“I Have No Choice but to Hereby Proclaim XTC Un-Cover-able”

* Now kids, we’re going to conduct dinner just the same, whether your crazy uncle XTC comes over or not. Sure, he’s been in the middle of the Serengeti with nothing but a canteen, drinking his own urine and initiating “vision quests,” as he likes to say. He** I hope he still has his OPTICAL vision intact when he gets back. Yuk yuk yuk. Hey, buffy. I need a fill up on this glass of brandy. My little brother gives me the willies. Oh hey XTC, there you are. No that’s perfectly normal…I understand…yeah…OH MY GOD YOU HAVE A KOMODO DRAGON PERCHED ON YOUR SHOULDER. Kids, go to your room, I have to talk to your uncle.


Ahem. We might as well start from the top. XTC is a band I first discovered, while being I think a pretty big music junkie in middle school and high school, in my college “Rock Music in the ’70s and ’80s” class at IU. The class itself was actually better than I thought it would be, not all hair metal and classic cheese-rock, and they’d gloss through and give you a one-song taste of obscure bands like Television, Firehose and these guys, whose “Making Plans for Nigel” made the curriculum.

Now it’s probably not a coincidence that, also, this is the only song by them I can seem to find a cover version of on Youtube, with Primus the only band having the balls to take it on. And once you hear their rendition it becomes obvious that their only objective was to do it just to SAY they did it — they basically match the original band in skill and note patterns, they speed it up a bit which is actually rather irksome from a standpoint of emotion, and I mean…well where IS the emotion? Is it possible to transmit true emotion in a cover version? Maybe if you AGREE with the subject matter, as in cases where it’s as simple as Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” picked up in shining brilliance of course by the one and only Wilson Pickett, who doesn’t get near enough credit for his contributions to both Blues Brothers films.

Everybody seems to know this sappy, faux-theatrical shmear-session “Dear God” (I personally can’t stand Skylarking in general…it’s bet-hedging between the romantic and the humanitarian, for one thing) [1], but the only song I could find called “Dear God” on Youtube was this repugnant whine-fest by Avenged Sevenfold [2] where he’s complaining about touring, saying it’s “hard to find hope.” It’s like well, did you look at that giant limo they just showed on the TV [3] [4]?

But is it an EMOTIONAL problem that people have in imitating this band? Probably not, although they do deliver a strikingly scant amount of, like, cheesy romantic songs like, say, 38 Special might furnish, preferring the comedic such as the dorky hopelessness of “Sgt. Rock” or the parodic horniness for a piece of stone in “Statue of Liberty.” What’s harder, still, than connecting with XTC’s songs on a gut level is just mimicking them on your instruments — this is some busy stuff, whether it’s the ska-punk, multi-chord madness of “Are You Receiving Me?” [5], the riffy, brisk and post-punk “Generals and Majors” (here we see the multitude of styles with which they come at you) or just the orchestral and theatric quality in Colin Moulding’s voice itself in the unthinkably beautiful “Ball and Chain,” the ultimate and exhaustive song for the universal everyman.

Indeed, it’s actually fun enough just trying to wrap your EARS around this band’s catalogue, especially if you’re just recently getting into them. Plus, they’re severely misunderstood. I mean I have no idea how Skylarking came to be known as their authoritative LP. Maybe people just like to say “Skylarking.” With me, at work on summer evenings there is no better music than the busy, urban pop of The Compact XTC, and then for random moments at home I gravitate to the glorious English Settlement and all of its epic, ultra-melodic frenzy. Along with the hearty, aching opener “Runaways,” “Jason and the Argonauts”; “All of a Sudden (It’s Too Late)” and “Melt the Guns” round out the primary genus of classics, although you certainly won’t find a bad song on the album. For other hidden gems and precocious early tunes, please consult my “XTC Album Tracks (A Companion Piece to The Compact XTC)” for a more thorough introduction to this mind-boggling and influential band (which according to one of my crazy friends took heed from some weird group called Sparks in the ’70s). Oh, and don’t try those vision quests in the Serengeti without the proper supervision of your crazy uncle…well…you know who!


[1] This resides of course with the earlier English Settlement, juxtaposed, owning firmly to the “humanitarian” side of the binary, which is a very interesting sector for a band to occupy, beside the fact of Settlement just being classic, musically, as well.


[2] I actually think I sort of can stand some of this band’s stuff, if not necessarily “liking” it, explicitly.


[3] This is of course ironic as I just got done reading these douchey comments on Loudwire’s feed about how whiney Kurt Cobain was — no actually what Nirvana did was open up the door with catchy, Beatles-influenced grunge tunes for OTHER bands to chime in and bit** about sh** that’s probably even more meaningless yet. For instance that bottom-feeding sycophant in Avenged Sevenfold probably would have gone past insane yet if anybody actually LISTENED to his band like they did Cobain’s.


[4] I mean just think of it — the guy is complaining that it’s “hard to find hope” and then he’s flashing this huge tour bus, limo and set of concert equipment. What message does that send to the people who don’t have all this stuff? Is this the new zeitgeist in rock, like “kill yourself immediately”?


[5] Interestingly enough, I did find this awesome nine-minute song by Golden Earring on Youtube called “Are You Receiving Me?”, which was a different tune entirely, albeit.


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