Black Sea (XTC) – Album Review (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of the review. Don’t forget to read Part 1 for the introduction!

The original album had 11 songs, and the CD rerelease 14. If we had to summarize what XTC achieved here in one word, that would be “consistency”. The album is a true work, and in certain places it feels like a continuous track (some songs actually run into each other).

It is not an easy task picking favorites this time – as I said, there is such a sense of unity that the album is one of the most rewarding listening experiences within XTC’s catalog. What I can do is pick out personal favorites: these would be any of the singles plus the splenetic “Paper & Iron” and “Burning With Optimism’s Flames”. “Paper & Iron” has my favorite performance from Terry on any of their albums – he carries the whole song, takes it wherever he wants and finishes it with a detonation the kind Keith Moon would be proud of. For its part, “Burning With Optimism’s Flames” has a mesmerizing chorus that makes the title of the composition become more than a mere asseveration.  Rather, it turns into a true validation for pushing forwards no matter what.

Lyrically, the album is a gold mine. Themes such as human interaction (“No Language In Our Lungs”) are backed by studies on the distinctions imposed by society mainly through “paper and iron”. “Respectable Street” deals with class mentality in a demolishing fashion, one that to me resembles the building of  a sculpture with a sledgehammer. The sculpture might be created, but everybody will look at the means rather than at the end product, and wonder how it could actually be created that way, no matter how good the finished piece is (in this case, it is brilliant).

On the other hand, the “romantic” numbers (“Love At First Sight”, “Rocket From A Bottle”, the aforementioned “Burning With Optimism’s Flames) are their first truly mature songs on the subject, and they might actually be too mature for some (especially Andy’s). Shame the one that caught up was the cartoonish one (“Sgt. Rock”).

And like the previous record, this one ends on an eerie note. Only this time it is longer and packs even more punch. The song is called “Travels In Nihilon”.

The four tracks which were issued as singles are “General & Majors”, “Towers Of London”, “Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me)” and “Respectable Street”.

There is something that I must tell you about the two best singles that were culled from the album. I am talking about “Respectable Street” and “Towers Of London”. If you have a compilation like “Upsy Daisy Assortment” or “Fossil Fuel” you will have listened to “Respectable Street” in the first case, whereas both songs are featured on “Fossil Fuel”. These versions are radio edits that are incredibly lousy. “Respectable Street” is missing the introduction, the lyrics are sanitized and the vocal is different. And “Towers Of London” is missing the solo. That is one of the most horrendous pieces of edition that I have witnessed this side of the criminal abridgedment of “The Kids Are Alright” for the US release of the “My Generation” album. Snipping, snipping, snipping went the scissor man. And we find important pieces gone as a result.

The CD also has three bonus tracks that sound like they belong to “Drums And Wires“, and not “Black Sea”. The one and only of these that fits in here for moments is “Don’t Lose Your Temper”, but that is stretching it too much.

I dare say this is one of the best ways of getting acquainted with XTC. They sound confident, and play with conviction without ever sinking into indulgences of any kind. I strongly recommend it to those who like the band and haven’t listened to it, and to utter neophytes alike.

Rating: 9/10

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