Brilliant songwriting and studio wizardry.
Michael Stack | North Chelmsford, MA USA | 07/20/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In 1982, after a collapse on stage, Andy Partridge pulled the plug on XTC's touring and the band entered the studio to record their sixth album, 1983's "Mummer". Early in the sessions, drummer Terry Chambers quit the band (contributing only to three songs-- "Beating of Hearts", "Wonderland" and b-side "Toys"), leaving Partridge, Colin Moulding and Dave Gregory to soldier on as a trio (and with session drummer Peter Phipps). The freedom from touring and from any notions of having to play this material on-stage allowed the band to begin to experiment with the studio as a tool, and with producer Steve Nye on hand (who had recently helped Japan produce their masterwork and final album in "Tin Drum"), the band put together an album that far outshines everything they had done before.
The drastic changes are apparent right from the onset-- "Beating of Hearts" shows a level of detail and arrangement that was totally absent, even from the material on "English Settlement"-- Middle Eastern-inspired strings doubling and supporting Partridge's thick vocal, skanking guitars and tribal drums, hints at raga... this is something completely unprecedented. Likewise, "Great Fire" with its screeching sax and ragged guitars, synth-laden tension piece "Deliver Us From the Elements" and grunting, groaning, throbbing avant-rock of "Human Alchemy" all point to a band pushing and exploring.
When XTC sticks to more conventional sounds, their work is still detailed and fantastic-- Partridge's "Love on a Farmboy's Wages" is a fine example. Among the best material he's ever written, it's insistent acoustic guitars and muted drums (the latter apparently inspired Chambers' leaving the band) provide a support for Partridge's voice, which manages anxiety, desperation and hope all together. A handful of other great pop songs continue to fill out the album (Moulding's synthy "Wonderland", Partridge's lovely "Ladybird") and help prevent the distinct lack of subpar material that seemed evident in most of the earlier XTC albums. Even the songs that aren't quite as good as the rest ("Me and the Wind") are still quite intriguing and very listenable.
This reissue finds the album remastered and the depth of the arrangements and productions really shine. In addition, it's augmented by no less than six b-sides from the era. It's actually quite amazing some of these tracks didn't make the album-- four of them are pop songs similar in feel to the album tracks. Of particular note are "Jump", a delicate little pop song with an unnervingly catchy chorus and "Desert Island", a tropical, breezy song about a castaway in paradise, featuring a superb arrangement of growing vocal harmonies and a honking accordian lying over acoustic guitars and a slithering bass. The album also includes two ambient instrumentals, one of them is nice enough, though not particularly noteworthy ("Procession Towards Learning Land"), the other is a simply fantastic array of rising and falling synthesizers layered on top of each other. Fans of Brian Eno's work with find this brilliant.
One thing I have left out in talking about this is that as fantastic as the record is, it's probably not a good introduction to the band-- it can be a bit more quirky than can be easily digestable, nonetheless, once one is familiar with XTC, this is definitely one worth seeking out-- it's among the best in their catalog. Highly recommended."
A Regular Listen
S. Mock | Lucas, OH | 11/01/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am not surprized others have different opinions of this work, but I am amazed when someone comments about the writing. This is possibly the best concept album I have ever heard. Mummer is poetic at so many levels. Its colorful and completely filled with a circus of sound sensations I find so pleasing. When I listen to the intertwined nature of the words and music I think ONOMONOPIA. I am no professional critic, but to listen to "Me and the Wind" and "Great Fire" and not feel the wind and flame - I think you missed it.
The album begins with an actual opening tune. "Beating of Hearts" and its toms bouncing throughout opens the door. "Deliver Us From the Elements" is placed in the middle and ties the work together, clarifying the point pretty clearly. Vocals are stretched and pulled into circles and continually emphasized by the drums. I can never listen to the end of that tune without thinking of Todd Rundgren either(W,ATS).
I know the middle 6 tunes were not on the album, but they are all so lively and fit like a large intermission. "Procession..." is like a magnet slowly rolling closer, all the while picking up pieces of noisy scrap metal. Porceline sinks,pieces of car doors, a kid's bicycle, and rusted roofing all clanking and scraping against each other. Larger and larger it grows - and then you turn to watch it disappear. As it moves beyond earshot it must be huge. What a cool tune!
I don't know if Andy was the originator of the conceptual idea behind "Human Alchemy", but it is certainly a bit of genius. I have been so bored with white guilt for too many years now to feel any personal emotion such as guilt when I hear it, but the clarity of the truth conveyed is unmistakable. It is rare for me to wish I had written something someone else wrote, but Robert Frost's "Dust of Snow" and William Carlos William's "The Red Wheelbarrow" are about the only 2 poems sitting in front of "Human Alchemy" on my list.
The closer "Funk Pop a Roll" is a biting, cynical and fun tune to listen to, but if you cannot see the boat and feel the rudder when Andy sings "Feel like a ship with no rudder" in "Me and the Wind", then you missed it. Try and listen to it again and smile."
Mick | Fairport, NY USA | 03/11/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This shouldn't be the first XTC CD you buy. Get Skylarking or English Settlement first. The work "pastoral" gets tossed around, but I think it's just brilliant pop."