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XTC – Drums and Wires [The Surround Sound Series] – Ape House (CD+audio-only Blu-ray)

XTC – Drums and Wires [The Surround Sound Series] – Ape House (CD+Blu-ray) APEBD103, CD: 66:09; Blu-ray: 5.1 PCM surround (24bit/96khz), 5.1 DTS-HD Master (24/96), PCM stereo (24/96) [11/4/14] (Distr. by Panegyric) ****:

(Terry Chambers – drums; Dave Gregory – guitar, keyboards; Colin Moulding – bass, vocals; Andy Partridge – guitar, vocals)

When English post-punk/new wave band XTC released their third effort, 1979’s Drums & Wires, the record marked a turning point for the group. It commemorated the entry of new member, keyboardist/guitarist Dave Gregory; XTC’s style shifted as it restructured to a twin guitar/bass/drums line-up (thus, the LP title and the band’s tightly-honed tone); and it showed ripening songwriting via co-founders Colin Moulding (bass, vocals) and Andy Partridge (guitar, vocals). Drums & Wires was also a big step forward in relation to production. Producer Steve Lilywhite and engineer Hugh Padgham abetted the extension of XTC’s sonic arsenal with applicable studio support and behind-the-board skills. The result has become a fan favorite which has stayed in print for decades and been reissued in different configurations. For the most complete package imaginable, XTC aficionados need look no further than this 2014 version, which can be purchased as a CD/Blu-ray set or a CD/DVD-audio set. This review refers to the CD/Blu-ray edition. This is the second in a procession s of remixed and expanded XTC collections in the ongoing Surround Sound Series, mixed and remastered by Steven Wilson, who has done similar audio magic for prog-rockers Yes, King Crimson and Jethro Tull. The first in the XTC Surround Sound Series was the 2013 Nonesuch re-release.

The 66-minute CD contains a 2014 stereo album mix by Wilson, plus six extra singles and non-album tracks; five remixed by Wilson. The dozen original tracks have a sharply-focused energy and were shaped into a consistent declaration of purpose. For Drums and Wires, XTC created music which was distinctively individualistic, while they preserved shots of wit and jest, conspicuous lyrical cleverness, and specific English characteristics. Songs such as Top-20 single, “Making Plans for Nigel,” (Moulding’s trenchant observations on British middle-class aspirations) had a sizeable drum quality which punched the music into noticeability, and other cuts such as the forceful “Real by Reel” were pushed by commanding rhythms and lanky, generally minimalistic but simplistic arrangements. Gregory’s second guitar gave resourceful and exciting guitar interaction, recurrently escalating a sense of tension, obvious during Partridge’s Asian-influenced “Millions,” and punk-inspired “Outside World,” where Gregory’s fat Gibson guitar bashes and thrashes. Wilson’s 2014 remix brings the louder aspects even more into the limelight and subtler elements, such as the quietly spoken intro to “Complicated Game,” are equally great.

The Blu-ray is a huge treasure trove. It features a 5.1 surround mix (24bit/96khz) from the original multi-track tapes, in PCM and DTS HD MA formats; the new stereo album mix found on the CD (also 24/96, PCM audio); the original stereo album mix (24/96, PCM audio); three tracks from DJM mix sessions (for potential single-mixes); and ten additional 5.1 mixes of singles and non-album tracks; instrumental versions of all new mixes (24/96, PCM audio), which showcase XTC’s dexterity and invigorating arranging. For those who appreciate what it takes to get from preliminary preparation to finished output, there are five demo and rehearsal sessions. They comprise the five-song “Saucy Plate Session”; two sessions held at Swindon’s Town Hall (a total of nine numbers); the rough-and-tumble, four-track rehearsal dubbed “Toots Garage”; and a live-in-the-studio practice get-together, “Tudor Barn Album Rehearsal,” complete with between-song chatter, the noises of nature creeping in, and starts and stops as the band makes its way through an hour’s worth of material. These are demos and rehearsals, so expect less-than-perfect audio. XTC enthusiasts will be able to spend lots of time coursing through the Blu-ray package. There’s so much to discover there’s no way anyone could hear it all in one sitting. Like a good novel, it’s best to enjoy a bit at a time.

There are also two, low-budget promotional videos for “Life Begins at the Hop” and “Making Plans for Nigel.” Neither is vital and lack memorable visual style or directorial panache. Also, the sound is perceptibly not remastered or mixed. One irritation is the Blu-ray menu. Someone needs to go to design school. [As with quite a number of Blu-ray, DVDs and note booklets lately…Ed.] The menu text uses very small fonts and the font colors often clash with background hues, so everything is hard to read. The accompanying, 16-page booklet is essential, with fresh notes by Partridge, Moulding and Gregory; contextual information on the album’s title and eye-catching cover art; and very helpful summaries from the bandmembers on each song from the original album (although lyrics are missing, which is a shame). The booklet, CD and Blu-ray are placed in a glossy slipcase digipak.

TrackList: 

CD [2014 Stereo]: Making Plans for Nigel; Helicopter; Day In Day Out; When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty; Ten Feet Tall; Roads Girdle the Globe; Real by Reel; Millions; That Is the Way; Outside World; Scissor Man; Complicated Game; Bonus Tracks: Chain of Command; Limelight; Life Begins at the Hop; Homo Safari; Ten Feet Tall (Electric Version); Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down.
 
Blu-ray:
2014 stereo mix, 5.1, DTS-HD MA (all 12 original LP tracks]
Bonus tracks on all mixes: Life Begins at the Hop; Homo Safari; Chain of Command; Limelight; Bushman President; Pulsing, Pulsing; Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down; Ten Feet Tall (Electric Version); Officer Blue; Over Rusty Water; Sleepyheads
DJM Stereo mix: Helicopter; When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty; Real by Reel
Saucy Plate Session: The Beautiful People; Cheap Perfume; I Feel Blue; Someone’s Been in My Room; If I Had My Way
Swindon Town Hall 1: Life Begins at the Hop; When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty; Cheap Perfume; Outside World
Swindon Town Hall 2: Chain of Command; Ten Feet Tall; Helicopter; Making Plans for Nigel
Toots Garage: Officer Blue; Don’t Leave Your Temper; I Overheard; Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down
Tudor Barn Album Rehearsal: Millions; Limelight; Complicated Game; Day In Day Out; Real by Reel; That Is the Way; Helicopter; Scissor Man
Plus instrumental mixes of all original stereo mix tracks and related bonus tracks.
 
Extras:
Promotional videos for “Life Begins at the Hop” and “Making Plans for Nigel.”

—Doug Simpson

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