Friday, February 13, 2015

Friday 80s Flashback for February 13, 2015

[The Ecstasy of an English Settlement] -- I'm breaking out of the Billboard charts 1981 and 1987 this week. I want to flash back to 1982 instead. Why? Because this week in 1982 saw the release of what I regard as a seminal 80s album: XTC's double LP, English Settlement. Released on February 12, 1982, English Settlement was XTC's fifth studio LP since they settled on a name around 1976 or 77. The UK band had started as a trio consisting of  Colin Moulding (bass & vocals), Terry Chambers (drums), and Andy Partridge (guitars & vocals) back in 1972. But they weren't called XTC back then. No, they went through a slew of names -- such as The Helium Kidz and Star Park -- for several years. They even kind of chased the punk scene for about a year. But after keyboardist Barry Andrews joined the band, they made their final name change to XTC and landed a contract with Virgin Records. Initially, their brand of melodic pop was critically praised but failed to chart. Their third album, Drums and Wires (1979), had a modest top 40 hit with "Making Plans for Nigel." And it was evidence that the band's songwriting chops were sharpening. 1980's Black Sea, the group's fourth studio LP, was their most successful American album, peaking at #41; it also reached #16 on the UK charts.

As I mentioned at the outset of this post, I feel that 1982's English Settlement is a seminal record. It was certainly transitional. For one, it represented a milestone in the band's musicianship. For another, it marked the end of the band's touring years -- XTC had embarked on a major tour to support English Settlement, but during one of the early shows, singer Andy Partridge suffered a mental breakdown. In the wake of that show, Partridge continued to suffer from uncontrollable stage fright, presumably brought on due to Valium withdrawal (search for "valium" in this interview). XTC abandoned the tour altogether and became a studio-only band, which makes a certain sense given how big an influence the Beatles were for them.

You can listen to English Settlement in its entirety via this YouTube link. Or, you can check out videos of the three singles -- and a few notes about them -- after the break.

Flashback #1"I've got one, two, three, four, five | Senses working overtime."

The first, and most successful, of the singles off English Settlement, "Senses Working Overtime" charted internationally, peaking in the band's native UK top 10. It might have performed better in the US had the tour made it past a single show and helped to generate more stateside album sales.  

Flashback #2"Save us from the ball and chain."

Usually "ball and chain" is an unhappy reference to one's spouse, or marriage in general. In the second single from XTC's English Settlement, however, the phrase refers to rampant development or redevelopment (made clearer with the follow-up line, "the diggers and the towers and cranes"). The bouncy and bubbly tone of the song belies the seriousness of the subject matter, and that is pretty much a hallmark of XTC songcraft. 

Flashback #3"We made little Graham promise us he'd be a good boy, oh  |  No thugs in our house are there, dear?"

The album's third single, "No Thugs in Our House," is among XTC's most aggressive tunes. Its pounding beat and vocal snarl perfectly accompany the lyrical portrait of a pair of do-nothing parents who simply "see no evil" in their out-of-control son's antics ... even when confronted by a policeman who has caught the young man having too much beer. Speaking of lyrical portraits, I love how the police officer is rendered as a man "who just can't grow a mustache." 

Once again, I remind you that the rule of three applies when doing Flashbacks. As I've made my three offerings, that's all till next week. Dedicated 80s-philes can find more flashbacks in the archives. As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If, however, you don't like the flashback, feel free to share it with your enemies.

And if you are on Twitter, and feel so inclined, please +K my influence in Music on @klout.

I'll see you in seven!

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