Compact but cut off
Tim Brough | Springfield, PA United States | 08/04/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of two strong compilations of XTC, and recently reissued on the Caroline label. "The Compact XTC" has a lot of great material on it, but considering that it's a straight reissue, it suffers from not being updated. The singles here represent XTC up to the album "Big Express," leaving off such classics as "Dear God" and "Mayor of Simpleton."
What you do get here, though, are the first singles from two arty albums. "This Is Pop" is a strange mix of satire and earnestness...like the band disdained the machine but loved it as well. (No mean feat in the punk rock days of the late seventies.) But by "Drums and Wires," XTC had made their first major statement. Biting but catchy, "Drums and Wires" polished down the rough edges to allow for the wittier songs to subversively insinuate themselves, like the brilliant tale of "Making Plans For Nigel." In a distinctly British scenario, our lad Nigel is a boy who "likes to speak and he loves to be spoken to." It laid the groundwork for such delightful political rants like the Kinks fueled "Towers of London" and the danceable "Generals and Majors" (which would have been a hit if American radio hadn't been terrified of new wave and the RSO original release of "Black Sea" hadn't been still-born by the record company's collapse). There's also the instantly catchy cartoon heroics of "Sgt Rock (Is Going to Help Me)," a nerd anthem for all who never got the girl, but at least got the graphic novel.
Shortly afterwards, Andy Partridge's disdain for and strain from touring left him physically exhausted, so he abandoned the road to work on music and start a family. The album that preceded the stoppage shows that perhaps he was feeling tired of the pop rat race, as "English Settlement" held psychedelic overtones and a more rustic feel. The hit UK single "Sense Working Overtime" sums that train of thought up best. By "Mummer," though, that bite began to taste bitter, and "Funk Pop a Roll" (not included here) snarls at what must have been their early distaste for Geffen records. Just the same, "Love On a Farmboy's Wages" could easily be the most beautiful song the band ever recorded, and "Wonderland" is nearly as good.
The following record. "The Big Express," finds the band floundering to maintain a sound; "The World Over" was probably the best song on it. "The Compact XTC" closes with one last statement, the anti-complacency anthem "Wake Up" from "Express," and it does show the more psychedlic form that the next album would revel in. It took Todd Rundgren to enter the production booth (and the trippy Dukes of Stratosphere side project) to make the band deliver the rejuvenated "Skylarking." But that is where this CD cuts off, so you'll either need to get the "Upsy Daisy Assortment" of the two disc import of "Fossil Fuel" to get a full collection. As a result, "The Compact XTC" holds a four star rating."