THE XTC SINGLES (Part 16)

Now we get into the section of the series where I will struggle a bit.

You might recall a couple of weeks back my passing comment that I don’t own any XTC albums after English Settlement. This is partly down to the fact that 1983 saw me fall head over heels for so many other great bands and singers that there was no room for XTC anymore; it wasn’t helped by me being bitterly disappointed by the singles that were released to support their next album, and none more so than this from April 83:-

mp3 : XTC – Great Fire

I thought it limp and uninspiring on its release and I haven’t changed my mind since.

It was released on 7″ and 12″ in two different but equally appalling sleeves (as you can see above). The 12″ enabled the continuation of the Homo Safari series that had begun back in 1979 on the flip side of Making Plans For Nigel. Nos 1-3 had been released previously so it begged the question about what happened to No.4 (it turns out this would eventually appear in 1987)

mp3 : XTC – Gold
mp3 : XTC – Frost Circus (No. 5 In The Homo Safari Series)
mp3 : XTC – Procession Towards Learning Land (No. 6 In The Homo Safari Series)

Crap single. A ‘trying too hard to fit in with contemporary pop’ B-side – complete with horns – that seemed so alien to the sound of XTC and two boring instrumentals. File under inessential recordings.

I’m sure at least one of my regulars, to whom I am both grateful and of whom I am always in awe of, will drop by with a wonderfully-worded and persuasive contribution that proves my opinion, in this instance, is wrong!

JC

9 thoughts on “THE XTC SINGLES (Part 16)

  1. I wonder which regular that will be as Great Fire is, without a doubt, a crap single. 1983 truly was a good year to begin to look past XTC for happenin’ tunes. TVV faithful may remember that both of my ICAs on the band skipped 1983’s Mummer and 1984’s The Big Express, neither of which can compare to the band’s earlier output. It would take until 1986’s epic Skylarking before the band found their feet again. With you all the way this time, JC.

  2. Drummer Terry Chambers quit during the recording of Mummer, only appearing on ‘Beating of Hearts’ and ‘Wonderland’. Must have affected the remaining band, as I agree that they weren’t quite the same until ‘Skylarking’ . Their alter egos Dukes of Stratosphear seem to have helped them relax a bit.

  3. Admit nowhere near the heights of what came before or after , but always quite liked this one

  4. Ok, so here goes. I am well aware that this is the period where most lost contact with or interest in XTC. It was the era which saw them become a studio unit and no longer a live act. There was turmoil in the band and it resulted in the loss of Terry Chambers.
    But this is where their pastoral direction came into flower. There were hints of it on English Settlement, but that amazing album still boasted a good deal of their particular brand of New Wave.
    Now my perspective is one of an American City Kid (ok young adult at that point) who still had some idealized impressions of what the “English Countryside” and “Home Counties” meant. They were impressions based on literary, Victorian, Industrial Revolution touch points – milkmaids, gangs of men threshing the tall grain, steam locomotives invading the quiet village afternoons. So Mummer really spoke to my ‘dream England’. Great Fire certainly added kindling to these burning impressions. The slowed down pace and spiky intro, Andy’s over the top vocals and the perfectly balanced use of acoustic and electric instruments is really on the mark for me. The lyrics also continued a real understanding and love of word play on Andy’s part. The song’s end is like a musical conflagration as the music seems to consume Andy.
    Finally, Great Fire marked the beginning of XTC being a more personal band for me. It would be a few years more before they made any significant impression in the U.S. and even that would be accidental.

  5. Following the boring-to-me “English Settlement” which really could have been trimmed of chaff to its benefit, I really gravitated to the dark pastoral qualities of “Mummer.” It’s one of my three desert island XTC discs*. It might have had to do with the knowledge of Partridge’s breakdown, or the fact that I had to buy it as an import after a straight run of US XTC releases [at least until they hooked up with Geffen later in the year], but I loved the album and really bonded strongly with it. I was somewhat non-plussed that they bothered with as retrograde a number as “Funk Pop A Roll” that stuck out like a sore thumb on this particular record, though the lyrics were Andy at his acidic best; considering the circumstances. The dark, political reggae/psychedelia of “Human Alchemy” was in particular a real achievement and more impressive to me, but I also enjoyed the singles.

    “Great Fire” began as almost a pastiche of Russian Opera before building up to the coda that gains in buoyancy to cap off the song in earnest, English pastoralism. I love the continuum of diverse “pop” that it expertly built. And the diffraction effect sleeve is another XTC stunner. What’s not to love there? The 7″ had a plastic, printed outer sleeve that when the inner sleeve was pulled out of it to obtain the record, the waves printed slightly different on each interacted to animate the “flames.” Sort of like the effect that Ultravox went for on years later their dire “Uvox” album/singles except that it was not lame and uninspired; and it actually related to the song title.

    * “Black Sea” and “Skylarking” as well, since you asked…

  6. Hi John

    For whatever reason, your comment ended up in beside a whole load of spam. Only just picked it up cleaning things out.

    Reprimand duly accepted. I’ll get round to that era later in the series.

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