Pride Lands Online


A review of Black Sea by XTC

"Black Sea refines Drums and Wires' approach. Heedless of fashion, XTC builds up the music with multiple strains, undanceable rhythms, intricate interplay, and gloriously literate lyrics." (The Trouser Press Record Guide, 3rd edition)

Dance! Dance! Dance! Dave is hunkered down at his desk, copying away at parts for an orchestra piece. XTC's Black Sea is on the turntable. How can he sit there like a lump with all those jumpy tunes going down? How can that spaghetti-for-brains from Trouser Press say the album has "undanceable rhythms?" We're swirling, bouncing, shimmying, just rockin' and rollin' to the great tunes. I'm shaking a leg with Holly, Nick is tripping tootsies with Nora, and Renfield spins like a top in the middle of the commotion. Don't stop! It's hot! Don't stop!

XTC is one four-aces band. They've got some truly amazing platters, like Go2 (totally experimental off-the-wall gonzo), Drums and Wires, The Big Express, Mummer, and Skylarking. Heck, even the overstuffed English Settlement and the ultra-nervous White Music (with its loonybin version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower") have their great moments. But Black Sea is their best one, lions and lionesses!

First song up is "Respectable Street." Uh...hey wait just a dang-blang minute here! What's with that bogus Rudy Vallee vocal imitation and slow, snoring piano and crackly sound like a ratty old 78? We wanna party here, not cut some Z's! Then it starts. An itchy chromatic guitar riff. Drums rumbling awake like an angry dinosaur. Ironic lyrics about suburbia and snobbishness and safeness delivered with the peculiar yelping vocal tone that this band often uses (Buncha hyenas!). Even a taste of Beach Boys vocal styling in the bridge. Yeah, that intro was there to be made fun of. Hee hee! Gotcha!

Then comes "Generals and Majors," one of two dandy cuts written by bass player Colin Moulding. An airy, jumping beat with tweedling, helium-filled organ contrasts just peachy with lyrics about army brass who "seem so unhappy 'less they've got a war." Heh--military intelligence. Nick would say it's an oxymoron. I just say "Moron!"

A lickety-split galloping beat. Smart alecky political lyrics--the Bay of Pigs fiasco can happen again in best Cold War fashion while England sits back helplessly on its butt. A guitar hook of dubious tonal implications, as Nick might say. And a great arrangement with electronic oinking pigs and arcing bomb whistles thrown into the crazy salad bowl. Renfield makes hand-grenade tossing motions to the bomb tracer sounds, and I snort like a sooey-meister along with the record (Gee, where's Pumbaa when you need him?). Yeah, "Living Through Another Cuba" is a hoot and a half.

Oh yeah! Now here's one grabby funk beat. The guitars go along for the ride, but the chords are a little pudgier with notes than you might guess. You can really shake your booty to this one. "Love at first sight/What they wanted" DAT-da-do-DAT! "Ay-o, yeah!" Lots of wise guy lyrics in this tune about bad new love. A climbing chromatic bridge, and back we go again. Another Colin Moulding goodie!

All the rest of these ditties are by Andy Partridge. He, Elvis Costello, and Robyn Hitchcock were the hottest songwriters ever produced by the British punk/pub movement, at least to my fuzzy ears. "Rocket from a Bottle" is positively giddy, with racing drums, nervous throbbing guitar and bass, and just a dash of squealing organ. Perfect for words about being newly in love. The flip side of the preceding song, maybe?

A few real clear influences get trotted out in the last song on Side One. Take psychedelic-period Beatles and put it through a fun-house veg-o-matic of rhythmic stutters and bizarro lyrics and attitude. Bake to a crispy brown and you've got "No Language in Our Love." It's as close to a slow song as this album has--but with the heavy scoring and rhythmic squiggles, it'll never be mistaken for stinko glop like Chicago's "Color My World."

Dave gets up from the copy desk to flip the record. "Having fun, you guys?" he says. Boy, I'll say! Don't stop! He puts on Side Two. Dance! I'm shaking a leg with Nora. It's hot! Nick is tripping tootsies with Holly. Dance! And Renfield wobbles like a compass in the middle of the frenzy. Don't stop! Dance!

We make pile-driving motions, like we've got sledgehammers and picks, to "Towers of London." Again, a little slower song, but no cuddlekins in this stuff. More later Beatles influences sneak through the heavy, driving beat, especially in the few vocal harmony snippets. Critical lyrics about the price the little guys paid in putting up Britain's buildings and railroads. Great stuff!

Then: CHAK-a-cha CHAK-a-cha CHAK-a UNK-CHUNK, CHAK-a-cha CHAK-a-cha CHAK-a UNK-CHUNK (lather-rinse-repeat liberally). Rev up the motors again to warp-speed with "Paper and Iron." A nervously angry song about the nine-to-five grind and the forces that keep people stuck in it. "Is this anybody's Golden Age?" Sums it up nice. Nice chorus, too:

Working for paper and for iron
Work for the right to keep my tie on
Working for paper and for iron
Work for the unicorn and LION!
Hey, how can you not like a song with lions mentioned in it, right? This tune drives right through to your size-tens. How can anybody sit still listening to it? No way this leonine cowpoke can, for sure.

Next cut is "Burning with Optimism's Flames." This song is pure gonzo. Almost a hyper-speed rap to start (before anybody ever heard of rap!). A beat you can't corral inside a fence. Then suddenly, an almost conventional melody snippet to start the chorus--and then, it's off in the chromatic ozone for the bridge. It almost doesn't fly--but it does, big time.

"Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me)." Boy, this one is fun! A loping, yet walnut-crunching beat and a slowed-down version of punk football chanting: DAT-da-da-dah "Hey! Rah! Rah!" DAT-da-da-dah "Hey! Rah! Rah!" We all shout and clap our paws each time it comes back around. "Visceral fun," Nick calls out. "Gets ya right in the gut, huh," I yell out to him with a grin. Cutting, ironic lyrics about a delusional lonely guy who can't get the gals and wants to model his moves after Sgt. Rock (must be a TV guy or something) who gets all the babes he wants by treatin' 'em lousy and puttin' 'em in their place. Shee-yeah, right! This loser will be dating his computer on Saturday nights if he takes that advice to the lovelorn, lemme tell ya. Even the dumbest lion knows that approach won't work for gettin' females and keepin' 'em interested in ya.

We're on the last song now, "Travels in Nihilon." A crazy, manic drumming and bassline fury races under a long-breathed vocal line. We swirl like never before, singing along with the tag-ending to the chorus: "Wa-a-wa-a-wa-a-wa-a-war-ri-or-a-war-ri-or-a-war-ri-or." The last song! It'll end soon. Dance like crazy now! Don't stop! It's great! Now, I'm dancing with Nick! How did that happen? Holly is tripping tootsies with Nora! It's nuts, but drive to the end! Don't stop! And Renfield whirls like a dervish in the middle of the maelstrom! Dance! Dance! Dance!


(transcribed by David Cleary)

{Submitted by Dave C.}
{HTML by Thumper}

The Pride Lands Online Multi-Media Archive


by XTC

record label: Epic
catalog number: PE38150

List of songs

Respectable StreetTowers of London
Generals and MajorsPaper and Iron (Notes and Coins)
Living Through Another CubaBurning with Optimism's Flames
Love at First Sight Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me)
Rocket from a BottleTravels in Nihilon
No Language in Our Lungs

All songs by Andy Partridge, except "Generals and Majors" and "Love at First Sight" by Colin Moulding. All songs copyright 1980 by Virgin Music.