Waxworks:some Singles 1977-1982
Virgin Records, 1982
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/24/1997
A few months ago, I wrote about how criminal it is that the British band XTC has been ignored in the United States. At the time, I offered the album Oranges And Lemons as an example of their great work.
So far as I have seen, it doesn't look like there has been an increase in sales of their albums... that, and I'm still waiting for the telegrams of eternal thanks from Virgin and Geffen Records, so we'll try again. This time, we'll take a look at a collection of their early singles, Waxworks.
In one sense, it's amazing to hear how quickly Andy Partridge and crew changed in just five short years. In 1977, XTC was definitely a new-wave band who just happened to have a pop bend to their music. (On some songs, like their first hit "This Is Pop?" it's sometimes hard to hear the pop aspect - which, at the time, was fine with the band.) But by 1982, XTC's musical style was well on its way to the sound we're used to today - though the cynicism of Partridge (as heard on the classic hit "Dear God" - not on this album - was still a few years away.)
What is amazing when you listen to Waxworks is that many of these songs you rarely - if ever - hear on the radio today. "Are You Receiving Me" from 1978 is a slab of power pop that rivals anything that bands like Blondie and Talking Heads were cranking out around the same time. One year later, "Life Begins At The Hop" proved that Partridge et al. were quickly mastering the genus of pop music. (In the defense of some radio stations, you occasionally hear this one played - one such station is Chicago's legendary WXRT-FM.)
Of course, once you master a genre, it's not much fun if you don't get to push the envelope a tad - which is just what XTC has spent almost the rest of their career doing. Prime examples of this are 1979's "Making Plans For Nigel," 1980's "Sgt. Rock Is Going To Help Me" (which I will admit is not one of my favorites on this album) and 1981's "Senses Working Overtime." Each time, XTC manages to stray out of the pop vein just enough to be cutting edge - but always finds their way back to make a song that would have fit on the radio.
Too bad that radio, for the most part, has been unwilling to give this band a chance. And what is ironic is that you could take even one of the songs from 1977 and put it on the radio today, and it would still sound fresh! A challenge to anyone in rock radio who happens onto this review: Have some courage, and program at least one of these songs! "Generals And Majors" would fit nicely into the lineup next to Pearl Jam - or what about the closer "Ball And Chain"?
Maybe the fact that XTC has constantly been rewriting the rules of pop radio is why they've never found the commercial success that is long overdue to them. Two words, kids: not fair . I rarely get passionate about any artist, but XTC is an exception. They have been slugging it out for 20 years now, with I think one Grammy nomination to their name, but they're hardly a household name that other bands have become (Talking Heads, INXS, New Order).
At the same time Waxworks came out, a sister album, Beeswax, was released - though this one was made up of B-sides to the singles, and had one more track than Waxworks. I was fortunate enough to find an import tape that had both albums on one cassette... but we'll talk about Beeswax at a later date.
Waxworks is chock full of songs that coulda, woulda, shoulda been blockbuster hits - and to the fans, they are. Fortunately, it's not too late to pay this band the respect they're owed. Pick up a dozen copies and mail them out like you would Christmas cards. Flood your radio station of your choice with requests for any of the twelve songs on this album. And, don't forget to save a copy for yourself while you're at it. Best money you'll spend on yourself in a long time.