"As this album starts, with Andy Partridge's composition 'Respectable Street', the listener hears what appears to be an old phonograph record begin to play, complete with scratches -- a gentle, nostalgic tune...'It's in the order of their hedgerows, it's in the way their curtains open and close, it's in the look they give you down their nose -- all part of decency's jigsaw, I suppose...' and then Andy Partridge's guitar slams into a series of his trademark jangly rhythm chords, and the band is off and running with a look at modern-day suburbia. Neighbors live in close-quartered isolation, peering at each other from behind drawn curtains, wretch over each other's fences, crowd their front gardens with caravans that never move, welcome the Avon lady to fill in facial creases on housewives...and the images go on and on, dead on target, fragments of our society for us to view.Partridge's guitar style, instantly recognizable, always reminded me of shards of broken glass -- beautiful, vaguely dangerous. It's glass alright, but it's a mirror -- XTC hold up the pieces and we can see little bits of ourselves in each one, microcosms of our world...and what we see is sometimes humorous, sometimes foolish, sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly. It's not as if Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding (the two songwriters in the band) are pointing fingers, but more like they're just reporting on what they see, allowing us the make the judgement call.The album continues with Colin Moulding's 'Generals and majors' -- a view of war and carnage as a game played by humans, a worry about where it's leading us. Partridge's 'Living through another Cuba' is next, carrying this theme a bit further. Then comes another Moulding tune, 'Love at first sight' with a look at the eternal drama of the sexes' inevitable attraction -- and its consequences. Partridge responds again, with his love song 'Rocket from a bottle', a more personal view of the subject.After these observations and outpourings have washed over us, leaving us to marvel at the abilities of these writers to express themselves, what does Partridge hand us but 'No language in our lungs', a song bewailing the writer's inability to find the words to convey his thoughts: 'There is no language in our lungs to tell the world just how we feel, no bridge of thought, no mental link, no letting out just what you think'. Lest we think that Andy is getting too serious, he lets us know otherwise by way of another clever line: '...the impotency of speech came up and hit me that day, and I would have made this instrumental, but the words got in the way...'The songs go on to deal with such varied topics as the building of the city of London, the role of money in our society, self-analysis and growth, machismo, self-dependency...all done up nicely in quirky but memorable (you'll find yourself humming them) melodies, incredibly insightful and clever lyrics -- the inner rhymes and wordplay are simply amazing -- and the ability through it all not to fall into the trap of taking themselves too seriously. This is pop music, after all, accessable as anything on the radio -- why this album wasn't an instant hit when it came out in 1980 is beyond me...but then, Squeeze never clicked in the US like they deserved to, either (...but that's another story).Three tracks have been added for the cd release that were not included on the original lp -- they're pretty good for the most part, and it's nice that Geffen chose to add them to the re-released package.This band has made lots of incredibly high-quality music since their inception ..."
Where's all my money gone?
James Whitmee | England | 02/10/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Don't buy this album if you know what's good for you. I had only heard the song "Senses Working Overtime" by XTC when I bought this album. I thought i'd give them a go. "Black Sea" just told me that everything they did was brilliant in its own way. I had to hear more like Towers of London and generals and Majors. I LOVE this album, and ever since I bought it I have been running around like a mad thing, spending all of my overdraught on as many XTC albums as I can find. And I've not been disappointed (but buy "Mummer" last). But I wish I had discovered XTC when I had a job."
Brilliant, timeless and intelligent music.
James Whitmee | 05/04/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This was the record that really made me a hardcore fan. I was in college at the time, and we would sit around listening to this record along with the Clash, Sousix, etc... and it was a moment in music history that for me, has not really been matched. You could literally *feel* the 70's paradigm crumbling away in thes records.These best part, though, was that XTC actually toured with this record and came to my college (U.C. Santa Barbara, CA) and played in our basketball gym. I was front row center (3rd seat to the right of the aisle) and the line-up was Oingo Boingo, followed by XTC, and the Police. The gym wasn't even sold out if you can believe it.But what a concert. Basically most of the people were there for the Police and they did not "get" XTC, so aside from us fans up front, I must say the audience response was rather cold for XTC. We of course screamed our heads off, and to his credit, Sting excoriated the audience for not being nicer to XTC...At least in the U.S. this was the last time XTC would play live, so I am both happy and sad to have seen this concert. By the way, most concerts of this era (78-85) were amazing displays of raw energy and intelligence. From Talking Heads, to REM, Clash, The Smiths, and even (gasp) early U2, I'm not sure the concerts of the 90's are better. Peace."
GREAT MUSIC SHAME ABOUT THE PACKAGING
David P. Weber | North Fremantle | 07/03/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A great album by the underrated XTC-- all of the remasters are excellent, except it would've been better if they'd carried the extra tracks at the end of the disc. Also, the packaging is flawed, and 'Black Sea' is one of the worst offenders. Why reproduce the original album covers if the liner notes and lyrics are printed so small that they're virtually unreadable? Is this another attempt by the members of XTC to highlight their view that packaging is inherently worthless? The reproductions should've been made user-friendly."