Upon discovering XTC and reading every single article and clipping I could find about them, I intended to make “English Settlement” one of my first purchases. But chance and coincidence determined that the album would be one of the last I would actually buy. And I can frankly tell you that was not a bad thing.
XTC’s first (and only) double album ever, “English Settlement” (1982) is not for those who are just getting acquainted with the band, let alone the uninitiated. The rewards that the album yields are incommensurable, but you have to be patient in order to get to the point in which everything starts clicking divinely.
I must admit that this is the one and only XTC album in which I have a problem with Andy’s voice. Songs which are astonishingly good like “All Of A Sudden (It’s Too Late Now)” and the great album closer “Snowman” are hard to be appreciated at first because his delivery can’t fully accommodate the new styles that he began broaching by this point, and which are a clear step in a divergent direction from XTC’s previous high-powered period. (Something similar happened to Joe Strummer when The Clash began aiming for styles far removed from punk, most notably on the triple album “Sandinista!”)
Besides, almost every composition clocks at over five or six minutes. That is a common issue as far as double albums go, of course. It happens when there are enough songs to fit three sides, but not four. That is not a problem as far as “Jason And The Argonauts” or “All Of A Sudden” go, but songs like “Down In The Cockpit” and even “Melt The Guns” end up vulnerating your resistance.
If you combine these two aspects together (lengthy running times with vocals that are not that enticing) then you are facing the one stumbling block of the album. But once you have gotten over that, and you begin exploring the depth and width of each composition you will realize that as far as making a statement of artistic vitality and originality went this was the album for the band. It was no coincidence that “English Settlement” gave them their sole Top Ten hit in “Senses Working Overtime”, and that this time (contrary to what had happened previously with “Sgt. Rock“) Andy couldn’t feel prouder. The band had matured, and a big difference was made by Andy finally agreeing to record songs the way they felt like recording them, with entire naturalness, and without worrying to create only arrangements that could be replicated live (as he had always previously demanded). Ultimately, that made for their most diverse album at a point in which the concept of world music was starting to become a well-assayed genre.
Proceed to the second part of the review: an analysis of the songs in “English Settlement”.