Wednesday, March 3, 2010

XTC - Fossil Fuel (Disc 1)

Release Date: September, 1996

★★★★★ Tracks:

Science Friction

Statue of Liberty

Making Plans for Nigel

Love at First Sight

I generally don't like "Greatest Hits" collections. I'm the meticulous type of person who likes to hear an album in order and in its entirety, at least for the first couple of listens. I just don't feel I am properly digesting the material otherwise. A collection of singles not only cuts an artist's work in to bits and pieces, but it's also not often ordered chronologically, and when a band has such an extensive catalogue like that of XTC's, spanning decades, it's nearly impossible to pinpoint what they sounded like during a specific period in time. So when I found out that XTC's Fossil Fuel was in chronological order, covering 31 tracks from 1977-1992, I ignored my disdain for an album's worth of singles and decided it would be the best place to start.

And I wasn't disappointed. I can't believe it took me 29 years to try out any of XTC's music! Not many in the U.S. have, as their success in the UK, Canada, and Australia has not carried over to the States. Other than "Senses Working Overtime" (Mandy Moore's a fan, and covered the track on her 2003 album Coverage) peaking at 10 on the charts, none of their singles cracked the top 10 until 1989, when "Mayor of Simpleton" climbed to #1 on the Rock charts. I'm not sure why, either. Almost every song on Fossil Fuel's first disc is incredibly catchy. The song I most recognize and one of my favorites is "Making Plans for Nigel." It holds up infinitely more than most the singles hitting the charts in 1979, like "My Sharona" and "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy." We also get to see an early music video here, and a very odd one at that. How much fun is it to sing along to this?

The first three tracks on Fossil Fuel are taken from XTC's first LP, White Music, and they're phenomenal. I haven't heard the whole album yet, but these songs sound like the UK's answer to the Talking Heads, and a collection of tracks Hot Hot Heat have been mimicking since their existence. My favorite of the bunch is "Statue of Liberty." It was their first ever single, but banned in the UK soon after its release because of its suggestive lyrics. Or I guess, suggestive in terms of 1978:

"I leaned right over to kiss your stoney book.
A little jealous of the ships with whom you flirt.
A billion lovers with their cameras snap to look.
And in my fantasy I sail beneath your skirt."

The other track I want to mention is "Love at First Sight," which comes from their fourth album Black Sea, released in 1980. It's just such a great single, with great guitar hooks that became so prevalent over the course of my listening to Fossil Fuel. It's a song like this that bands like Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, and the Killers were attempting to recreate during the 80's revival phenomenon a few years ago. None of them could create one quite as good though:

The period covering 1977-1980 has turned out to be one of my favorites for rock'n'roll. And just recently discovering XTC only adds to a collection of artists who were putting out some incredibly innovative music at the time. Not only was punk rock gaining momentum, but it was a time when the seeds for alternative music were planted; when an undercurrent of really creative music was pushing its way to the surface, and when much of mainstream music had become entirely too reliant on marketing -- a theme that we've become all too familiar with.

Disc 2 is up next.

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