Skylarking (XTC) – Album Review (Part 1)

The Front Cover. A Risque One Andy Had Drawn Was Rejected.

The Front Cover. A Risque One Andy Had Drawn Was Rejected.

Skylarking was the album that managed to revive XTC’s career, a career that was at an all-time low ever since they had quitted touring. The two preceding albums (“Mummer” and “The Big Express”) had vanished without trace, and the predominant sentiment regarding the Swindon outfit was one of apathy.

Virgin was concerned about that, and proposed pairing the band with a producer whose ideas could complement XTC’s very own and redound to a creative goldrush. The choice of producer fell on Todd Rundgren, the American musician and producer known then for his work with Utopia. Todd was a no-nonsense person, and the relationship with Andy was to prove nightmarish from start to finish. This was to take an eventual toll on the band, and Colin actually decided to leave XTC as the sessions were climaxing.

Todd’s role was not just that of producer: he rearranged some of the songs (most notably “The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul”), and he even had the final word on what was included and what was left off the many demos that were submitted to him. Since he had such an ample collection of blueprints to choose from fans rightly joke today, claiming that we could have had two Skylarkings.

In addition to that, he worked out a concept for the whole record: it was to take the shape of a passing day, and while the songs at the beginning had a sort of carefree aura the ones at the end were more meditative. A bit like Kahlil Gibran’s poem “The Life Of Love”.

How do you think Andy took to all this control over a process that he believes is privative to the one who composes the actual songs, something akin to a divine right? I will give you another hint: Rundgren was as headstrong as him. Taking all the above information into account, the answer is so obvious that there is nothing left to be said. Andy would eventually name “Skylarking” as the most difficult album he recorded alongside “Go 2” (owing to the Barry Andrews vibe) and “Nonsuch” (because of the complicated professional relationship with producer Gus Dudgeon).

Of course, we know by now that the most trying and demanding circumstances foster creativity like nothing else. Was that the case with “Skylarking”? Read Part 2 in order to see what came up from such a salad of frustrations and rocky professional relationships.