A Coat of Many Cupboards
As befits one of the most complicated bands in modern rock music, this four-disc, 60-song retrospective offers up one of the more complex, dizzying historical tales imaginable -- one you can even dance to if you put your mind to it. While XTC have been virtually absent from the stage for more than two decades -- thanks in large part to Andy Partridge's reluctance to face the public -- the sprinkling of early live material indicates that the band could turn many a head in concert. That ability is demonstrated here by tracks like the frenetic "Traffic Light Rock," recorded live in Liverpool in 1977, and an assured, florid medley of "Atom Age," "Hang On to the Night," and "Neon Shuffle," captured in Australia two years later. Most of the Cupboards are stuffed with alternate takes of tunes well known to X-ficionados; palpably altered mixes of "Life Begins at the Hop" and "Towers of London" (a rendition that, for some reason, was rejected by the band's label) rub up against unpolished but uncanny demos such as "Science Friction" (the oldest tune presented here) and a haunting "Dear God." The set is likewise peppered with previously unreleased songs covering most of XTC's 15 years with Virgin; from the hectic "Fireball Mk 5" (which never made it onto White Music) to the discretely layered "Sleepyheads" (excised from Drums and Wires), the ephemera goes a long way toward tracking the growth within the band. That's just as evident in the raft of demos from the band's later, more bucolic period -- spare takes on "Mayor of Simpleton" and "King for a Day" -- that could pass for pop-world CAT scans of ultimately epic works. The lavish package, replete with multiple compartments and the like, contains a 60-page booklet outfitted with track-by-track notes by Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding and an essay by XTC expert Harrison Sherwood. To be sure, the cupboards are anything but bare.