Monday, 19 March 2012

Misery Monday 19/26 - XTC

I've written before about XTC's wonderful but largely ignored Apple Venus volume 1. Released after they had been tied up for years in record company contract disputes, it is the lushest of affairs , taking the sound of Skylarking to its natural conclusion.

However, right in the middle is the bitterest of pills. Again fuelled by a marriage break up, this is how Andy Partridge describes it

I tried and tried NOT to write a divorce song, I really did, you have to believe me. The last thing I wanted was to come over as a grieved cattle bum crying into his beer in the bar of heartbreak motel. Or even worse, as Phil Collins. I mean, divorce is so. . . middle-aged and crap.
“Trouble was, the internal stale steam kept building, the pus kept expanding inside my head. I needed a safety valve, maybe if I just put all the hurt in one song. Not even that XTC should record this song mind you. Just let me release this cak out of my head, then I can move on.
“Boy did this thing come together quickly, and do you know what?, I felt better, clearer about things the second I finished the demo. In fact, I felt so different, I became very reluctant about going back to the state of mind I was in when I wrote it. This would only make a difficulty if the band ever recorded it, and of course we wouldn't choose to pick it for the album. It sounding so petulant and snide. Nobody would want to record‘Dictionary’. So, no problem. This dog doesn't need to return to his vomit. I feel different from that now.
“Oh dear! Everyone in the band loves it, our new record companies love it, the producer loves it and the few friends who've heard it, love it. I was to be hoist by my own petard. Protesting meekly would do no good. If everyone else likes it so much, I must be in the wrong. Perhaps it was my embarrassment at penning such a childish tantrum of a song. Very reluctantly I agreed to record it, hoping secretly that it would fall at the last hurdle. But no, it came out fine, and I was left feeling annoyed for writing such a self exposing shanty.

The lyrics have real bite and there are some classic lines - "the four eyes fool you led  round everywhere".

Is that how you spell love in your dictionary
Pronounced as kind
Is that how you spell friend in your dictionary
Black on black
A guidebook for the blind

Well now that I can see my eyes won't weep
Now that I can hear your song sounds cheap
Now that I can talk all your corn I'll reap
I'm not so sure that Joey wed a Virgin Mary
There are no words for me inside your dictionary

Is that how you spell kiss in your dictionary
Pronounced as care
Is that how you spelt me in your dictionary
Four-eyed fool
You led 'round everywhere

Now that I can see it's the queen's new clothes
Now that I can hear all your poison prose
Now that I can talk with my tongue unfroze
I'm not so sure of Santa or the buck tooth fairy
There are no words for me inside your dictionary

Now your laughter has a hollow ring
But the hollow ring has no finger in
So let's close the book and let the day begin
And our marriage be undone

The mood if lifted slightly with an ending full of Beach Boy harmonies and a sense of closure

Finally if you get the chance pop over to the Chalkhills site here, it is one of the vest fansites going and it is where I lifted the Andy Partridge quote

Your Dictionary - XTC

You can buy Apple Venus vol 1 here and you really should


  1. Excellent quote and blog.
    I saw the band live a couple of times before Andy decided that it was all shit. It was not shit; they were actually one of the best bands I've ever seen; although their forte was surely the studio; you've got to know your craft to be confident enough to tell Todd Rundgeren (sp?) to shove it...

  2. Hi Trev

    i really like the lusher "studio" lps (from english settlement onwards) more than the spikey 3 min pop songs of the earlier ones but again this may have something to do with entry point (sense working overtime) than anything
    Apparently he was down to produce Blur but didnt work out as they felt he had used them to make another xtc lp, which odes make you wonder what they thought tey would get.
    The tracks he produced for the lilac time are soem of my favs - if was a rich talented pop star he would be on my producer wish list!

  3. Apple Venus Vol.1 and Vol. 2 Wasp Star are brilliant works by a band who was finally answering to no one but themselves. I just wish that all involved had wanted to go on. XTC have never disappointed me and I have rediscovered, over the last few years, those albums that didn't get as much of my attention in the 90's - Oranges & Lemons and Nonesuch.
    I've always thought that Dictionary was very clever and oh so Andy Partridge, but never as childish or tantrum like as he is quoted as believing.

  4. Hi Echo

    i wasnt as taken with wasp Star mainly due to the reasons outlined in my reply to Trev but I aslo came late to 2 90s lps you mention and love them both

  5. I too prefer the later stuff; Skylarking and Nonsuch. 'Wrapped Up in Grey' is as beautiful as it gets...

  6. I can understand your separation of Vo1 and Wasp Star, but for me they are really complimentary and in a way, although I didn't want it to be, a fitting final set of releases. Standing In For Joe and Stupidly Happy from Wasp Star are classic XTC.
    I truly love the pastoral world they created starting with English Settlement as well as the
    time-bending mod/victorian/elizabethan ping pong of Oranges & Lemons & Nonesuch. But Partridge and Moulding always gave presence to a good 3 minute power pop song.
    And I have to agree with Trevor, to give Todd Rundgren a two finger salute take two very big balls. Skylarking is a special peak in XTC's career, but regardless of the producer, it was ALWAYS going to be.

  7. I'm going back to Give wasp star another go!


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