Second of two in a row from XTC‘s double treasure, 1982’s English Settlement, the album where they pulled a sort of Beatles move: stopped worrying about how they might reproduce the material live and instead just dove into the studio and its possibilities. And special nod to engineer and co-producer Hugh Padgham, best known for inventing the gated drum sound that so drove the 1980s (for better and worse). But his tricks on English Settlement are more subtle, working an often rich acoustic sensibility which, as the story goes, was driven not by any great conceptual intent, but rather main man Andy Partridge‘s purchase of a new acoustic guitar after giving the old one away as a contest prize.
Five albums into their career and XTC were simultaneously sick to death (literally) of the obligatory punk-pop-new-wave bullshit and ready for something big. And big was definitely the word for English Settlement, a double album at a time when bands just didn’t do that anymore. And an album it was. Yes, a few singles were released, but the songs worked best together, all in a rich, sumptuous flow, with Jason and the Argonauts stretching things out almost progressively – whatever that word even meant anymore come 1982.
XTC were never quite punk; they were too pop savvy for that. Though they were there from the beginning, tearing up facades with the best of them. So maybe just call them a damned good band who, by 1982’s double-vinyl English Settlement, were taking off in a pile of different directions uniquely their own, with Ball and Chain reminding us that they still had the pop.