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XTC: Chalkhills and Children
The Definitive Biography

A Book by Chris Twomey

First Appeared at The Music Box Online, September 1999, Volume 6, #9

Review written by John Metzger


Over the years, XTC has somehow managed to defy the odds and survive in an increasingly difficult industry. The group's death surely should have come in 1982, when Andy Partridge left the stage 30 seconds into a performance at Le Palais in Paris. The band found the singer hiding in a corner of their dressing room, enduring intense stomach pain and crying hysterically. They tried to fulfill their obligations on the American leg of their tour, but on the second night, Partridge again refused to go on stage. The band never really had good relations with their former label Virgin Records, and the lack of touring to support their albums certainly didn't help their situation. Yet, they managed to persevere, turning into one of the best studio bands ever and enjoying an increasing level of success with each album they have released.

In Chalkhills and Children, Chris Twomey tells the tale of XTC from their beginnings through the release of their 1992 album Nonsuch. It's an interesting and informative history of the band culled from interviews with the group and their many associates. Twomey captures the claustrophobic feel of a band forced to release all their energy in the studio and explains the tension between the band and their former label.

Nevertheless, Twomey at times seems to not quite grasp what XTC was driving at in their music and their albums, and too often he takes some of their critics' comments far too seriously. Twomey goes on to say that on Mummer, XTC "sounded listless and unsure of themselves" and that the album only has "moments of brilliance." Later he claims that The Big Express is full of heavy-handed production and cumbersome arrangements. Were it not for these two albums, the band certainly would not have gone on to create such masterpieces as Skylarking, Oranges and Lemons, and their latest release Apple Venus Volume 1. In addition, both albums were full of experimentation as the band had begun to alter their sound rather than repeating what they had already perfected on Black Sea and English Settlement.

On both Mummer and The Big Express, XTC wrapped themselves in a tight-fitting studio cocoon, from which they emerged with radiant brilliance on their later albums. It's this ability to transform themselves and create art that makes XTC so special. They've long given up on being a commercial success, yet throughout Chalkhills and Children, Twomey continuously tries to make this the band's failure. Instead, their relentless pursuit of music for the sake of art rather than commercial gain should be celebrated. starstarstar

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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright 1999 The Music Box