Getting down to reviewing White Music (XTC’s very first album, released in 1978) is not an easy task. It is impossible to wipe from your mind the volume, complexion and quality of the work they were to eventually produce, but even if their whole oeuvre disappeared and this was all that remained, it would be difficult to be over enthusiastic.
The most immediate problem is that one of the two songwriters (namely Colin) has not yet developed acceptable composing skills. “Do What You Do” and “Set Myself On Fire” do nothing for me, and for most people I know for that matter. It is obvious that Colin was trying to do a kind of Andy act, mainly because he was aware he still had a reasonable catching up to do. Andy said as much eventually, and when Colin realized finding his voice would be not only more fulfilling but more enjoyable for everybody he was to go from strength to strength.
Andy’s composition are a different story, of course. He serves the phenomenal “Radios In Motion” as a resounding way of opening fire, and the two songs that achieved single status (“Statue Of Liberty” and “This Is Pop”) still deservedly find their way into band compilations. Note, though, that the single version of “This Is Pop” was a different one. It was recorded anew and remixed by Mutt Lange. Actually, most compilations include this rerecording – it seems to me that the original version is only found here.
A very compelling rendering of “Statue Of Liberty”:
And of course… this is pop! Yeah, yeah!
The CD comes with the band’s first EP as a bonus. It is placed right in the middle, and Andy’s early obsession with American comics is manifested from the word go. “Science Friction” was to be XTC’s first single ever, and it hails back to Andy’s early bands such as Clark Kent. He later said he had to get that out of his system. It is a good thing he did, I can tell you.
Finally, the original album includes a cover tune – Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower”. I have never been too keen on it, but I am ready to admit that Andy’s harmonica and stuttered vocals do make you stop and listen. But I doubt you will endure the 6:00 minutes it amounts to with the same degree of interest.
By way of conclusion, XTC’s debut is not something to go out of your way for. I actually only have it because it was part of a CD lot I purchased through eBay. To me, the only real keeper besides the two singles is “Radios In Motion”. Other songs do have their moments – “Neon Shuffle” and “She’s So Square” have more than a fair share of them, actually – but this album is under no concept the best introduction to the Swindon outfit. If you want a “good” early album you have to go for “Drums And Wires”. And (of course) any album from that point onwards is a “good” buy as well. But White Music does not gives you an accurate idea of how far they could go, and how far they could take you.