|Day 47: XTC (This World Over)
June 12, 2020
Pix has been reading XTC: Song Story, a book that chronicles pretty much all the songs the British band XTC ever recorded. It's a great read about one of our favorite bands, ethereal, quirky, and inspiring throughout their 14-album career. She has been playing the CD's while reading so that she can familiarize herself with the songs being captured in the book. It makes for terrific background music while I sip a scotch and stare out at the backyard in the evening.
It also reminds me how timely so many of their songs are. Take "This World Over" off of their 1984 album The Big Express. By this point in their career, XTC was exploring new musical horizons. The Big Express followed Mummer, which was replete with some of the strangest songs of their career so far (Mummer was their sixth album, bracketed in the middle by "Deliver Us From The Elements," closing side one, and "Human Alchemy," opening side two, two songs that really pushed the acceptance of their fan base).
Their experimentation after The Big Express would continue with two albums under the band name "The Dukes Of Stratosphear" that could have been dropped into the world of 1968 psychedelia and fit right in. With "Skylarking," as an official XTC release in between the Dukes' albums, it would have been easy to think of XTC as a bunch of misplaced hippies. But that would have overlooked the sardonic observations that XTC, especially Andy Partridge, one of two main songwriters, possessed.
"This World Over" reminded me of that when I heard the song this week. On an album full of industrial-tinged, borderline cacophonous songs ("Train Running Low On Soul Coal," "The Everyday Story of Smalltown," "Reign of Blows," "Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her, Kiss Her"), "This World Over" sounds like a delicate lullaby sung to a child being tucked into bed. In essence, that is exactly what Partridge and gang create.
It starts with just Partridge's breathy voice, actually inserting itself over the final strains of "Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her, Kiss Her" (the song that preceded it): "Oh well that's this world over/next one begins." Absent of music, and with his emotive vocal, one could be excused for thinking that a bedtime fantasy story is being concluded by Dad as he tucks the young one into bed. However, then, the band kicks in, gentle side stick drumming, an air of synthesizer, and skeletal bass, and the bedtime story takes more shape: "Will you smile like any mother/as you bathe your brand new twins?"
Oh my, how lovely, I think I could easily drift off to sleep.
But the next couplet changes that mood: "Will you sing about the missiles/as you dry off numbered limbs?"
Oh crap, dad, you trying to give me nightmares?
It won't take long for us to see the nightmare that Partridge imagines. It's 1984 and it's not hard to figure out who Partridge means when he later sings "Will you tell them about that far off and mythical land/about their leader with the famous face?/Will you tell them about the reason/nothing grows in the garden anymore/Because he wanted to win the craziest race/that's this world over?" The drumming is intensifying, the keyboards are encroaching, a guitar has entered, and our discomfort increases.
The song then alternates between the more lightly presented "oh well that's this world over/next one begins" and the harsher verses. When Partridge gets to the second half of the song, the "famous face" and the thousand anxieties it sets sail easily can turn from Ronald Reagan to someone more current:
"Will you tell them about that far off and mythical land/
And how a child to the virgin came?/
Will you tell them that the reason why we murdered/
Everything upon the surface of the world/
So we can stand right up and say we did it in his name?"
By the time the song settles into a lovely coda with long fade out: "that's this world over/over and out," we realize that a parent's anxieties about the future we offer our kids is ever present. I think my mother could have heard this song in the late 50's or 60's and believed it addressed concerns she had for her kids' future. What I can't decide is if there is solace in the universality of that. The anxieties are always real to the parent. The question is when do the realities to the anxieties take us over and out.
"This World Over." The Big Express. 1984. Virgin. Link here.
Day 46: Jill Sobule "Heroes."
Day 48: Walter Egan "Magnet And Steel." ->
See full unfinished list here.