There is some connective cosmic glue pulling together two new ten-inch EPs recently issued from the founding members and primary songwriters of England's XTC, Colin Moulding and Andy Partridge. Both EPs have been issued on 10-inch vinyl and CD formats. Both recordings exhibit elements of their former band yet are inevitably different given the artists have grown a lot over the years on their individual paths. Both also leave you wondering what might have happened had the band gotten back together and worked on these songs collectively. Both of these EPs initially underwhelmed me but on subsequent listens they have quickly grown on me, as their charms and strengths emerge. Both are pressed on quiet, high quality black vinyl. Both are seemingly only available on vinyl and not on streaming services like Tidal and Qobuz.
Great Aspirations By TC&I
TC&I is a collaboration between original XTC drummer Terry Chambers and bassist, vocalist, songwriter Colin Moulding which came out in 2017 (but I've only recently gotten my hands on a copy of the record, so it is still new for me!). Across four songs here on Great Aspirations we get at least two sure-fire tunes which could have transmogrified into XTC tracks in different form: "Scatter Me" and "Kenny."
The latter works off a rich fuzzy bass chord riff that goes one step further beyond the infectious Keith Richards-inspired hook on XTC's final album Wasp Star (Apple Venus Vol. Two) "Stupidly Happy." "Scatter Me" is a lovely song with a sobering and haunting mature message for those left behind after one leaves this mortal coil. "Comrades of Pop" is a bit of a bitter pill, likely about these artists' situation with their original band. My only hope is that somehow, someway, they can all work things out so they can, indeed, once again, become genuine comrades.
Planet England By Andy Partridge & Robyn Hitchcock
Planet England is a bit of pop, a bit of rock, a touch of groovy and a wee tab of the light trip-tastic convening in a fresh flavor that tastes at once familiar. It has been growing on me with every listen.
This collaboration between Andy Partridge & Robyn Hitchcock surprised me and thus it took a bit of time to get into its groove. This, I suspect, is more due to my own preconceptions than any issue with the music inside. You see, I respect Robyn Hitchcock but I can't say I have been any sort of big fan boy of his music. In fact, I only recently (finally!) found an album of his that I have been enjoying a bunch (Element of Light). As for expectations, I guess I was surprised that the Andy-driven songs were left to Side 2 (although in retrospect it makes perfect sense), so I had to get acclimated with Robyn's voice and songwriting first.
This especially considering Andy's last great collaboration was with ex-Zappa "stunt guitarist" and singer-songwriter Mike Keneally. Together they created a sound which at times sounded so much like Andy I listened many times closely just to see if I could hear whether his voice was somehow masked in the mix! If you haven't heard Wing Beat Fantastic, you can read my review on Sound & Vision from back in 2012 (click here).
So I had to get acclimated to Robyn's vocal textures. Its all good. Just different.
Of the four songs, thus far the Robyn-sung "Flight Attendants, Please Prepare For Love" and Andy's "Got My..." go to the head of my classroom.
The latter is a lovely McCartney-eque toe-tapping acoustic-driven song that goes into classic XTC territory with its unexpected chord changes, harmonic shifts, harmonies and melodies for days. Its kind of curious how together Robyn and Andy's voices work well together in a sort of reverse Squeeze manner (with Robyn's Difford-esque skronk -- and I mean that in the best possible way -- taking the higher end while Andy's prettier round sounding voice taking the lower end).
For an album that was recorded in a backyard garden shed, Planet England sounds pretty great as does TC&I. No complaints there. I'm hoping we get to hear a full album from them soon!
My only wish is the wish all we XTC fans have: that the individual members of XTC can make peace and get back to making their magic music together. Until then, we'll cherish these releases and look ahead to future music from our fab friends from Swindon in whatever configuration works for them in the here and now.