Skylarking: The story of the album – truth & myth - is almost worthy of the classic status granted to the music. If the music wasn’t so wonderful, the story might even have eclipsed it. XTC, one of the few bands of the immediate post-punk explosion to have actually progressed – not a word one could readily ascribe to a band at the time – seemed ready, musically, to transfer to the big league of popularity with a clutch of fab demos. Match peerless 80s pop sensibilities with an ace record producer – Todd Rundgren – with serial Anglophile pop leanings & surely this is just the first in a series of wonderful co-productions? An Anglo-American pure pop match made in…..
….well, made in hell actually. By the time the album was finished Partridge & Rundgren disagreed on just about everything, then a track had to be removed in order to make the album length “vinyl friendly”, then that track (issued as a bonus track on a US radio promo), belatedly became the one that radio liked & then became a hit song; “Dear God” claimed by believers & non-believers alike, was added to the CD & the album went on to become XTC’s best-selling, best known, best loved album of all.. except even that isn’t the whole story as it was much more recently discovered (when vinyl was resurrected as a format a few years ago) that the album had always sounded a tad ‘thin’ not, as some thought, because of length (which would, in any event, only have affected vinyl), but because the polarity of the original master had been reversed at some point in a transfer which, via a simple correction, made not just the vinyl sound fab but also brought fresh warmth to the subsequently issued CD version.
Now, if only the original multi-track tapes weren’t lost (as rumoured for many years), they could be added to the superb series of new stereo & 5.1 surround mixes being produced by Steven Wilson, with direct input from Andy Partridge. Fortunately, even in the record industry some stories actually have a happy result & the search for the missing XTC multi-tracks (Virgin’s lawyers contacted Todd’s manager & hey presto…) yielded up the multis formerly known as ‘missing’. Perhaps this will happen eventually with the tapes for “English Settlement” also as they’ve currently inherited the name?
In the meantime, pop music has one its finest gems offered up for audio good vibes in a fully expanded edition featuring a full album of stereo mixes on CD, stereo & 5.1 surround remixes & extra tracks from the album sessions afforded the same treatment – all in high resolution sound on the accompanying Blu-Ray with Steven Wilson proving, yet again, that he can bring a fresh perspective to a classic album mix without sacrificing any of the elements that made it a classic in the first instance. Add to that potent collection a host of audio extras (many listed above) to provide the most complete Skylarking experience ever to be offered. Only those who spent a few months in the studio with Todd, Andy & co. got this close to the musical action.
By all accounts of the recording adventure, actual or mythical, this is a far easier, painless path to audio heaven.