XTC – ” Nonsuch ” Released 27th April 1992

Posted: April 28, 2017 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
Tags: , , , , , ,

Bookended by label standoffs, “Nonsuch” found the band XTC trying new things. There was a new producer, a new drummer, and a newfound interest orchestral settings.  XTC’s relationship with Virgin Records had also declined due to lack of success in America, which then completely fell apart after Nonsuch arrived on April 27th, 1992.

They’d struggled mightily to even get the project underway. “Basically, we were (messed) around a lot by various people,” Colin Moulding said in 1992. “A guy at the record company did his darndest to stop us making a record – why, I don’t know. Every time we came up with songs, he’d say, ‘Oh, there are no singles here, fellas. Go back and write some more.’ He did that too many times, and we said, ‘Look, take him off the case.’”

There followed a lengthy search for a producer. “Hugh Padgham and Steve Lillywhite, whom we had worked at the beginning with, had in mind to produce the album – but finally, Lillywhite had no time for it,” Andy Partridge in 1992. “We contacted John Paul Jones, but he was too expensive. Then Bill Bottrell, the engineer of Bad, was ready to come in our homes with his studio. But the deal did not work.”

The arrival of former drummer of Fairport Convention Dave Mattacks, , led XTC to producer Gus Dudgeon. Mattacks had heard that Dudgeon – most famous for his collaborations with Elton John wanted to work with XTC. That opened up new creative vistas: The sessions found Partridge adding dollops of strings, even as the band tightened their focus on introspective pop.

“We hadn’t messed much with the orchestral thing [until Nonsuch], said Partridge “At least now I got to, if not exorcise a huge ghost from me, I certainly got to give the beast a name. Should I wish to kill it, it certainly would be easier for me to kill it now. But for the time being, I certainly got something out of my system that has been bugging me for a long time – which is non-rock-and-rock-flavored meal.”

The results, typically quite lush and measured, fit somewhere between the pastoral quirks of 1986’s “Skylarking”  with the sleek modernity of 1989’s Oranges and Lemons, though Nonsuch was often far more reflective than either. Andy Partridge was gaining an ever-growing appreciation for accompaniment, and song construction and it showed.

‘Oranges & Lemons’ was XTC’s biggest album and the three-year gap for the follow-up was the longest in the band’s history to that point. ‘Nonsuch’ appeared in 1992 and was well worth the wait. It still stands as one of the band’s strongest all-around albums. From the joyous opener, “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” to the closer “Books Are Burning,” ‘Nonsuch’ is packed with gems.

“There was no full conscious decision to make it wildly different from the last,” Moulding  “But it was a different studio, different musicians a different drummer, different producer. It’s going to come out a little different.”

Not that this 17-song set couldn’t rock, as evidenced by the quirky “Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead.” XTC’s softer, detailed musings on “The Disappointed,” “ My Bird Performs” and “Holly Up On Poppy” however, were far more representative of Nonsuch.

Partridge and Moulding constructed the songs separately, as per usual, then worked things out live with long-time multi-instrumentalist Dave Gregory and the newly arrived Mattacks. “We never collaborate,” said Moulding “Each person puts his little prints on them, but we don’t write together. There’s a lot of freedom to do what each of us likes with the other’s songs, however.”

Despite it all, they ended up – once again – coming away with something that was quintessentially XTC. Fans back home seemed to get that. “The Disappointed,” like Nonsuch, crept into the U.K. Top 40. Unfortunately, “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” stalled at No. 71, just before the next conflict opened up with Virgin Records.

Andy Partridge wanted to release “Wrapped In Grey” as the third single from Nonsuch, and even shot a video for the song. XTC’s label, however, vetoed the idea. Before it was over, XTC had called a strike against Virgin, hoping to extricate themselves once and for all from a relationship that dated back to 1977. As the standoff dragged on, they remained inactive for most of the ’90s. In fact, XTC didn’t emerge again until 1999’s similarly orchestral Apple Venus Vol. 1 – and, by then, Dave Gregory was being eased out the door.

Even back in 1992, Gregory seemed resigned to sitting by as pitched disagreements unfolded. “If push comes to shove, it must be done Andy’s way,” Gregory  “I’ve learned to live with it, and it usually bears fruit. Andy always knows what he wants; there are never any grey areas. But occasionally the fur does fly.”

Andy Partridge – Vocals, electric guitars & percussion
Colin Moulding – Bass guitar
Dave Gregory – Electric 6- & 12-string guitars & synthesizer
Dave Mattacks – Drums, percussion & sitar sample

1. The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead 0:00
2. My Bird Performs 5:02
3. Dear Madam Barnum 8:53
4. Humble Daisy 11:42
5. The Smartest Monkeys 15:19
6. The Disappointed 19:37
7. Holly Up on Poppy 23:00
8. Crocodile 26:05
9. Rook 30:02
10. Omnibus 33:49
11. That Wave 37:10
12. Then She Appeared 40:44
13. War Dance 44:36
14. Wrapped In Grey 47:58
15. The Ugly Underneath 51:45
16. Bungalow 55:36
17. Books Are Burning 58:25

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