Review Summary: XTC are the Village Green Preservation Society
Welcome to the beautiful British countryside! On your right you can see the glorious stonehenge. No one's quite sure how it got there. Oh my and what's this up ahead? Ladies and gentlemen you're in for a real treat. A couple of local hillfolk are strumming guitars and playing around with synthesizers on the side of the road! Some Americans think all Brit New Wave bands are shallow and artistically empty, but these guys have depth that extends far beyond the stereotypes! Don't stare for too long, there's something brooding beneath all those grins.
That's right, it's XTC. The same silly bunch that brought you the '79 hit "Making Plans for Nigel," a seminal New Wave moment. "That song was kind of fun, right? They're no Talking Heads though." After "English Settlement" (1982), any person anywhere who felt the need to express the aforementioned opinion could be rightfully shunned from respectable social circles. With this record, the group eschewed the glitz and glam of their contemporaries for a more down-to-earth, engaging approach, effectively transitioning from making arty pop to making Art (with a capital "A") with pop sensibilities.
What immediately grabs you about this album is its overall warmth. The production is splendid, and a marked improvement from the more hollow mixing of previous efforts, indicating an increased interest in presentation that would be explored and perfected on "Skylarking" (1986). Sweet strumming acoustic guitars dance in remarkable harmony with grooving electric counterparts to the beat of a sometimes funky sometimes frantic rhythm section. Musical dynamics change from track to track, Collin Moulding's miraculous quasi-tribal bass swoopings taking center stage in one place, only to be dethroned by a smackingly sharp electric guitar stomp in the next. Yet nowhere does the arrangement seem like a battle. On the contrary, the evident consideration applied simply adds to the album's orchestral feeling.
For the most part, the album's 15 tracks (over the course of an hour and 15 minutes) are blemish free. Tracks that will keep you coming back day after day include the pounding "Ball and Chain," the sometimes eerie "Runaways," and the softly beautiful ballad "All of the Sudden (It's Too Late)." Mind you, that was a really tough sentenced. I was about ready to list off every track on the album. Only the too-quirky-to-be-serious political hymn "Melt the Guns" grows a little tiring.
"Settlement" comes off as a semi-concept album, sampling the rebellious optimism (not to mention the occasional musical idea) of the first psychedelic era of the late 60's and applying it to a series of vignettes that explore youth, gender roles, history, and, most of all, the comforts and pitfalls of tradition. In the end, the pastoral vibe of the album reflects a kind of disillusionment for the scene that was evolving around them. Instead of furthering the entrenchment of apathy, gluttony, and Kraftwerkian beats into Britain's cultural sphere, XTC argue for awareness, simplicity, and appreciation of the natural.