A Really Big Show: XTC's Skylarking, Reinvented

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The Blu-ray Disc of Skylarking also includes a complete set of instrumental versions of all the core album tracks for your sing-along-in-the-car enjoyment.

AR-SkylarkingAlbumDemoScreen225.jpgIt also includes several other Stereo mixes for your entertainment consideration. One the one hand, there are indeed perhaps too many versions of the album on the set -- you get the original "polarity reversed" version and the great sounding "polarity corrected" incarnation as well as Steven Wilson's new 2016 mix. 

For the sake of completeness and the joy of easy comparison-contrast, it is great that the producers included everything!  

That said, Steven Wilson's new Stereo mix is quite modern flavored. I recognize that it may be considered overkill by some fans, but I can understand him wanting to try to offer a different view of the music as long as they were in there playing with the multi-tracks creating the 5.1 surround mix.  

Bright and shiny, the new Stereo mix doesn't sound as harshly bright as the original polarity-reversed mix from 1987.  However, it still sparkles a whole bunch!  I haven't decided whether that is a good or bad thing, so I will simply acknowledge it for you, Dear Readers, so there are no surprises. 

When your bird is broken will it bring you down...

I have perhaps a few little critiques-of-sorts with regards to this set. 

My only sonic disappointment with this reissue of Skylarking is that the 5.1 mix doesn't recreate the wonderful segue from "Dear God" into "Dying" -- a quite spectacular transition that appears only on the polarity-corrected stereo version of Skylarking.  

But.. hey...  at least we have that version to relish! 

My other teeny tiny-tiny nit pick has to do with the packaging. You see, on the recent 200-gram two-LP version of Skylarking, the producers quite brilliantly figured out a respectful application for Andy Partridge's original art design for the album by turning them into the inner sleeves for the two LPs.  For those not in the know, the original art concept involved photography of florally-adorned male and female pubic areas (both images which were used on a very limited edition, mail-order-only hardcover book edition on 180-gram vinyl (featuring the polarity corrected master, issued back in 2011). 

I liked Andy's art, but recognized its commercial limitations with regards to marketing the reissue so I thought the use of it for inner sleeve art was a quite clever move; every XTC fan would ultimately get experience and enjoy the art without offending any shoppers who came across it coincidentally in the stores. 

AR-SkylarkingInstrumentalMixScreen225.jpgWell, on this deluxe edition Blu-ray Disc version this artwork is all but invisible, buried deep on the inside of the outer slipcase (which does not open up). On one hand its kinda cool when you peek in there to see it, but on the other hand it is near impossible to really look at the artwork this way.  I would have preferred those images being used as the artwork on the inner trays (which instead have some pretty flowers on them).  

This is admittedly a little nit in the grand scheme of things, but its one I had to bring it up...

One last possibly bigger question to consider involves the decision to put the new 2016 Stereo mix on the enclosed CD instead of the "polarity corrected" original mix. Why do I question that? Well, because if it sounds a bit bright on the Blu-ray Disc, it sounds perhaps brighter still on the CD (because that is how CD's roll, y'know, crisping up seemingly everything in their path). 

Conversely -- and this is me being me trying to find a silver lining -- since most XTC fans probably already have the fixed polarity version of Skylarking in some form (it has been issued on CD on its own) perhaps inclusion of this new, somewhat more modern sounding 2016 mix on CD makes some sense. 

Maybe that extra bit of sparkle-plenty will help Skylarking get played on radio again, blending in more readily with moderne 21st Century recordings which tend to skew on brighter (and louder!). 

Wouldn't that be a great thing to hear XTC on the radio again?  Maybe Skylarking could even become a hit again. Lets hope so! Stranger things have happened.

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