The Manuscript of a Career
Ask any XTC fan about the band and they’re likely to quote the name of a Frank Zappa compilation, The Best Band You’ve Never Heard in Your Life. Andy Partridge, half of XTC’s talismanic songwriting duo, spent the last four years selectively releasing the Fuzzy Warbles, a series of demos, leftovers, studio laughs, and rarities. Now, with a bonus disc, he’s released the set as a whole in the Fuzzy Warbles Collector’s Album, a nine-disc set displaying one of the most consistent, idiosyncratic and overlooked catalogs in a manner equally exhausting for both longtime fans and newcomers to the Partridge oeuvre. That many of the songs here appeared on XTC’s studio albums from Drums and Wires through Nonsuch contributes heavily to the frustration of the set. The quality of the demos is not in question considering Partridge spent many a meticulous hour home recording, leaving studio time for polishing and touch up. Some tracks, when compared to their album versions, needed the extra studio gloss.
The best examples of this are tracks from their 1986 classic Skylarking. Partridge seems aimlessly submerged in a sea of a psychedelic spiraling guitar and haphazardly organized string arrangements before Todd Rundgren molded songs like “That’s Really Super, Supergirl,” “Earn Enough For Us,” and “Summer’s Cauldron” into what many would call their opus. Songs from earlier albums like “Helicopter” and “Complicated Game” from Drums and Wires have only two differences from their album counterpartâ€šÃ„Ã®guitar overdubs and synthesizers. Adding to the convolution of this set are studio goofs. “That Wag” starts off being “That Wave” until Partridge interrupts things by drifting into near-perfect impersonations of Robert Smith, The Smiths and Bob Dylan. There’s also “The Laugh Track,” the most self-explanatory three minutes of the set.
Partridge seemed to have a clear picture of what the end product of his songs would be, so he got as close as he could while recording at home. At the end of the day, however, the best things about him and XTC always seemed to be how out of place they were with the times, barring their first two albums. With albums like Skylarking and Oranges and Lemons recalling the production styles of George Martin’s work with The Beatles and Brian Wilson, the band and Andy Partridge made a career’s worth of albums not belonging to any trend that’s occurred in the last thirty years. Unfortunately, the demos presented on Fuzzy Warbles are the seeds that don’t indicate the exact beauty into which their albums would bloom.