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coverpic flag Mare Smythii - Full Moon 121 - 08/09/06

Through the retro-scope
Anniversary Album of the Moonth

XTC
Skylarking

This is a piece in a series of 12 Luna Kafé desserts, presenting a dozen of records celebrating their 40th, 30th, 20th or 10th birthday this year 2006. I've chosen three out of each "class". Classics, milestones, favourites. You name it. Some among the global masses, others maybe in smaller circuits only. Maybe we could group them under the moniker "Pet Records" - to re-name one of the many 40-year-olds of 2006.

XTC's Skylarking of 1986 (put out in-between their The Dukes of Stratosphear records) is a sparkling sunflower of spring'n'summerly pop music. A feast of warmth and colour. Strangely enough it was released on October 26th, at the ebb of an European summer season.

Well, the first taste, first single from the album, the delicious "Grass", came two months earlier - just in time for sunnier beams. but it's "Summer's Cauldron" that opens the record, with its heated opening line: "Drowning here in summer's cauldron, under mats of flower lava...". The 14 songs of Skylarking make without doubt this the greatest XTC album, at least my favourite XTC. The fruits were harvested as a fine, if not difficult, collaboration between the XTC lads and U.S. super-musician/song-writer/producer Todd Rundgren. Sort of an clash of the ego-titans, between Andy Partridge and Rundgren. When finishing the recordings at Rundgren's Utopia Sound Studios, Partridge's quoted to almost have hated it, but in retrospect he admits: "Not an easy album to make for various ego reasons but time has humbled me into admitting that Todd conjured up some of the most magical production and arranging conceivable. A summer's day cooked into one cake". 14 pieces of cake, if I must add. Five made my Colin Moulding, the rest by Andy Partridge.

Skylarking seems and sounds like a life cycle. From the hot and humid start, with the young, near adolescent flirtation of "Grass". Via some moist, meditative intermission, of "Ballet For a Rainy Day" and "1000 Umbrellas", with spinning thoughts and slight concern. Before getting the mind set and head above water with "Season Cycle" and "Earn Enough For Us", heading into the wedding bells of "Big Day". Then thoughtfulness and snaps of the insecure appears again, with "Another Satellite", "Mermaid Smiled" (the 'first person, I' boy doesn't want to grow up "...I'm locked in adult land...") and "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul". Before sights of the definite ending, with "Dying" and "Sacrificial Bonfire". That said, and even if there's a dark edge to the album, the overall feeling of Skylarking is summer, flowers, joy, love. And sex.

PS. The North Americans got a slightly different Skylarking, as "Mermaid Smiled" was replaced by the hit (and b-side to the "Grass" 12" in the UK) "Dear God", which - of course - both thrilled and shocked the USA.

Copyright © 2006 Håvard Oppøyen e-mail address

You may also want to check out our XTC articles/reviews: A Coat of Many Cupboards, Apple Venus Volume 1, Black Sea, Skylarking - 30th Anniversary Definitive Edition.

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