on 22 November 2005
Have revisited Skylarking for the first time for several years (upgrading music to iPod generation)I am moved to write my first ever Amazon review.
Skylarking it certainly a contendor for "greatest album ever written award". Lyrically perfect - gorgeous vignettes of everyday life devoid of any cynicism. Musically lovely as well - almost pastoral, so subtle, superbly evokes the mood of the lyrics.
Andy Partridge in fine voice - is there a more distinctive voice in rock and pop? And two fine songwriters - Colin Moulding's contributions may be fewer than Andy's but I have alway felt he has the songwriting edge. Anyone who wrote Making Plans for Nigel and Majors & Generals deserves instant induction in a music Hall of Fame.
Overall - I don't think I have ever been as moved by listening to an album as I was when I replayed this last month. No other band gets close to XTC for wearing their heart on their sleeve.
So go on world, buy it now....
There's a lot of hyperbole about how wonderful this album is on these pages and id just like to concur with every thing that's been written., apart from the guy wittering on about the sound. All I can say to that is it sounds fine to me. This is an incredible album and if some dastardly person ever held a white hot hat pin to my eyeball and demanded I name the best XTC album I'd probably plump for this one.....or maybe "English Settlement", any way this is one of the great pop albums of all time. The fact it sold so poorly is a folly so preposterous it would take Stephen Hawking to get his head round it.
The interesting thing about "Skylarking" is that it was recorded in a fractious atmosphere with Andy Partridge and producer Todd Rundgren getting on about as well as a mongoose and a snake. Perfectionist Partridge found Rundgrens more spontaneous recording methods irksome and this led to a major fall out with Colin Moulding as well . That the result is an album as musically rich and erudite as "Skylarking " suggests more bands should record their music in an environment of implacable hostility.
Opener "Summers Cauldron" ushers in on a miasmic mix of birdsong, chirruping crickets and wobbling keyboards segueing into "Grass" which features luxurious exotic textured keyboards and could be a sly nod to drug use or the salacious ditty it appears to be. Mouldings "Meeting Place" starts with ominous clanking industrial noises, utilised because the band didn't have a drummer at the time and is a sublime atmospheric pop song. The way the melody dips at the end of each line is like that hollowed out stomach feeling you get on a roller coaster. The orchestral stomper "Ballet for a Rainy Day" revels in its vertiginous string arrangement, as indeed does "! 000 Umbrellas" a witty break up song. "Season Cycle" asks big questions about nature and omnipotence in a sparkling pop nugget while the vivacious "Earn enough for us" decries the daily grind and uncertainty that family life can bring in a spree of exuberant guitar." Big Day" is a mournful take on a wedding day but "Another Satellite" is a wonderful slightly queasy song with a heartbreaking middle eight and acute personal lyrics. "Mermaid Smiled" enters jazzier waters with twinkling sun dappled percussion. The style is switched again for "The Man Who Sailed around His Soul" which features a doo wop finger clicking rhythm and chunky double bass. The chilly mordant "Dying" is a hushed lament on age and mortality and sees Moulding proclaiming "I don't want to die like you" to the unfortunate subject of the song. More lush orchestration features on "Sacrificial Bonfire" a dramatic and stately conclusion to this album originally.
However a new track has been added since it's re-issue in 2001 and praises the lord, pun very much intended it's the fantastic "Dear God" Partridges acidic tirade against the existence of a supposed divine being who allows so much pain and misery in his name. The opening verse is sung by a young girl before Partridge enters the fray getting increasingly more vexatious until his proclamation that "I can't believe in you"
If god does exist than I'd like to thank him very much for the existence of this album, if he doesn't, and I'm with Andy Partridge on that one, then I'll just thank anyone involved with this superb album. Cheers
on 15 March 2008
It's late on a Saturday night, and my 11 year old daughter Hayley wants to tell you exactly why should this buy this beautiful album. Take it away Hayley........
wow theirs a lot to say about this ablum were should i start, i have to say my favourite song on the album is possbley Earn enough for us and Meeting place i think them to song are the best, but i wouldn't not give the whole album a miss i like all the songs it just them two i think are cool. In the album some of the songs are joined togther like the firsts song plays and it goes dircertey in to the second song i think that's very clever. how i got in to XTC is weird, my dad got this book called 1001 albums you should hear before you die and it had XTC in it their was two of the XCT albums in their, thier was skylarking and the reading on that was fantastic and their was apple venus witch had a really good coment to it, so my dad got apple venus and i listened to it and i said do XTC do any more albums and he said yes so i have listen to a couple of their albums but skylarking hits the top on my list of 1 to 10 and if you dont like or listen or buy skylarking than theirs no point buying the rest of the XTC albums!!
And because skylarking is the BEST I GIVE IT A 5 RATING!!
So there you go - a genuine untampered with review from Hayley. I want to review this album myself so badly, but I would trip up on the superlatives. It is a recording of very great beauty, and if an 11 year old feels moved to review, then that is surely to it's favour, 20 or more years after the original release. Listen, Learn And Love.
on 29 February 2008
Ever wondered what Astral Weeks would have sounded like if performed by Elvis Costello and produced by George Martin? If the answer is yes, then look no further than this album. Skylarking is, without question, the apex of XTC's mid-80's studio period, in which the band traded jerky-new-wave rhythms and bitter lyrics for more delicate, multi-layered arrangements and err... bitter lyrics! They also temporarily relocated to New York to work with producer Todd Rungren who persuaded the band that the songs they'd written whilst still back home in Swindon would make one hell of a concept album and thus, set about re-structuring the set-list to form the backbone of a loose narrative in which a young couple spend a summer's day languishing in a field making plans for their life ahead... or something along those lines.
As with other albums of this ilk, such as The Kink's Village Green Preservation Society, The Divine Comedy's Promenade and, more recently, The Streets' A Grand Don't Come for Free, the actual concept is hardly coherent, jumping from location to location almost at will whilst looking at certain themes that deviate from the story at hand. None of this is particularly important though, as the fourteen songs that made up the original album stand as some of the very best compositions in the whole of the XTC canon. However, it's not just the songwriting that is at its peak here, but the album on the whole that is wonderfully performed and produced, with the range of instrumentation creating a real atmosphere that compliments the subject matter perfectly. As they had done with earlier albums like Mummer and The Big Express, the songs manage to capture a sense of pastoral tranquillity, whilst also pushing the boundaries of what the band could do on a purely creative level.
As a result of this, Skylarking sounds worlds away from stuff like Drums & Wires and Black Sea, sounding like The Beatles probably would if they'd still been making albums in the mid-80's. Don't believe me? Take a listen to the first two tracks and marvel at how the Andy Partridge composition Summer's Cauldron moves so effortlessly and invisibly into the Colin Moulding piece Grass; with gentle instrumental flourishes and evocative lyrics merging with constant sound samples of twittering birds, buzzing insects and a gentle caressing breeze, all moving gracefully from speaker to speaker as the two songs progress. As album introductions go, it's up there with the greatest and shows the two songwriters, creatively, at their very best. On the whole, the credits for the album are split fairly evenly, with Andy contributing the most but Colin delivering my personal favourites. Andy gives us classics like Ballet for a Rainy Day, 1000 Umbrellas, Earn Enough for Us, Another Satellite and the jazzy The Man Who Sailed Around his Soul, which are all definite highlights, but Colin's quartet of songs, Grass, The Meeting Place, Dying and Sacrificial Bonfire go beyond everything else, developing into full-blown and sublime pop symphonies.
Each song has a strong sense of melody and atmosphere that can be appreciated as a single track or instead, combined with the rest of the album to further the band's idiosyncratic concept (which also takes in ideas of evolution and the life cycle from birth to death). Because of all this conceptual and instrumental experimentation, Skylarking can be a difficult album at times and definitely takes a few listens to sink in; with many listeners new to XTC claiming that the production is cluttered and heavy-handed and that the lyrics seemed forced and self-indulgent. Now, I'll agree that certain elements of Rungren's production is somewhat bold and in your face, but I think it suits the overall mood of the record perfectly. The best songs are the ones that really push those Beatles connections to their fullest, with layered and varied instrumentation being swamped in sound samples; whilst simultaneously acting as the melodious and intermittently catchy backbone to an album that, when really looked at as a cohesive whole, seems almost crushingly bleak.
Because of this, Skylarking is certainly not the best place to start if you are new to the music of XTC; and if that is the case, then I suggest you fist subject yourself to great albums like Black Sea, English Settlement and perhaps even that great 60's pastiche/experimental record 25 o'clock (released by XTC under the pseudonym The Dukes of Stratosphere) before you even attempt a listening to this. Skylarking does however remain a great album from a great band - then at the height of their creative success - and should definitely be a required purchase for XTC devotees and admires of forward thinking, highly experimental pop.
on 28 January 2008
Gone were the jagged, new wave guitars and angular melodies of the early post punk years. In one smart move XTC reinvented themselves as natural heirs to the Beatles, Beachboys & Byrds. Ringing harmonies and pastoral arrangements to the fore. Andy Partridge coming into his own as one of the UK's finest lyricists and Todd Rungren on inspired and elegant form as the record's producer. It's all here on the glorious Skylarking.
The critics adored it and, whilst in England it was largely ignored, the inclusion of bible bashing single 'Dear God' was embraced by the American college audiences who took this oddball little band from Swindon to their hearts and wallets.
Summers Cauldron, Grass, The Meeting Place, Seasons Cycle, Earn Enough For Us - magnificent songs one and all - full of great pop hooks and shimmering arrangements. If you love harmony driven, orchestrated powerpop/rock then Skylarking is a must listen. The record has aged beautifully and reminds us that the 80's was much more than Stock Aitken & Waterman and big hair.
That Skylarking followed the patchy and poor selling albums 'Mummer' & 'The Big Express' is even more remarkable.
A true classic that laid out the blueprint for the likes of The Nines and Pugwash.
on 7 February 2004
The next time some tediously fashionable music scribe puts pen to paper about the latest creative "genius" in the music world, I would be more than happy to slap them around a bit and then make them listen to this jewel of an album. It glistens and glitters with creativity, it's lush orchestral arrangements and soaring harmonies take your breath away, it's a picture perfect snapshot of a sultry summer day in England, from the opening sun rise and chirruping insects of "Summers Cauldron", to the final fading drum beats and dusky half light of the sublime "Sacrificial Bonfire", this is XTC at their creative and sappiest best. Buy it and never listen to anything else!
Having followed XTC through their early releases, I had, by the early 1980s, become somewhat disillusioned by their apparent decline in inspiration. This 1986 release however amounts to the refinement that should have developed from the sound they discovered for 1979's "Drums And Wires". The suite of songs that comprises the first half of "Skylarking" make this their "Sergeant Pepper", soaring and swooping its way through emotions beneath the changeable English weather.
The second half begins with the strong, beaty "Earn Enough For Us", while "Big Day" and "Another Satellite" chart an eerily doleful course through human hopes, fears and frailties. When you hear such an accomplished album as this, it's hard to believe that its creation could have been so troubled. Perhaps Andy Partridge's mood swings helped. Though I'm fonder of "Nonsuch", this is an exquisite album and XTC's most consistent one.
on 21 June 2008
It never ceases to amaze me how few people actually know XTC's music. They really are the greatest band that never were.
This is a really top,top album but, as with all XTC music, it is probably a bit too clever to be appreciated by the masses. The track 'That's really super Supergirl' is an example of this. The lyrics are brilliantly written about a guy who is losing the woman he loves and is powerless to do anything about it.
I suppose the conclusion I come to is that the public don't want to think about their music - shame, because with this band they have really missed out.
on 14 August 2006
...but with better songs.
A loose theme welds this fantastic collection of songs together and, goaded by Todd Rungren, Andy Partridge's vocals rose to new heights. XTC weren't the first band to turn to Rungren to evoke the sound that Geoff Emerick and Roger Bechirian engineered for the Beatles at their most creative. But they were the first to give him the songs that justified it. An unfairly ignored classic.
on 21 May 2002
'Skylarking' on release reached the heady chart position of No 90!!! Never trust public taste, this was XTC's 'Seargeant Pepper' in magnificent technicolour, so good that the wise men from Swindon could afford to omit 'Dear God' on it's original issue.
The concept of the record traces the madness of an English summer's day from daybreak in 'Summer's Cauldron' with the sound of buzzing flies and twittering birds, seguing into the classic hit single (THAT NEVER WAS) 'Grass' and Barratesque childlike introspections on the follow-up 'The Meeting Place', right through to the final significance of 'Sacrificial Bonfire' with it's pagan-like overview of 'Burn out, bring in the new'; the sound of a bonfire being lit increasing the drama and suspense before the final chorus comes in. Side two is even better with the jazzy 'Prisoner' sound of 'The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul', which was performed in style on The Tube's tribute to said programme.
Todd Rundgren, producer and Andy... produced a masterpiece I don't XTC have ever bettered. That's saying something!