Nonsuch is a quintessential XTC album in all the good and bad aspects. It is an elegant and refined collection that engages our brains and lifts shadows off our dreams (IE the good aspects), and it is also an album that fared abysmally when released (IE the bad aspect). The good aspects are a merit of the band, and the bad aspect that was mentioned is attributable to the buying public and its limited sight. What makes it all the more aggravating is that the album is nothing short of masterful, and its mastery is nothing short of awe-inspiring. John Alroy cites Andy’s poetic skills, and it is hard to disagree with that. But it must be mentioned that Colin does not necessarily lag behind here – alright, a song like “The Smartest Monkey” could do with a better lyric, but the rest are up there with his best work: “My Bird Performs” is a great “happy with my lot” song, and “Bungalow” is amazing in the way it grows. While my favorite songs of his are the ones found within “Oranges & Lemons“, you can count Nonsuch as the second best.
Andy’s best moments here include “Rook” (a song he has defined as his most personal ever), the gorgeous “Wrapped In Grey” (a fitting epitaph for the band in hindsight) and “Then She Appeared”, a composition that employ an alliterative title to excellent effect.
The album opens with the MTV-popular “The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead”, a song that some of you might also be familiar with since it was covered by the Crash Test Dummies for the movie “Dumb & Dumber”. They did it satisfactorily enough, and in case you are yet to sample XTC’s version here is the video:
Besides, the CD includes the mildly-successful “Dear Madam Barnum” (yet another character sketch, and yet another compelling one) and “The Disappointed” (which was chosen as a single). “The Disappointed” in particular is a very refined song, and if the album did not include “Wrapped In Grey” it would be the record’s definitive lyrical high point.
The album’s closer is “Books Are Burning”. The song is not necessarily hailed as one of Andy’s best moments on record. I think the problem arises from the stellar company that it has in Nonsuch, and from the somehow plain sentiment it conveys – “books are burning/and you know where they burn books people are next”. Personally, I find it a good idea to paint with more colors than one. A song like “The Disappointed” is great, but if you were to apply the same approach time after time it would end up being grating. A direct outlook is more thought-provoking than the long way around when it comes to most people, and I am sure Andy knew that.
In any case, the song has some very good guitar soloing, and that makes it slightly more enticing to everybody. They even played it live at the Late show. The guitar interplay between Andy and Dave is missing (Dave is on piano here), but that does not make the song incomplete in any sense. And Dave Mattacks is on drums:
Not every song is groundbreaking, of course – “Omnibus”, “That Wave” and “Crocodile” do not necessarily mar the record but they are clearly weak links that unite the stronger ones. But that does not detract from the fact that some of the best (and more mature) music that XTC was to craft is found here. The record was also the last one in which Dave Gregory was an official band member. It was also their final record before starting a decade-long strike because Virgin withdrew “Wrapped In Grey” when it was meant to go out as a single. As I said when I reviewed “Oranges & Lemons”, this ranks alongside “Skylarking” as one of their most effective late-day albums. It might be a little too long for newcomers (it clocks at over an hour, and it has 17 tracks), but those who are already fans will be reminded exactly why they always keep the faith alive