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No.2 GO2
XTC (1978)

Hailing from Swindon, XTC had already released their debut LP, ‘White Music’, earlier in 1978. It had been a great success and kept for posterity their fledgling punk-at-100mph sound, which had first been heard on the 12” 3D EP, a John Peel favourite at the time. As 1978 moved into its last gasp, Virgin records trailed the new XTC LP with a terrific single, Are You Receiving Me? which foretold no great changes to the band’s spikytop sound. But things had indeed changed and Barry Andrews’ keyboards were at the forefront of a maturing progression.

The new collection was titled GO2 and kicked off with Meccanic Dancing, a shimmering splutter of tinny guitar leading into a minimalist funk-bassline. The lyric deals on one hand with the then-current Disco boom and its German-led studio dominance and on the other hand, with the perils of getting pissed: I had a few beers inside me, wails Andy Partridge, I feel like a giant for now! Indeed. Barry Andrews’ glistening, sinuous keyboards straddle the song like some synthetic conga eel, making it catchy and danceable.

They follow this with the second title concerning machinery, uncannily predicting the obsession with all things JG Ballard which would come to fruition in the pop charts of the late seventies/early eighties. Battery Brides is taken at a stately pace, fading in with crystalline synthesizer droplets and Partridge’s casual wake-up call to engaged females: have you ever tried to break out of your waiting around? He seems to be making that Life Of Brian point here – you’re all individuals! Don’t do what other people do just for the sake of it. An eerie atmosphere prevails, soundtracked by ghostly piano and twangy guitars. The vocal rises with exasperation and the track marches on to its stuttering conclusion.

Buzzcity Talking returns to the first track’s stop-start arrangement and features a superb middle eight section where cymbals splash, trebly guitars jangle and scrape and Partridge whoops with delight.

Crowded Room is one of my favourites on the album, a poppy delight with a paranoid vocal whinging about chronic agoraphobia. They’re pushing me out, down the fire escape! yells Andy in an anguished plea for help.

The Rhythm builds nicely into a sixties homage recalling bands like the Kinks with its block harmonies and cascading keyboard flourishes. The words are strange: he makes a beeline for the place, where he gets his only ace, sometimes he's standing in the rain, oh Gene Kelly's hat and cane - he has the Rhythm in his head. We kill the beast is the common refrain – what the hell is he going on about? Great fun though.

Saxophone enters the fray on Red, a somewhat repetitious filler which pounds along with some verve, Partridge’s voice treated with reverb and echo.

Beatown starts off with spindly organ touches, choppy guitar and odd mumblings. Andy’s phrasing here is largely incoherent, a pointer towards the irritating mid-eighties XTC records.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, sniggers Partridge before the distant, reverbed bass and intermittent drums of Life Is Good In The Greenhouse creep into the mix. The scary ambience of this extraordinary song makes it a contender for the best track on the album. Rather be a plant than be your Mickey Mouse he snarls unpleasantly. Synthesizer sounds skitter across a heavy-dub landscape and delay is draped across the vocal which is additionally laden with varispeed on the mesmeric fadeout, creating the subtle impression of a phantom choir.

Jumping In Gomorrah is off at a run, clattering tom-toms presaging a groovy pop song of enduring quality. All aboard for Sodom! shouts Andy Partridge with rampant abandon. The song has an exquisite keyboard solo which is criminally short. Excellent.

My Weapon is a nasty piece of work, composer Barry Andrews, hang your head in shame! Unless of course they were taking the piss. On a level with the Stranglers’ notorious Peaches, this catchy ode to misogyny is sung by Andrews in a cheery cockney geezah style which does it no favours. Try this for size: Lying beside me like a parcel of fat, hot love - cold sweat - feel her beneath me, wanna crush her to death. For all that, it has an infectious melody.

Morse code bass and grand piano augurs in Super–Tuff and is a fine example of how the second wave of punk bands embraced reggae rhythms and married them to traditional old wave templates. Jagged guitars and heavy reverbed percussion take this into strange places.

I Am The Audience continues with the bizarre, marching dance arrangements of the first two tracks on GO2. A smorgasbord of tinkling organ, piano and synth lead us into the song, which seems to be questioning the performer/audience divide in a confrontational way. Partridge purposely garbles the words, as the others chant the title behind him.

Are You Receiving Me? was the single at the time but not on the album. However I include it here as it is on the CD reissue. Exemplary musicianship shines on this, a fantastic performance by a tight unit. Taken at a furious pace with fizzing guitars and a catchy melody, it should have been a chart hit. Lyrically the message is about messages, communication. It features another delightful middle eight, with Partridge outlining proof positive that he did send his missive off: I put it in a letter, what could be better? I put it in a note, the one I wrote! I put it in a telegram, just like the son of Sam! Baby something’s missing, your TV's just hissing.

It was no surprise that Andy Partridge released a proper dub collection two years after GO2, and indeed a free twelve-inch EP consisting of remixed dub versions of some of the LP tracks was included with initial copies of the album.

XTC would go on to release a lot of product, but for my money their golden age was the first year’s output: two great long-players, a smattering of B side-only gems and the aforementioned 3DEP.

Part 3Bill Nelson’s Red Noise • Sound On Sound 

• To be honest lads, it's not a great album cover

• Yep, that's better.

• The lads, 1980

• Dead ringers for Franz Ferdinand!

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