English Settlement [Audio CD] XTC

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English Settlement is a watershed work for XTC that provides a valuable link between the band they had been (caustic, high pitched, and quirky) and the band they became (sublime, pastoral, and still undeniably quirky). It reveals a band in transition, coming only months before swearing off touring, due to Andy Partridge's stage fright, and the subsequent departure of drummer Terry Chambers. Despite the internal hemorrhaging, or perhaps because of it, XTC produced their finest record. English Settlement deals largely with the horrors of modern life and ordinary people's attempts to make sense of it all. Racism, violence, and the senseless proliferation of weapons are ingeniously examined in songs such as "Runaways," "No Thugs in Our House," and "Melt the Guns." The record's finest moment, however, plays against these horrors with "Senses Working Overtime," a pastoral piece celebrating life and all its simple wonders--the beautiful as well as the commonplace. With its majestic, sweeping chorus and hilarious lyrics, "Senses" laid the groundwork for XTC's '80s sound and established Andy Partridge alongside Elvis Costello as one of England's premier songwriters. The album also features two of bassist Colin Moulding's finest compositions: the frenetic "English Roundabout," which builds the narrator's disgruntlement with a delirious, staccato guitar attack, and "Ball and Chain," a compelling plea for landmark conservation that would have fit flawlessly on the Kinks' reactionary manifesto, The Village Green Preservation Society. This was the last time XTC would record as a bona fide rock quartet and it presents the band at the height of its playful glory as they enthusiastically trip down a fertile new path into uncharted territory. --Paul Ducey