England - Full Moon 248 - 11/14/16
Skylarking - 30th Anniversary Definitive Edition
This is the fourth in a series of remixed and expanded XTC albums with one CD, one additional Blue-ray disc and a thick booklet, released on the band's own label. I had big plans to write a review of the previous one last year, the double LP Oranges & Lemons, originally released in 1989. But, when I revisited the album I was very disappointed with the production. The songs are great, but it sounds much too American for an arch-English band like XTC. And the drums sound so ... 1980s. Skylarking two and a half years prior, was also recorded in the USA by an American producer. However, on this occasion it was produced by an Anglophile American, namely Todd Rundgren. A lot has been written about the ego clashes between Rundgren and the three members of the band, about Todd's lack of psychological insight, his somewhat eccentric ideas how to record the album and in particular the frustrations of second guitarist, main songsmith and vocalist Andy Partridge during the process. The band members wasn't even allowed to be present during the mixing of the album and Andy couldn't bear to listen to the album for a full year after it was released. 30 years of water has passed under the bridge since then, and that's a lot of rain water. Even Andy can nowadays admit that Todd was a fantastic arranger, even a great producer. As he says in the booklet of the new edition: 'Hell yeah, he did a great job. Even I can see that now. Thanks Todd. Time wounds all heels.'
Bassist, second most productive songsmith and vocalist Colin Moulding even left the band for a little while at the end of the recordings due to the frustrations. He adds another factor to the success of Skylarking: '... it is good because it has good songs on it!' Indeed, some of the finest from Swindon's finest. Only "That's Really Super, Supergirl" is not quite up to par with the other 13 songs of the original album, if you ask me. In addition to the stories by Andy and Colin about the bad times in America during the recordings of the album in the booklet, the two of them have written something about the origins or other matters about each of the album songs, including "Dear God" originally the B-side of the first single prior to the release of the album. The record company didn't want the song on the album, to avoid troubles with Christians, mainly on the western side of the Atlantic. Due to the success of this song on the college radio circuit in the USA, it was decided to include the song on the album Over There after all. It even made it to the A-side of a single the following year. And the song and album regained XTC's popularity in the USA, first achieved with English Settlement in 1982, but somewhat lost by the two following albums. And slowly Skylarking achieved more than respectable sales figures all over the record buying world.
In 2010, XTC relaunched the album on vinyl the way the band originally had wanted it to be, including "Dear God" and with cover art picturing female and male crotches and the pubic hairs decorated with daisies. That of course the record company had rejected. During the remastering process it was found out that the polarity of the original album wasn't correct. I don't know what this means technically, but the sound is not as good as it ought to have been, both in the bass and treble register. Both the corrected and uncorrected versions are featured on the Blue Ray disc, though they sound pretty similar to my old worn-out ears. We featured Skylarking in our retrospective series ten years ago when it turned 20 years old. So I guess it's only necessary to add what else the new edition includes: a new stereo mix and 5.1 surround mix by studio (and guitar) wizard Steven Wilson with input from Andy Partridge, four additional songs from the album sessions in both stereo and surround, instrumental versions, demo versions of all songs of the album and several additional demos, work tapes and associated recordings There are also promo films for "Dear God" and "Grass".
So, do we need yet another version of this album? As an XTC addict the obvious answer is a big YES! Too much of a good thing can be wonderful. And Skylarking is one of XTC's most wonderful albums. Btw., the original proposed album title was Down And Butter Sun Field Magic before someone came up with Skylarking. I think this was a wise choice to change.
Copyright © 2016 JP