Autobiographical Order No. 29: XTC – Drums and Wires

Let’s close out the week with a fun one. In high school, I was a casual XTC fan — I had the “best of” collection, I really liked singles like “Dear God,” “Generals and Majors,” “Senses Working Overtime” and “The Mayor of Simpleton.” And for the most part, I was just fine with that. I wasn’t like Lane Kim in the second episode of Gilmore Girls, sprinting and yelling out of sheer excitement for obtaining Apple Venus Vol. 2.

But over time, my growing interest in early ’80s and late ’70s post-punk sounds — which you’ll note is responsible for a lot of the content you see in this series — made me start to reevaluate XTC, particularly given how much they transformed from their first record in 1978 and 1986’s Skylarking — which is a fantastic album, by the way. In the early days, they were a lot more “punk,” for lack of a better word. And I soon discovered that they were also pretty damn weird. 1982’s English Settlement featured a lot of African-inspired sounds, for one. And its predecessor, Black Sea, might be their most abrasive album.

But Drums and Wires — the appeal of which I can attribute largely to how much I was listening to Burning Airlines at the time — is my absolute favorite. I didn’t know this until I bought it, of course. All I knew of the album was “Making Plans for Nigel” and “Life Begins at the Hop,” the former of which — I should note — isn’t even on my copy because of all the chicanery involved with market variations between the ’60s and ’80s. Like Black Sea, it’s pretty abrasive, and on songs like “Millions,” or “Roads Girdle the Globe” — one of my all-time favorites — there’s a raw, scratchy quality to the songs that contrasts just how sophisticated they are in terms of melody and structure. I couldn’t get enough of complex, weird art punk songs at the time, and this album proved to be a goldmine.

But the album has an almost mixtape feel about it, leaping from a catchy punk rave-up like “Real by Reel” to a jangly ballad like “Ten Feet Tall,” and on up to a jazz-informed pop gem like “That Is The Way.” I dare say it’s the band’s most fun album, outside of White Music — which Andy Partridge absolutely hates, for the record. But you can see fun right on the cover — their logo makes a face! And if it weren’t for the absence of “Making Plans for Nigel” on my copy, I’d give it a 10.0

Rating: 9.5

Sound Quality: Great

The Trouble With Tracklists: No “Making Plans for Nigel” for no good reason. Maybe it was “too British”? I’ve heard that a lot about new wave bands in the ’70s and ’80s.

3 thoughts on “Autobiographical Order No. 29: XTC – Drums and Wires

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  1. “Steer me, Anna… Steer me, Anna!!!” Andy’s little freakout in the bridge of ‘Roads Girdle the Globe’ nicely foreshadows a much bigger one at the end of the album. Love the two guitars in stereo.

    BTW, if you ever get this in a digital format, I strongly recommend the running order of the original American LP release by Virgin International/Atlantic: (Side One) Life Begins at the Hop, Helicopter, Making Plans for Nigel, Ten Feet Tall, When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty, That Is the Way; (Side Two) Real by Reel, Millions, Outside World, Roads Girdle the Globe, Scissor Man, Complicated Game.

    Basically, Side One careens from one potential hit single to another before briefly coming to rest on ‘That Is the Way’, a welcome break (and kind of a mellow take on the album’s closing concerns!). Side Two cranks it up again with ‘Real By Reel’, and then things get ever-so-slightly weirder while never losing momentum, finally ending with a big bang.

    By comparison, the running order of the UK release–now the official CD running order–just doesn’t have the same power, with or without the bonus tracks.

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