Monday, July 26, 2010

A Lot Like You and An Awful Lot Like Me

The Strike No One Knew About

After 15 years of a bad deal with Virgin Records (which the band didn't renegotiate when they had songs on the charts), XTC delivered Nonsuch in 1991.

The album was gorgeous -- combining their love of lush, nearly orchestral pop with catchy hook-driven rock songs. Like Mummer, it was reflective. Like Oranges and Lemons it had twitchy psychedelic songs. Like Skylarking, it had dense, sweet moments. And like every album they ever made, it had lyrics that would melt the heart of English Majors all over America.

Fans loved it. Critics compared it to Revolver and Pet Sounds.

And the album even had a few great videos -- like this one (which I literally saw for the first time four days ago).

Another terrific album that should have made XTC superstars.

And another terrific album that didn't make XTC superstars.

Frustrated by Virgin's inability to bring the band to the next level, XTC asked to be released from their contract. Virgin refused.

And then the band did something that was either very smart or very stupid. They went on strike.

But it was the 1990s... and there was an internet, but not like today's internet.

So almost no one knew they were on strike.

And, since the band hadn't toured since Andy Partridge's onstage meltdown a decade earlier, there was no way for fans to stay connected to the band.

Andy Partridge and company were stubborn -- so they waited out the record company (even reportedly taking day jobs at a car rental agency for a while), recorded a series of amazing demos and plotted their next move -- a double album with one record that rocked out and a second record that was mellower and featured an orchestra.

It took nearly a decade to get released from Virgin. By that time, relationships within the band were severely strained. To generate revenue to pay to finish recording, the band decided to break up the double album -- releasing one record first and the second a year or so later. Guitarist/keyboardist Dave Gregory wanted to thunder back with a rocking electric album that would thrill longtime fans. But Andy insisted the orchestral disc should come out first; Andy won the argument and Apple Venus was released in 1999. But in the process, he lost Gregory, who quit the band shortly before the electric album was finished. Andy and bassist Colin Moulding finished the second album themselves (Gregory had already recorded guitar parts for most but not all of the songs) and Wasp Star came out in 2000.

Both were great, but the band (if you could call Andy and Colin a band) couldn't build on the momentum. Andy announced plans to release a series of XTC demos, calling the project Fuzzy Warbles, but Colin moved and didn't give Andy his new address or phone number. So Fuzzy Warbles instead became a series of Andy Partridge demos (with a few songs featuring the whole band).

And XTC just faded away. A few years later, Andy admitted what every XTC fan had long feared: the band was defunct.

Maybe the strike went on too long. Maybe the group had just run its course.

All I know is that XTC should have been superstars. Many times over.

Need some proof? Let's begin...


asiangrrl said...

Every time I hear their music, I wonder why they didn't become bigger. Then I think, well, if I like them, that just kills their chances of being huge right there. Regardless, it's a damn shame.

Steven said...

Love love love XTC. I have pretty-much everything they ever released and more. I hadn't seen this video for a long time. Thanks for posting it and helping to get this great band the popularity that they deserve!!


David S said...

I'm a huge XTC fan, and love all their albums. It's impossible not to lament their passing, since it feels like Partridge, Moulding and Gregory Inc were capable of so much more, but I try to remember that they did produce a lot of wonderful music over about 20 years, which is a lot more than many talented artists get to do. They could've been snuffed out by the industry after one or two albums, and we never would've known what we missed, eh?