February 11th, 2004


I am a consumer sucker

I have always been a person who has developed singular crushes on various recording artists, and from approximately 1981 to 1988 'the' group was XTC. When I first bought "English Settlement" I was floored by the quality of the songs, lyrics and performance, and went back and bought everything they ever recorded.

As pop groups go, they had a pretty good run -- they made 9 superlative records before they (in my opinion) wandered away from greatness with 'Nonsuch' in 1992.

Anyway, last night I had a Best Buy Gift Card burning a hole in my pocket, and what grabbed me was the Japanese Limited Edition 24 Bit Remastered version of "Black Sea." They duplicated the original LP packaging with the sort of obsession with detail that Gibson wrote about in "Pattern Recognition": As it was originally released, the album had a normal cardboard sleeve contained in a green paper outer sleeve labeled '-XTC- Black Sea'. Not only does this version come in the green sleeve, the inside CD cover is made of heavier than normal cardboard -- so as to be more like an LP sleeve, and the CD comes in a translucent plastic inner sleeve, just like the original vinyl.

But that's not all! You also get a facsimile of the original lyric sheet, plus a more legible lyric sheet in English and Japanese. In a world where increasingly, music is purely digital ephemera, this CD is an object worth possessing.

The remastering job is excellent -- the original Virgin CD release was done in the late 80s and had that brittle, tinny high end so prevelant at the time. Now it sounds more like the original vinyl, only without surface noise and scratches.

The music is great (naturally) -- "No Language In Our Lungs" manages to make the very intellectual conceit of the lyrics sound urgent and emotional, "Towers Of London" is a Beatles-esque tribute to the 'never never navvies' who built the landmark architecture of the title. "Burning With Optimism's Flames" and "Rocket From a Bottle" are too-clever-by-half love-song lyrics wedded with brilliant arrangments. "Travels In Nihilon" is a pounding, industrial piece that is startlingly original, in a genre by itself.

So it's smarty-pants pop, so Andy Partridge's singing is sometimes best described as caterwauling. So what. This is what I was listening to when everyone else was developing their New Order fixations, and I love it.