Record Review: XTC – Transistor Blast

TVT Records | US | 4xCD | 1998 | TVT 3240-2

TVT Records | US | 4xCD | 1998 | TVT 3240-2

XTC: Transistor Blast US 4xCD [1998]

Disc 1 – Studio Sessions

  1. Intro
  2. Life Begins At The Hop
  3. Scarecrow People
  4. Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her
  5. Ten Fet Tall
  6. Garden Of Earthly Delights
  7. Runaways
  8. When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty
  9. I’m Bugged
  10. Another Satellite
  11. You’re The Wish You Are I Had
  12. Crosswires
  13. Roads Girdle The Globe

Disc 2 – Studio Sessions

  1. No Thugs In Our House
  2. One Of The Millions
  3. Real By Reel
  4. The Meeting Place
  5. Meccanic Dancing
  6. Poor Skeleton Steps Out
  7. Into The Atom Age
  8. The Rhythm
  9. This World Over
  10. Snowman
  11. Danceband
  12. Making Plans For Nigel
  13. Jason And The Argonauts

Disc 3 – 78/79 Live in Concert Recordings

  1. Radios In Motion
  2. Crosswires
  3. Science Friction
  4. Statue Of Liberty
  5. The Rhythm
  6. I’ll Set Myself On Fire
  7. Newtown Animal In A Furnished Cage
  8. All Along The Watchtower
  9. Beatown
  10. This Is Pop
  11. Danceband
  12. Neon Shuffle

Disc 4 – Live In Concert Hammersmith Palais 22-12-80

  1. Life Begins At The Hop
  2. Burning With Optimism’s Flames
  3. Love At First Sight
  4. Respectable Street
  5. No Language In Our Lungs
  6. This Is Pop
  7. Scissor Man
  8. Towers Of London
  9. Battery Brides
  10. Living Through Another Cuba
  11. Generals And Majors
  12. Making Plans For Nigel
  13. Are You Receiving Me

When this box appeared in 1998 I was still avidly buying XTC material in spite of the band’s disastrous war with Virgin Records. I can’t say that I’ve ever heard the “Apple Venus” album that followed this one a year later even to this day. With XTC having decided that they would not record a note before they could come to an agreement with Virgin, I found that I could live without XTC easily enough, and the wind slacked from the sails of my XTC fandom, which had lasted from 1980 to 1992. Truth be told, it wasn’t the layoff for seven years that did it as much as the lackluster material that I felt was the extent of the “Nonesuch” album. Maybe after seven years I didn’t want to hear what they did next.

xtc - drums+wirelessUKCDAI previously had the stand-alone Hammersmith Palais 1980 BBC CD but not the “Drums + Wireless” disc of 17 “Peel Sessions” that had been released  in 1994. When this box appeared, the first two discs were BBC radio sessions, with an extra nine tracks added to the running time. The third disc was a compilation of BBC live concert material from ’78-’79 featuring the first incarnation with the band when they sported keyboardist Barry Andrews [League Of Gentlemen, Shriekback]. The fourth was a reissue of the Hammersmith concert. Since only one of the discs here was redundant, I picked up the “Transistor Blast” box when I saw it used at the local CD Warehouse outlet in early 1999.

The radio sessions were a great selection but by no means complete. Andy Partridge not only designed the package, but curated it as well. He cherry picked the material for [his] maximum satisfaction. The mind boggles at what might have gotten left out of a 4xCD box, but all of these discs are about an hour long. Moreover, the BBC sessions were not sequenced in their original broadcast order. Sessions from years apart were sequenced for flow rather than as a portrait of the passage of time. After Partridge’s hilarious John Peel impersonation that opened the set, the classic “Life Begins At The Hop” rubs shoulders with a track from their final session in 1989.

The material was given a new dustdown in the BBC studios, though their first session effectively functioned as their demos with labels calling on them following their first broadcast. Often, the details of the songs that have been glued down after decades of listening to the albums were delightfully different in their guises here. In most cases, the vocals tended to be strong and not a million miles away from the released versions. It’s in the arrangements that the tracks differ the most.

One thing that is enjoyable about the shuffled sequencing is that it gives playback a more adventurous quality, even while it throws their development arc right out of the window. It makes the inclusion of the Andrews-era material sound even fresher in this context. I have to admit that my love for XTC dims a bit when confronted with their first two, hyper kinetic albums. While I can’t be said to dislike them, I’m not drawn to them either. Hearing tracks from that era salted in a wildly variable program covering a dozen years of the band’s development is perhaps a better way to confront them for me.

I’l l say the same about the material on disc three. Live, the early material was revved up and raring to go. Barry Andrews slayed on that farfisa! I can only imagine that Robert Fripp was listening at home, wheels turning in his head, when these shows were broadcast.  Two shows were drawn upon to compile disc three, with the bulk being from a BBC stereo TV broadcast of “Sight + Sound” [complete with FM simulcast] and three tracks being from a 1979 concert that was Barry Andrews’s last ever with the band. The sounds here remind me to revisit the first two XTC albums soon since I can’t see exactly what the fuss wasn’t when listening to this today. This was loopy, revved up New Wave and needs to be revisited soon.

As for disc four, the difference between the band on disc three and this one was fairly vast. The departure of Andrews and arrival of second guitarist Dave Gregory made for a huge change in the band’s sound. While they would employ keyboards [often played by Gregory] on their studio albums, live was another proposition entirely, with Gregory adding power and polish at the expense of quirk, which had hugely ebbed from XTC’s quiver of artistic arrows by 1980 and the no-holds-barred “Black Sea” album. Live, this version of the band was a powerhouse and we’re fortunate that it was documented, at least by the BBC, before Andy Partridge famously swore off ever playing live following their aborted 1982 tour, which was their last.

The live improv during the extended “Scissor Man” here was a thing of wonder. Unfortunately, such sparks only happen when a band plays live together. Having lost that thread of inspiration, the band relied on studio work only moving forward. That they managed to make four more* great to excellent albums after their withdrawal from live playing is perhaps testament to the amount of talent that the core members of Colin Moulding and Dave Gregory brought to the band along with Partridge. The “Transistor Blast” box makes for a compelling postscript to the XTC story. Perhaps moreso than the actual studio albums that followed. The final two were accompanied by demo versions that  were [inevitably] issued in a 4xCD box of their own in 2005. Maybe one day it’ll sit in the Record Cell.

– 30 –

* Six if you count the brilliant Dukes Of Stratosphear albums… and you should.

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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8 Responses to Record Review: XTC – Transistor Blast

  1. Echorich says:

    Nonesuch is an album that takes a good deal of listening to come to terms with for me. Over the past 20 years I have mellowed to it and can pick out tracks that make me smile with XTC satisfaction.
    Interesting that you have the same experience with the first two albums. I am an XTC from Drums And Wires – one of my all time favorite records – that swiftly filled in the gaps – including a clear vinyl Life Begins At The Hop 7″ single housed in a PVC sleave that has a record player arm positioned right at the outer groove! But I have never found either White Music or Go 2 essential listening. I love Statue Of Liberty from the former and Meccanik Dancing from the latter though.
    I also am an unashamed Colin Moulding fan. Like The Clash, where fans fell in line as either Strummer or Jones fans, it was easy back in those days to be in either the Moulding camp or the Partridge camp when it came to tracks on every successive album. As I matured, the genius of Partridge’s work has come into full focus for me, but I am a sucker for those Moulding hooks and throughly English vocals.
    Finally, Monk you really must own Apple Venus Vol. 1 and Wasp Star Apple Venus Vol. 2. they are such very strong XTC albums, filled with those great elements of Pastoral England, quirky stories and wry sarcasm that I have missed for a decade and a half.
    Really final comment here – for now – I can’t say enough about the polarity corrected, remastered Skylarking. It’s a revelation.


  2. They reversed the polarity of the neutron flow for Skylarking?!


  3. Brian Ware says:

    Ditto on the first two albums. For me the magic started with “Drums And Wires”. “Apple Venus” and “Wasp Star” have some fine moments that redeem much of “Nonesuch’s” mediocrity, but I find Moulding’s contributions to be modest at best.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Brian Ware – I did buy “Wasp Star” a long while back. It was a pretty good album to bow out on. Still haven’t heard “Apple Venus,” though. I think a part of what had cooled my ardor for all things XTC beyond the flat, seemingly endless “Nonesuch” album, and their inertia sapping Virgin strike was reading the two books I own on XTC. Both “Chalkhills and Children” as well as the authorized bio “Song Stories” paint an equally off-putting portrait of Andy Partridge that has caused me to distance myself from the band. He seems like such a petulant, spoiled child that I really felt sorry for any other members of the band who had to put up with his actions for so long. He wrote some great songs. Also some terrible ones. Would I have stuck around for 25 years like Moulding? Probably not!


  4. Simon H says:

    I’m going out on a limb…I love Nonsuch!
    The recentish reissue also sounds lovely, something to test a new hi fi with….agree it’s probably too long but it clicked for me.
    The corrected Skylarking is flat out beautiful as well, how did that album fail so badly on release in the UK? Actually that’s a silly question, it was completely and hilariously out of step as the late 80s began.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Simon H – Congratulations! You are the only XTC fan I know of who burns a torch for “Nonesuch.” I suppose someone had to! You’re right about “Skylarking” being out of step with the UK pop market. As I recall PWL had their stranglehold on the charts in full force by then! I bought it as an import and it was love at first play for these ears. I always shook my head in disbelief at Andy’s trash talk about Rundgren, who had obviously contributed a lot to shaping the [stunning] album. I don’t plan on buying another copy, though. I always thought the version released was excellent, and sounded wonderful. I have to say that I hated Andy’s cover, too. A conceit that totally didn’t work for me!


  5. Simon H says:

    Agree re Rundgren a great example of the benefit of having a creative tussle, sometimes I think total artistic freedom is a mixed blessing.


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