As the conveyor belt of life moves inexorably closer to the edge, it is only natural for one to reflect on one’s impact on the world and whether one has bequeathed anything lasting and meaningful to world. These heavy and sobering thoughts seem to imbue the new EP, “Great Aspirations” from TC&I, the collaboration between Collin Moulding and Terry Chambers from the legendary XTC. Moulding, of course, shared song writing and vocalist duties with Andy Partridge from the inception of XTC and Chambers was the drummer during their eighties peak period.
And, indeed, these are pertinent questions given the significant role of XTC had in shaping the post-punk musical landscape: a role that is more recognised posthumously after the demise of the band for its influence and importance than was ever reflected by its commercial success.
The other half of the creative force behind XTC, Partridge, recently over saw the release of deluxe editions of XTC’s extensive back catalogue, and a documentary on XTC, “This is Pop” (mostly centred on Partridge) has further added to renewed interest in the band. Partridge spoke about how it was Moulding’s songs that were considered to be the most accessible – with pop sensibilities and commercial potential -which coupled with his rock star good looks lead to some internal tensions. Moulding wrote and sang on songs such as “Generals and Majors”, “Making Plans for Nigel” and “Life Begins at the Hop”.
“Great Aspirations” therefore seems a natural addition to the revival in interest in XTC and it is a welcome return.
Opening track, ‘Scatter Me’ contemplates the scattering of the protagonist’s ashes into the cosmos where they may sometime return underfoot from the elements. Clearly a musing on the nature of existence and persistence after death, with a sly reference to T-Rex:
Then live on
Bang a gong
Sing a song
For the land of the living
For it is through the music, perhaps, that one might live on after death. This is almost a jaunty song in tone, pared back from the psychedelic layers of XTC but retaining that pop sensibility and intelligent lyrics:
“Greatness (The Aspiration Song)” appears to flow on thematically, reflecting on a desire to achieve a lasting impact on the world in the company of people like Churchill, Spielberg and McCartney – Greatness, That’s where I wanna be. This is the great aspiration that gives the EP its title, and you can’t help sensing – given the twisted cynicism rife in XTC songs – whether this is a tongue in cheek comment on the world’s desire for instant fame in general.
XTC were never afraid to stray into politics, social commentary and religion with their quintessential British sense of humour – witness “Making Plans for Nigel”, “Generals and Majors” and “Dear God”. Third track “Kenny” comments on the disappearance of green space remembered as a child in the interests of development. It is almost a yearning for a Britain of the past (but not, I hasten to add, in the vein of Morrissey):
Let’s go where he made his name
Monkey Bars – Swing and slide
Let’s go down where the dream is made
Goalpost Jerseys – Picking up sides
Let’s go where he made his name
All over England
Going, going, going
It is a peon to lost innocence.
Moulding has denied that the final song, “Comrades in Pop” is a swipe at his former band mate but you can’t help wondering:
You start out high school buddies
And swear allegiance for all time
But when the checks come rolling in
It’s cash or I resign
On another level, it is merely a cautionary tale for those aspiring greatness in the music industry: the harsh cold realities of the commercial imperatives in the world of pop music. Interestingly enough, Partridge did complain in his recent book “Complicated Games: Inside the Songs of XTC” about the lack of commercial success for the band and the lack of recognition for the song writers of XTC in contrast to others like Elvis Costello.
This could be described almost as a concept album about the transience of life and the desire to be remembered. It has all the hallmarks of a finale, a requiem for pop music, a contemplative conclusion and sign-off. Hopefully it represents a rejuvenation for Moulding’s creative juices and the continuation of a career that has already achieved a legendary status. This is a poignant almost sorrowful EP that feels deeply personal but, in true form with Moulding’s past record, is clever, poised and cynical yet imbued with a bright sense of optimism.