Music News

Another Dose of XTC

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Such questions began to dominate Partridge's thoughts. According to him, Virgin made 35 million pounds off XTC between 1977 and 1992 yet persisted in stating that the band remained in the red. After Nonsuch, Partridge attempted to renegotiate XTC's contract to make the situation more equitable, but Virgin responded with an offer that he found insulting. "I told them, 'We know you're making good enough profits, and we're not eating properly. We have to get out of this deal.' But contractually, they had us by the balls. And since I didn't want to give them another XTC record at the same awful, pathetic rate we were at, we told them they weren't getting any more recordings. We went on strike."

This obstinacy ultimately paid off: After four years, both Virgin and Geffen raised the white flag, agreeing to release XTC from its obligations in return for one last hits package. In England, Virgin did things the way Partridge wanted: It put out Fossil Fuel, a pair of CDs that document every XTC single in chronological order. But Geffen refused to take the same tack, allegedly because some of the numbers would be unfamiliar to U.S. audiences. "We were asked what we wanted to do, and then we'd write a list and they'd say, 'No, that's not quite right,'" Partridge recounts. "They'd accept one or two things from it, and then they'd change all the others." He adds in a stage whisper, "I'm not supposed to say this, but I think this is the record that the people at Geffen liked that particular week."

As a result, Upsy Daisy Assortment is a pleasant XTC sampler--nineteen fine songs, including every modern-rock semi-smash and album tracks like "Life Begins at the Hop" and "Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her, Kiss Her." Partridge describes it as "a bit of a mess, but don't complain to me about it. Please forward all letters of complaint to Mr. David Geffen at Geffen Records. Send them written on a powder-blue sweater and he may take notice. In the meantime, I'm going to get one of those little toy dolls made up where you pull the string and it says 'Blame Geffen. Blame Geffen. Blame Geffen.'"

In the meantime, Partridge is already looking forward to the next XTC album, which should appear within a year on a label to be named later. (He says several offers are currently on the table.) He composed most of the material while at war with Virgin, but that was only one of the obstacles he faced during the period. "The last four years have seen the biggest upheaval I've ever experienced," he says.

"Because of Virgin, my career has been in the fridge, and on top of that, I went through a divorce and I blew my eardrum out. Not to get too medical, but pus built up in my ear, and the only way out was to burst through my eardrum. It was the worst thing on earth. It was two o'clock in the morning and I was banging my head on the wall by my bed, because I didn't know what to do about the pain coming from the center of my head. And then, suddenly, bloop--and I touched my neck and there was all of this blood running down it.

"I was completely deaf in my right ear for two or three months, and it was really frightening. The doctors didn't know if it would heal over; they said it was fifty-fifty. But thankfully, it did, and now I have about 60 percent of my hearing in my right ear. Which is better than none."

Partridge says the songs he came up with while all of this was going on fall roughly into two categories: "All the stuff that was written directly after Nonsuch tended to be more acoustic or orchestral--kind of non-rock-and-roll things. And the stuff I've been writing lately has been noisier, just out of the desire to hear electric guitars again. So we're contemplating corralling off these facets and having one style on one record and the other style on the second. I don't think we'll be able to interweave them, because it's like, 'Here's a slice of pork with a dollop of ice cream, and here's some jelly with some chicken.' So we'll probably keep all of the bright, zesty, fluorescent desserts on one end of the table, and the pig's head with the apple in it on the other."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts