Drums and Wires album cover
Drums and Wires



Well, this is it—post-punk’s chart moment. My absolutely favorite thing about popular music is that nobody has any idea what they are doing. In the late 70s, a bunch of British label guys raised in the 60s saw punk/new wave coming and, just as they would 15 years later with grunge, threw money at anything that looked the part (spandex pants or a safety pin attached for this version of the cake rush). So XTC ended up on Virgin, where the hits don’t ever really come and, then, against type, after years of spinning out anxious fishing reels of tin foil guitar and carousel organ, Partridge and Moulding turned out to be, of all things, an actual Lennon/McCartney-level songwriting team. The band was also at an insane pitch of musicianship for their third album, sort of untutored rock chamber music, able to sound like they were playing backwards on “That Is The Way,” even when they weren’t. The rub for bandleader Partridge is that the tall and handsome first mate Moulding wrote the big single, “Making Plans For Nigel,” but heads know that “Nigel” wouldn’t have been what it is without Partridge rearranging the drum parts and leaving it all in the walk-in freezer of his mind. Why, out of nowhere, did XTC become a chart band? While also being completely of no crew? Too suburban and nerdy for the punks and too white for the dance crowd, XTC simply never did anything right but they did it all perfectly. 12 out of 10, this one.

Sasha Frere-Jones

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