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Sunday, 6 November 2016

'Complicated Game' – Inside the songs of XTC

This book is comprised of a series of interviews -conducted over several months- in which Todd Bernhardt gets Andy Partridge to talk (and talk) about thirty songs in the XTC catalogue. Every album is represented by at least a couple of tracks, with Andy explaining (in that scattergun, wisecracking style we’ve come to expect) exactly what he was trying to achieve
XTC fans will be familiar with some of his gripes; the fact that the band signed an extraordinarily bad record deal still rankles and he feels that they should have achieved (and earned) a lot more than they did. At one point, he ruminates on the astonishment and frustration he felt at finding out how much his contemporary Elvis Costello was (allegedly) worth. 

It is interesting to read about the development of each track from conception to completion, although towards the end of the book you get the impression that there is a degree of repetition; if I have one criticism, it is that perhaps thirty songs was a tad too much. But even if you're not familiar with the recordings being analysed here, you may still get something from the technical chat about chord structures and recording techniques. I knew all of these songs bar one (a track from his ‘Fuzzy Warbles’ collection of home demos) so it was a delight to wallow in the truly forensic level of analysis; this really is hard-core porn for those interested in the recording process. Todd does a great job with the questions; the guy knows his stuff and is able to quiz Andy about, for example, a scratchy rhythm guitar part in the left channel of this track, or some doubled-up bass notes in the chorus of another. He is the anorak’s anorak, but with a healthy dose of humour thrown into the mix.  

Andy acknowledges that the ‘punk wars’ (a phrase for which he claims credit) delayed his acknowledgment that tuneful 1960s pop was a huge influence on his work. It was relatively late in the day (during the recording of the ‘Mummer’ album in 1982) that Steve Nye told him to lighten up, because no-one gave a toss anymore about whether or not something sounded a bit like The Beatles.

It was news to me that Andy’s commitment to achieving the lush sound on the ‘Apple Venus’ album cost him a band member. Dave Gregory left because he didn’t want to blow the recording budget by spending an eye-watering sum on hiring an orchestra for a day. But, listening to the album, you’d have to conclude that the boss was right.

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