ordering them by lyrics according to the cycle of the seasons and thus painting the unfolding of an entire year), structured the arrangements, played several instruments, decided which external musicians to call, and even took on the role of sound engineer, doing almost everything himself in his own studio in Woodstock.
Partridge found this intrusiveness absolutely suffocating, and the band’s other musicians, Colin Moulding and Dave Gregory,
they found themselves between a rock and a hard place, increasing their nervousness even more and giving rise to very violent arguments between them.
All this tension eventually produced a record that is considered by almost all XTC fans to be their masterpiece. Rundgren was unpleasant, certainly, but his talent as an arranger and musical organizer was infallible, the songs were the best Partridge and Moulding had written up to that point, the band was in great shape and the performances were first class.

As always in their records the references to the 60s are wasted, visiting the atmospheres of the Beatles, Beach Boys, Hollies, Hendrix and in general of the whole English psychedelic period dusted off with an ironic look that however does not exclude a pinch of nostalgia. The songs are all extremely catchy and behind a patina of apparent simplicity they hide a sophisticated and complex writing that places XTC among the best bands ever in the pop universe.
Impossible to resist “Grass”, “Earn Enough for Us”, “1000 Umbrellas”, “The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul”, “Season Cycle”; just turn up the volume and you’re done

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical subjects.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: Un disco per ogni giorno dell’anno” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.