Aug 312009

Driving home from Maine in the middle of the night a couple of weeks ago, with my boys asleep in the back, my wife half out of it, and the iPod plugged into my car stereo and set to SHUFFLE, The Jam‘s “That’s Entertainment” came on. I had the volume down on the stereo so I wouldn’t wake anyone, but I started to get annoyed that I couldn’t follow the lyrics to this old favorite. I’m not married to lyrics – and I’m definitely not one of those people who search for a lyric sheet as soon as I buy a new album – but I’ve always like Paul Weller’s lyrics and will eventually pore over his latest set of words. I’ve always liked the lyrics to “That’s Entertainment,” but on this night, with the volume turned down, I couldn’t make out what he was singing. I had to stir my wife.

“Shit!,” I muttered, “I can’t believe I can’t make out the lyrics to an acoustic song. No wonder The Jam never made it in the States!” I added, to no delight of my woozy wife, “The next person who whines about The Jam never making it bigger than they did should ask why they can’t make out the lyrics to a damn acoustic song!”

It’s true what you’ve heard: I’m a dream to live with.

What whining artists, critics who deem them darlings, and fans do you think need to get over it – and why? I’ve got thoughts on longtime whiners like XTC and Graham Parker as well as an artist who I don’t think whines himself but leaves the critics to do his sobbing, Richard Thompson.


  26 Responses to “Stop Your Sobbing”

  1. “I had to stir my wife.”

    Is that what they’re calling it now?

  2. Mr. Moderator

    In case you need leadership, let me show you what I have in mind:

    My beloved XTC, whose classic Dave Gregory-Terry Chambers albums I long thought should have been GOLD to the public, finally hit me as the cult classics they deserved to be for the following reasons:

    1. Andy Partridge made the mistake of wearing that pouffy English schoolboy shirt and tie during the height of the band’s touring days. That Look didn’t work for The Kinks and it wasn’t working for Andy and his band.

    2. XTC’s vocals were usually buried in effects on their best albums. “Regular people” like to be able to make out the vocals. Compare the vocal mix to the mix The Police gave Sting’s voice, and you’ll hear what XTC could have done to appeal to a broader audience without losing anything great about their music.

    That’s it. Real simple: where prime XTC went wrong and why it’s time to stop our sobbing.

  3. Rolling Stones and REM songs were often hugely popular with lyrics that couldn’t quite be made out. I do see your point but I’m not 100% convinced of the premise. Or maybe REM “crossed the line” (for better or worse) when it did become entirely clear what they were singing?

  4. I’m not sure that XTC were headed for Police territory, but Andy’s inability to tour certainly didn’t help. They headlined Emerald City on the Drums & Wires and Black Sea Tours. It wasn’t sold out, but there was a crowd. Same venue the Talking Heads played on the Remain in Light tour. The Black Sea show was broadcast live on WMMR. Then they put out an album that was a little more English and difficult and didn’t come back.

    I really believe that for a band like XTC, the live shows give people that might be somewhat struck by something they’ve heard a chance to get a tangible feel for a band, to more appreciate where they are coming from. I also focuses the media, particularly in conjunction with tour dates, to allow a general buzz to build so that the circle of folks checking them out widens.

    I mentioned Talking Heads for a reason. They toured regularly around the first two albums in a way that got people to begin looking past Psycho-Killer and Take Me to the River. Each interesting “hit” release was backed by a live presence that reinforced the radio play and the general level of awareness. After the retirement from touring, XTC lacked one side of this equation. Also, the road retirement led to the departure of Terry Chambers, which furthered the disappearance up their own collective asshole. I like plenty of things they did after Black Sea, but they never had a chance at duplicating the Beatles’ successful road retirement, And even that ended in disaster within three years or so.

  5. BigSteve

    If XTC had continued to tour, they would never have made Oranges & Lemons. So be careful what you wish for.

  6. general slocum

    Big Steve, are you saying you like that pile of poo? Oranges and Lemons is one of the few CDs by a known artist I’ve ever gotten rid of (before the days of ripping it into the computer and *then* getting rid of it) twice! I saw it later and got it in a dollar bin someplace, thinking I maybe was too harsh on it. I got rid of it again!

  7. general slocum

    Also, I think the Jam is all about the mix, in that he enunciates fairly well, it just isn’t punched up in the mix. The Stones have songs you can’t hear the lyrics, but they’re plenty loud. He just really sings with a mouth full of marbles and/or a brain full of ___?

  8. sammymaudlin

    BigSteve and I reach on Oranges and Lemons. It falls after English Settlement, Mummer, Black Sea, Big Express and Drums & Wires (in that order, tonight) but over the years it has grown on me and now overtakes Skylarking in the pantheon of my XTC faves (Dukes not inlcuded.)

    The experience that general slocum relates though is almost identical to my experience with Nonsuch.

  9. BigSteve

    I liked O&L fine when it came out. Over the years I had allowed the critical consensus to influence my view of it. About five years ago, I pulled it out at random from the files before a vacation, and I had a great weekend listening to it as I tooled around Atlanta. Maybe car listening let me focus on the songs rather than the production. Or maybe I’m just not one of those people with a visceral reaction to 80s productions.

    Everyone nowadays seems to fawn all over the Dukes albums. Are we really to believe they started sucking only when they recorded under their own name?

    PS. I like Nonsuch too.

  10. Mr. Moderator

    I stand by my insights on XTC and The Jam. Name another acoustic song beside “That’s Entertainment” that manages to bury the vocals. Show me a Talking Heads performance with David Byrne dressed up like a 19th century English schoolboy. That outfit Partridge used to wear was a total turn off. AC/DC has Angus jumping around like an idiot schoolboy, but he’s always balanced by some macho he-man singer.

    I sense that too many of you are still sobbing over these bands’ lack of major breakthrough. Deal with it, and feel free to explain bands you like that have no business sobbing over their limited appeal! I had hoped this would be a thread in which we demonstrate our growth and understanding – and love – as rock fans. Instead it’s threatening to turn into a ranking of our 87 Top 5 XTC albums. We’re better than this, aren’t we?

  11. Mr. Mod,

    I would like to ask you to show me an XTC performance with Andy Partridge dressed up as a 19th century schoolboy. I can picture the shirt you’re talking about, but I saw them about a half dozen times, and I don’t have any memory of such outfits. I also searched XTC live pictures on the web and found nothing. I think the offending attire might’ve been used during the English Settlement tour, WHICH DIDN’T EVEN GET TO THE STATES.

    Your implication that XTC failed because their live image was fey is just wrong. They were really a pretty aggressive sounding outfit considering their pop genre. The problem was that they lost that side of their personality when they bailed on touring, not that Partridge wore the wrong shirt on stage.

  12. Mr. Moderator


    From an internationally distributed rock concert film, I ask you to compare and contrast this instance of guns vs butter:

  13. Mr. Moderator

    By the way, Geo, I’m not sure if what Partridge wore on this tour was a 19th century schoolboy Look or not, but it’s definitely more of “blouse” or “frock” than a shirt, isn’t it? And does that tie thing he’s wearing even have a 20th century name?

  14. Fuckin Radiohead! Thom Yorke is so annoying. Critical acclaim out the ass. Here’s the radiohead formula: freaky computer noise, weird sonic youth chord with a pretty good tone. solid rythm section lays down a cool vamp, pussy ass Thom Yorke starts complaining unintelligibly to a crescendo. and the song is named some short non-sequiter sentence.
    i hate it.

  15. sammymaudlin

    We’re better than this, aren’t we?

    I concur and apologize for part in dragging the discussion down. By all means let’s get back on track and talk about Andy Partridge’s puffy shirt.

  16. Hasn’t Todd Rundgren made a career of this “tortured artist” effect?

    Todd seems to have legions of devout fans, but no one on the world has ever heard of him.


  17. diskojoe

    I was watching a live German TV XTC performance from 1982 that I have this past weekend & Andy wasn’t wearing any poofy shirt, although he was wearing suspenders. The thing that did strike me about him though was his facial expressions, which seemed pretty demented & creepy at parts. He almost looked like Chuckie. Maybe that’s another reason why XTC didn’t make it while the Police did is that Sting as a front man was more appealing than Andy.

  18. He has a pouffy shirt on one of the album covers.

    Now back to ranking the albums. I am very curious among all the fans of XTC, on which side of the ledger do you put The Big Express: good XTC, or mostly shitty XTC.

  19. Alright, I will go one better than most everyone here: NO band is underrated. Everyone gets the audience they deserve.

    But, at the same time, I don’t lose sleep over the fact that felt otherwise at one point in my life. What’s the big deal? When you’re a) in your 20s, b) overtly passionate about rock, and c) dumb as a bag of sneakers, you’re bound to cross a line. But then you learn, and move on. What’s the harm?

    Oh, and Chickenfrank, I rate The Big Express very highly. That’s Andy Partridge in industrial mode, using claustrophobic, dated production to show just what it’s like to go from hip to has-been in short order. I think there’s a lot to learn from that album.

  20. Mr. Moderator

    You’re so mature, Oats:)

    I’m down with The Big Express too. It’s one of my favorite “ambitiously flawed” albums. Partridge lays it all on the line…for what? I’ll definitely take it over candy-ass Skylarking.

  21. I’m pro The Big Express, but am cautious in my defense of it. Some of the songs are tremendous, but it fortells Andy’s maudlin broadway stage side. I remember reading how dismal the sales were for that one, and thought that might have been the album when the fan-boys turned. Good summation of the theme of the album, Oats. I can hear that.

  22. sammymaudlin

    I’m pro Big Express as well. Love the production. Love that the album art embraces the production. Can’t stand here or anywhere Andy’s use of nursery rhymey rhythms. So I have to choke down Pretty Girls and Donkey before I can sigh relief.

    But man, Wake Up and This World Over are two their best.

  23. Back to XTC; The opening of Pretty Girls is right out of Robert Goulet doing dinner theatre. That’s the broadway thing. And I don’t buy This World Over at all. Smalltown is great. Seagulls is great. Wake Up guitar sound is GREAT.

    On a side note. Could Colin be responsible for putting more coin in Andy’s pocket than vice versa? For the first 10 years, did Colin have more of the “hits” from the albums? He did more with his 2 tracks than Andy did with his 8.

  24. sammymaudlin

    I don’t buy This World Over

    Then clearly you aren’t in the market for it. Maybe if it had more chucken.

  25. Mr. Moderator

    Chickenfrank wrote:

    For the first 10 years, did Colin have more of the “hits” from the albums? He did more with his 2 tracks than Andy did with his 8.

    I’ve long wondered if Andy had an issue with that. I’ve long wondered if I’d have an issue with this, if say you were in Colin’s shoes and I were in Andy’s. I would not. May tracks 3 and 5 of our new record bring on the coin!

  26. It would only bother you if *I* wrote the hits 🙂

    Excellent FB’s Hair reference, Chicken

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