80's, Dissonant, Epic, Experimental, Happy, Intimist, Melancholic, Psychedelic, Punk
"XTC's 4th album, "Black Sea" is an ode to quality English rock, rich in sophisticated melodies."
ADRIANSTORK (15.08.2023)  
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By the end of the '70s, XTC, buoyed by the success of its interplanetary hit 'Making Plans For Nigel', was paradoxically at the end of its tether. The band had been relentlessly touring and promoting around the world. Further setbacks could have sounded the death knell for the caravan of the exhausted. Colin Moulding, author of several of the band's chart hits, could legitimately have challenged Andy Partridge for the leadership position, and the band, urged on by its record company, might have been tempted to copy the 'Nigel' recipe. But this would be to misunderstand XTC and the complicity of its musicians. If this song has enabled XTC to expand its fanbase and renew the confidence of its employer Virgin, the Swindon-based band will continue to carve out its own path whatever the cost. In fact, Andy Partridge was only half-joking when he called this new album "Working Under Pressure".

As with their previous opus, the band continue their quest for pop sophistication. Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham are once again on board. The latter brought the deep drum sound that had become a hallmark of the band. The guitars are sharper. The vocals of the two singers are complementary, with Andy Partridge's voice fitting seamlessly into his colleague Colin Moulding's songs, and vice versa. Right from the start, the listener is plunged into a colorful melodic world with 'Respectable Street' (which will have a tragic fate, as we shall see later). Colin Moulding creates a new pop nugget at the opposite end of the spectrum from his previous success: 'Generals And Majors' is a bouncy military march. As if to prove that he's also capable of penning unstoppable tunes, Andy Partridge has written a silky 'Towers Of London' that deserved to become a hit. Even a slightly lighter track like 'Sgt. Rock' (inspired by American superheroes) has its dose of zest. Paradoxically, it is this "very bad" track - according to its author - that will achieve the best chart progression (16th).

This approach does not mean that XTC's spirit has mellowed. Over a heavy, deceptively joyful rhythm, 'Living In Another Cuba' sounds like Talking Heads reggae. 'Burning With Optimism's Flames' sees Andy Partridge return to schizophrenic vocals on the verses, but this time in favor of a dazzling chorus. But it's with the long, oppressive 'Travels In Nihilon' that the quartet rediscovers its sense of experimentation, this tempestuous track being shot through with percussive guitar solos and salvos from Terry Chambers. 

Born in a storm, "Black Sea" is by no means a sea of torment, an oil slick that would have submerged XTC's ambitions. On the contrary, this is the first album to show the quintessence of this glittering band. The album reached number 16 in the Charts, just before Kate Bush's "Never For Ever". Despite this good news, Andy Partridge soon went under. During a concert in Paris, when he was experiencing frequent bouts of existential panic, he suddenly stopped playing and left the stage in the middle of "Respectable Street", which opened the set... Will XTC recover? More in the next issue.
- Official website

01. Respectable Street – 3:38
02. Generals and Majors – 4:05
03. Living Through Another Cuba – 4:44
04. Love at First Sight – 3:08
05. Rocket from a Bottle – 3:30
06. No Language in Our Lungs – 4:53
07. Towers of London – 5:24
08. Paper and Iron (Notes and Coins) – 4:17
09. Burning with Optimism's Flames – 4:16
10. Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me) – 3:57
11. Travels in Nihilon – 7:04

Andy Partridge: Chant / Guitares / Claviers
Colin Moulding: Basse
Dave Gregory : Guitares / Claviers
Terry Chambers: Batterie
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