Nathan (vovat) wrote,

To a Skylark

I'm getting a bit tired of doing these album reviews, but I might as well finish out the XTC catalog. Besides, the next album on my list is my personal favorite, Skylarking.

When this album was released in the States, "Dear God" (the B-side to the Grass single) was already a hit, so it was added to the album, with "Mermaid Smiled" cut out to make room. That's the version of the album I have. More recent CD releases have restored "Mermaid" to its original place and stuck "Dear God" at the end, but I'm not entirely comfortable with that decision. After all, the original American version has "Dear God" transition directly into "Dying," so why not just keep that AND "Mermaid"? I've made a playlist that includes both songs, so that's how I'm going to review this record.

Summer's Cauldron - A great way to start the album, with heavily evocative lyrics and a sound that really gets across the feeling of a hot summer's day.

Grass - I understand that the band actually played the first two songs in a row, making the switch from one song into the next particularly effective. This, one of Colin's contributions to the album, is a fun and playful song about outdoor sex. Despite the title, it has nothing to do with marijuana, at least as far as I know.

The Meeting Place - Another Colin song about making out while outside. Must have been a popular theme in his life. This one is about a tryst outside a factory while on break. The rhythm section is quite effective on this song.

That's Really Super, Supergirl - Andy combines his love of comic books and his fear of being cheated on into this song. I've seen at least one complaint about the "don't mean to be rude" line, but I think it works with the general sarcastic mood.

Ballet for a Rainy Day - This song features amazing lyrical poetry from Andy, and the music is quite good as well.

1000 Umbrellas - As per producer Todd Rundgren's idea, the pretty song about rain segues directly into a dour song about rain. I have trouble imagining either of these songs without the other, despite their totally different moods. "Umbrellas" uses a string orchestra to great effect, and Andy's lyrics and method of singing are also quite appropriate for the mood.

Season Cycle - I might say this was one of my favorite tracks on the album, if it weren't for the fact that, when you get right down to it, MOST of them are favorites. This one is an ode to the changing seasons, using backing vocals in the style of the Beach Boys. My favorite line might well be, "Everybody says join our religion, get to Heaven. I say no thanks, why bless my soul, I'm already there."

Earn Enough for Us - If this doesn't have one of the catchiest opening guitar rifts ever, I'm a monkey's uncle. This was one of the first XTC songs that really caught my attention, both for its engaging tune and its realistically sweet lyrics.

Big Day - Colin continues the general theme of the last song with this number, which takes a realistic look at marriage, pointing out that not all marriages work out. And he's the XTC songwriter whose marriage lasted! I'd say this is one of the lesser songs on the album, but it's not at all bad.

Another Satellite - Can a song that ventures into outer space be considered part of the pastoral theme of this album? I don't see any reason why not, as nature isn't limited to Earth. This song is about the tension in Andy's relationship with his wife when Erica Wexler was making her interest in him quite clear. I've heard that Andy somewhat regrets writing the song, since he's now dating Erica, but I think it's a good reflection on a certain time in Andy's life. And the lyrics continue the poetic feeling of many of the other songs, only with stars and moons instead of seasons.

Mermaid Smiled - A fun little number that Andy based on a book about the sea that he had as a child. I believe it was cut from the earlier American versions of the album simply because it was the shortest song. (Well, actually, it looks like it's about the same length as "Dying," so maybe it was specifically because it was the shortest Andy song.)

The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul - If I were going to cut a song from the album, though, it would probably be this one. It's easily my least favorite on the record. The arrangement is pretty cool, but I think the whole thing is just too low-key when compared with the rest of the album. Andy has identified the Ruben Blades cover of this as one of the few cuts from A Testimonial Dinner that he actually likes, and I think it's possibly the only case where I think another band did a better job with an XTC song than XTC did.

Dear God - Andy has said he's not really satisfied with this song, not because it pissed people off (which it did, despite the fact that it's really pretty mild as far as songs denying the existence of God go; one thing I like about Andy is how his manner is genteel even when singing an angry or dirty song), but because he really didn't do the topic justice. Really, though, for a three-and-a-half-minute song, I think it touches the bases quite well. Personally, I'm more of a "no evidence" atheist than a "God wouldn't let all this bad stuff happen" atheist (after all, nobody ever said an almighty being would have to be NICE), but Andy makes his argument very poignantly. And I've seen believers (usually more liberal ones, obviously) make the case that the song can be taken as more ambiguous than Andy intended it to be.

Dying - A short and sad contribution from Colin.

Sacrificial Bonfire - Colin also finishes up the album, with this song about a pagan festival. The main riff is quite catchy, and the lyrics quite appropriate for the ending of this seasonally-themed record. (That's another reason I don't think sticking "Dear God" at the end really makes sense, by the way.)

While this record covers different seasons, I usually think of it as a summer album. I think that's due to a combination of the mood of the album and the fact that I bought it in the summer. That doesn't mean I can't listen to it and enjoy it at other times of the year, but I try to play it at least once every summer.
Tags: albums, xtc
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