I made one mistake when listening to the new EP by Andy Partridge of XTC: I read the wonderful liner notes before playing it for the first time in the car on CD (yes, I seem to own one of the last of those automotive dinosaurs apparently).
Normally, reading the liner notes might not be a bad thing but in this instance, it sort of tinted my already rainbow-hued glasses a bit with the artists’ fascinating background on how these four new songs came to exist. You see, the recording is called My Failed Songwriting Career and features tracks crafted for — and rejected by — other artists.
So, me being me, I immediately jumped into spot the influence mode and didn’t fully “hear” the songwriting within. I liked My Failed Songwriting Career a bunch but wasn’t connecting immediately. I waited a couple of days and played the vinyl version of the EP and — voila!— I felt the music, just hearing Andy Partridge in all his XTC-riffic wonderment pouring through my speakers, fresh as a daisy, welcoming me with open arms.
And you know what else I heard, reading between the grooves? My Failed Songwriting Career could easily be the roots of a new 21st Century XTC release. It has a raw beauty that recalls moments across XTC’s many classic albums, from Nonsuch to Wasp Star and even on to the beloved Dukes of Stratosphear recordings (25 O’Clock, Psonic Psunspot).
Andy doesn’t tell us exactly who these rejected songs were for and I’m kind of glad for that since I won’t be able to judge their bad taste. And I can simply thank them for allowing us — the XTC fans of the universe — to rejoice in having some new XTC-leaning music for us to dance to around our personal maypoles.
“Maid of Stars” sounds to my ear like something that might have fit on Nonsuch or the lush quiet of Apple Venus. “The Mating Dance” could have fit on Wasp Star sandwiched between the closing double whammy “Church Of Women” and “The Wheel and Maypole.” Actually, if I might don my poor-man’s-Todd producer hat , I can almost hear “Mating Dance” segued into “The Wheel/Maypole.”
“Great Day” is the McCartney-esque flavored tune which could have fit on any number of XTC albums. “Ghost Train” might have been a rocker for Green Day or The Futureheads but after thinking about that for maybe 23 seconds, I just hear it as a ripping XTC song waiting to happen.
My Failed Songwriting Career feels like anything but a failure.
I don’t consider getting to write songs for The Monkees any sort of fail. As the hip kidz say sometime: “just sayin’…”
XTC’s other founding member and hit-songwriter-in-his-own-right, Colin Moulding has a fine new EP out as well out called The Hardest Battle. This too feels like it has been farmed in the XTC dreaming fields, a lush plum prime for the the tastiest of pop pies. If Colin’s title track was on an album with Andy’s “failed” tracks, it would have fit neatly between “Ghost Train” and “Great Day.” “Say It” is one of those lovely floral, whimsical-wonderful Colin tunes initially issued in 2005 as a bonus track on the Apple Venus boxed set from 2005. For those of you wondering what it sounds like, this fine “original version” echoes the vibe of “Frivolous Tonight” from that album.
Of course at the end of the day, wishful, ever-dreaming fans like myself can’t help but imagine how these tracks on The Hardest Battle and My Failed Songwriting Career might have sounded had the whole band gotten together to make a new XTC album. I know, I know… I’ve heard the “it’ll never happen” comments from numerous naysayers… But y’know, I’ve made it through my life hanging onto my dreams.
And since Brian Wilson came back from the great beyond to complete SMiLE… and since I got to see Emitt Rhodes in one of his last public appearances with a great band performing his songs… then I’ll keep on wishin’ and hopin’ that our heroes from Swindon will find some happy common ground to get back to doing what they do best…
“You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one…”