XTC’s music is characterized by marked twists and turns, both in terms of melody and lyrics. As a new listener of the band, I always knew that any of their albums would be an experience akin to a mystery to be elucidated, and I was ready for anything. I wasn’t, however, ready for Mummer. And the fact that it was one of the last XTC albums I bought makes that all the more significant.
As you probably know, this was the first album to be released after Andy’s nervous breakdown and his decision that the band was to become a studio entity from that point onwards. It was also the first album without Terry – he left the band and moved to Australia with girlfriend Donna (and son Kai), and worked there as a drummer for some time before leaving music behind for good. Also, the ties with manager Ian Reid were to become severed and lead to an exhausting litigation shortly.
All of the above gives the album more than a slight excuse to be a weird exercise. The problem is that the shift from the previous records is too abrupt – there is a profound Eastern influence at play, and eccentricities run rife. Andy commented at the time “I am becoming like Howard Hughes, only without the money”.
I would like to discuss the best music found here first. That includes the singles (segregated on the first side) which are “Great Fire”, “Wonderland” and “Love On A Farmboy’s Wages”. “Great Fire” was recorded and added at the insistence of Virgin of having “hit material” on the LP. It is easily the one song where the Eastern inflections are put to the best use. On the other hand, “Love On A Farmboy’s Wages” is a very realized acoustic interlude, and one of Andy’s best character sketches ever.
“Wonderland” is Colin’s contribution along with the ho-hum “In Loving Memory Of A Name” and “Deliver Us From The Elements”. I must say it stand as one of my favorite tunes of his. I particularly like the sweet way in which bitterness is put across, and the layered lyrical approach at the end works splendidly.
Although I like it, I am uncertain how wise it was placing “Beating Of Hearts” at the beginning of the album. It is probably their most bizarre moment on vinyl this side of the Dukes, and while it sets the scene for the rest of the album it will send anybody who was caught offguard to the dentist. Incidentally, that was the last XTC song Terry drummed on along with “Wonderland”.
The weird factor also has its way on “Human Alchemy” and (to a lesser extent) “Me And The Wind”. They are not bad songs under any concept. What they are is just too trying on the listener, and when that includes die-hards then there is something to worry about.
Conversely, the album’s closer is not only accessible but very good. It is named “Funk Pop a Roll”, it is loud, and Andy crucifies the industry so vehemently that at the end of the song he sings “Bye, bye” as if he knew he would never be allowed in a recording studio after having set a song like that to vinyl. On a personal note, it is one my favorite XTC moments on record.
Proceed to part 2 for an overview of the reissued CD and the overall conclusion.