Friday, January 19, 2018

To Kiss Your Stony Book

XTC : Statue of Liberty

On January 20, 1978 XTC released their debut album, White Music. It is full of herky jerky songs, documenting the band trying to outrace anything that might sound melodious and breaking every rule. Andy Partridge twists his lyrics, stretching elastic vowels with wide open mouth and bugged out eyes, while Barry Andrews keeps pace with steam piano and clapped out organs. Bassist Colin Moulding offers a few songs that show absolutely no sign of the craftsman he would become. 

It's almost as if the band is trying to annoy the hell out of its listeners.

That said, there are a few brilliant moments that need to be mentioned. "This Is Pop", the second single from the album, is a declaration. The new noise they're playing on jukeboxes and transistor radios is the future of popular music. It would also provide the title to a Showtime documentary out this year. 

Fans have mixed reactions to the nearly six minute unrecognizable cover of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower", the only song on the album I ever played on my college radio station.  Nobody in the US would hear the first two XTC albums until after Drums and Wires was released in 1979.

That year,  looking back, Robert Christgau would write this B+ rated review of White Music:

Although it took a year and a half for this debut album by the premier English art-pop band to get released in the States, two Andy Partridge songs on side one aim directly at the American market--"Radios in Motion," which mentions Milwaukee, surely isn't about the BBC, and the avowed purpose of "Statute of Liberty" is to get a look up her skirts. The third, "This Is Pop," is why he missed--radio programmers resent anyone telling them their business, especially subversives who favor herky-jerk rhythms, jerky-herk harmonies, Lene Lovich radar noises, and depressing subject matter. Colin Moulding's songs, on the other hand, are aimed at bored Yes fans, which is why he missed--the lad doesn't know that Yes fans like being bored. 

The highlight might just be "Statue of Liberty", the first single from the album. It was banned by the BBC for its line "In my fantasy I sail beneath your skirt". The full lyric shows Partridge's skills with lyrics:

 I leaned right over to kiss your stony book
 A little jealous of the ships with whom you flirt 
 A billion lovers with their cameras snap, snap to look 
 And in my fantasy I sail beneath your skirt

Terry Hall of The Specials selected this album for an NME article about the "Greatest Albums You've Never Heard".

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