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Dear God attached, Andy Partridge's cover concept realised, and polarity corrected, this is Skylarking as XTC intended the world to see and hear it.
Produced by Todd Rundgren, the album was famously the most troublesome recording experience of XTC's career, yet the combination of the 'quintessentially English' band and the American 'studio wizard' resulted in one of the most successful and artistically accomplished albums of the mid-late 1980s.
It looked perfect... on paper. Take XTC (a band whose name was, by this point, routinely prefaced with the words 'quintessentially English'), add Todd Rundgren, musical Anglophile & legendary producer (whose name was always prefaced with 'studio wizard'), place in a studio together in Woodstock for several weeks & expect an album of Abbey Road proportions to appear when finished and...it almost worked out that way. It even managed, eventually, to fulfil some of the enormous weight of expectation that had been placed on its shoulders prior to recording & it now sounds better than it ever did, though it took a most circuitous route to get from there to here.
For starters: Todd R. & Andy P. didn't get on... at all. Recording sessions were tense. Then Todd locked the band out of the studio while mixing the album, leaving depressed band members to return to the UK uncertain as to the value of what had been recorded. When the album was finished, Virgin Records rejected Andy's sleeve design concept for the very good reason that many shops would simply have refused to stock it; the Parents Music Resource Center with their 'parental advisory' stickers, was a recent industry issue, false though widely believed stories about reversed Satanic messages hidden on albums were heading towards a court room & the sight of pubic hair on something like a vinyl sleeve was usually enough to encourage some lazy politician or self-styled religious 'leader' to re-discover the proximity of the end of the world as expressed, visually, on a record sleeve.
As Todd Rundgren once sang, "A man would simply have to be as mad as a hatter to try and change the world with a plastic platter."
Then, there was the issue of Dear God. Relegated from the album for fears that the same sort of people who object to pubic hair on album sleeves might object to songs about God - especially in the USA, yet issued in the US as part of a 4 song promo 12" single to promote an album on which the song didn't appear by Geffen Records, which then, unexpectedly, became a hit song with people interpreting the lyrics as they wished, necessitating the re-sequencing of the album to include the once rejected song which, in turn, helped the album to become a slow burn/steady seller all around the world & XTC's best-selling & best known album to date, leaving all participants belatedly happy...& audiences & record companies (both of them) eagerly awaiting the follow-up...
Well, not quite:
When it came time to master the album on vinyl in 2010, Andy Partridge - still never entirely happy with the overall sound of the finished album - took it to award-winning mastering engineer John Dent, who noticed something that had never previously been spotted. Somewhere, possibly in the transfer from the multi-channel tape to the stereo master, a polarity had been reversed. This is not the same thing as a reversed left/right channel which puts a stereo picture out of phase & makes the sound unlistenable, but a much more difficult to pin down event that can be triggered by something as simple as a badly wired plug in the overall system which, nonetheless, removes some of the punch & presence from a finished recording.
With the polarity corrected, the album complete with original artwork & Dear God was issued on vinyl.
Now, some 28 years after its initial recording & release, Skylarking finally appears on CD as it was originally intended to sound & in the packaging as initially envisaged.
The end of the world is also 28 years closer, but probably not imminent. Plenty of time then, to hear afresh the most popular album by one of the finest pop groups of that or any other era.
When & if the multi-track tapes can be found, a 5.1 Surround Sound edition to be mixed by Steven Wilson is also planned.
1. Summer's Cauldron
3. The Meeting Place
4. That's Really Super, Supergirl
5. Ballet for a Rainy Day
6. 1000 Umbrellas
7. Season Cycle
8. Earn Enough for Us
9. Big Day
10. Another Satellite
11. Mermaid Smiled
12. The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul
13. Dear God
15. Sacrificial Bonfire
Prairie Prince - drums