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coverpic flag England - Full Moon 172 - 09/23/10

Speakers' corner
XTC's Black Sea

Following up our retro scope series of 2006 and 2007 - here's the New Speakers' corner! Luna Kafé's focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings, absolute milestones, or other curious incidents from the historic shelves/vaults of rock. This moonth the Lunar spotlight has captured a 30 year old, from the first wave of new wave pop, when Swindon played the premier pop league. The Black Sea is the inland sea between Europe and Asia, between Turkey and Russia, connected with the Aegean Sea by the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara, and the ardanelles. Or: Black Sea is XTC's fourth.

coverpic XTC
Black Sea

Aaah, those were the days. 12 September it was 30 years since the release of Black Sea, by Swindon's greatest and bravest sons. It was the first XTC LP I bought when it was brand new, wrapped in a green paper bag and all...

coverpic Keyboardist Barry Andrews was long gone and this was the second album of the quartet Andy Partridge (vocals, guitar and synth), Colin Moulding (vocals and bass), Dave Gregory (guitars, keyboards and vocals) and Terry Chambers (drums, synth and vocals). The band had had a taste of success with the single "Making Plans For Nigel" (released 31 years ago this month) from the previous album Drums And Wires and were in for more. The new album still offers sharp and punky guitars and the songs are mainly up-tempo, a bit flustered if you like. XTC is not yet the Beatles of the 1980s, most of the melodies are not quite catchy and quirky enough. The only song that really stands out and bloom in the pop vein is "No Language In Our Lungs" where the tempo is turned down a bit, the guitars are mellower than usual and the melody is of the classic, cunning kind that was to become XTC's trademark later on.

But there is lot of potential here, in other songs almost there: I once visited Swindon one grey and rainy Saturday in late October. There was no sign of Mr. Partridge, Moulding & company, no sign of any "Generals And Majors", nor "Sgt. Rock" and there was no "Love At First Sight". I bought an XTC Live In Concert At The Beeb album in a shopping centre (it turned out I already owned a copy, but a friend back home was happy about it) and went to the County Ground to see Swindon Town win 2-0 against my team. I went back to the "Towers Of London" soon after the match. But at least I had wandered round the outskirts of the city centre early in the afternoon and had a glimpse of the life of Swindon's "Respectable Street". Well, all those songs mentioned above were released as singles and "Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me)" was slightly more successful than "Making Plans For Nigel". But none of them quite reached the level of "No Language In Our Lungs". Why the latter was not picked up by the Virgin staff as a potential hit might have something to do with the pessimistic lyrics: 'But nobody can say what they really mean to say, And the impotency of speech came up and hit me that day'.

They re-recorded "Respectable Street" for the single version with a few changed words so that BBC might play it.
'Now they talk about abortion
In cosmopolitan proportions to their daughters
As they speak of contraception
And immaculate receptions on their portable
Sony entertainment centres.'

was substituted by:
'Now they talk about absorption
In cosmopolitan proportions to their daughters
As they speak of child prevention...'

And, later in the song: 'Now she speaks about diseases, And which sex position pleases best her old man' with: 'Now she speak about diseases, And which proposition pleases best her old man.'

But of course they got no airplay anyway. XTC's attempts to reach the seventh heaven of popular music did not succeed at that stage. Black Sea does not include the band's greatest moments, but shows a band in transition. It's filled to the rim with shapes of things to come!

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You may also want to check out our XTC articles/reviews: A Coat of Many Cupboards, Apple Venus Volume 1, Skylarking - 30th Anniversary Definitive Edition, Skylarking.

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