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November 30, 2012 9:11 AM   Subscribe

After thirty years of punk and rock and folk and techno and rebel songs and unexpected pop success and everything in between, the anarchic British band Chumbawamba has come to an end.
posted by Rory Marinich (92 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I get knocked down, and... hmm. OK. Looks like I'm on the floor.
posted by randomination at 9:13 AM on November 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


"Tubthumping" got me laid a lot in graduate school.

.
posted by bardic at 9:17 AM on November 30, 2012


It was that cider drink that did it, wasn't it?
posted by nathancaswell at 9:17 AM on November 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


Didn't know that they were still around; thought that they were a long-gone one hit wonder.
posted by octothorpe at 9:21 AM on November 30, 2012


I guess now we can sing about love.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:21 AM on November 30, 2012


It's like an era never happened.
posted by Artw at 9:22 AM on November 30, 2012


"Tubthumping" got me laid a lot in graduate school.

Are you just going to leave us hanging? Not going to expand at all? I mean... how? How did that fucking song get you laid? Did you sing it? Was it sung to you? Did you match it drink for drink? Did you stand up, march over to the stereo and switch it to Spiceworld? How could that song possibly get anyone, even one of the band members, laid?
posted by Elmore at 9:26 AM on November 30, 2012 [24 favorites]


Didn't know that they were still around; thought that they were a long-gone one hit wonder.

That's the thing, they were never a one-hit wonder the way we normally think of them - more like a cult/niche band with a devoted following who had a weird, random break into mainstream awareness with a single song.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:33 AM on November 30, 2012 [18 favorites]


.
posted by Splunge at 9:35 AM on November 30, 2012


They got knocked out, but didn't get up again.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:36 AM on November 30, 2012


.
posted by Mad_Carew at 9:38 AM on November 30, 2012


Guys, this is really important. I drank too much coffee, and I need to know, as a man, should I go to the one that says Chumba, or Wumba?

TIA!
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:43 AM on November 30, 2012


yeah, definatly wouldn't judge them by one pop song. Was never a super fan by any stretch but they had some good stuff
posted by edgeways at 9:44 AM on November 30, 2012


that was six months ago they called it quits.
posted by parmanparman at 9:44 AM on November 30, 2012


TMBG tribute!
posted by gwint at 9:45 AM on November 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is old news, but I'm all for this thread, cos I somehow missed out on this band.
posted by Skygazer at 9:46 AM on November 30, 2012


They were definitely one of the better performances I saw in the early 90s. The band would do quick costume changes between songs and dance about excitedly. It was a rather refreshing change from the usual punk rock acts that were normally hosted at this small venue.
posted by orme at 9:46 AM on November 30, 2012


I listened to them a lot in about 1989 or 1990, and I still smile when one of their songs comes on a campus radio station or is playing in a bar. Their music made them seem like they were having fun, and I can remember entire houses of people dancing happily to their music.
posted by Forktine at 9:48 AM on November 30, 2012


Tubthumping.... man that song is probably why I'm in a band: "Look at that guy! He's just like, yelling in a bullhorn! I can do that..." The, "Sing karaoke in the music video to the song" is such an awful trope. Pure genius.

I never stole Tubthumper, but I wanted to. I was like, 13.
posted by alex_skazat at 9:48 AM on November 30, 2012


WAMBA YOU FOOL NOT WUMBA

ahem

I loved all of their Tubthumper album more than I loved the actual song Tubthumping. I love how pretty and fussy their sound is, even when they're doing more rock-ish things. Anarchy and political radicalism doesn't have to be hostile and unpleasant, and Chumbawamba got me thinking about those things when I was twelve and not ready even for the fierceness of a poppy group like System of a Down.

Their late switch to folk really appealed to me too, and helped me appreciate folk early on when I wasn't quite "getting" it as a style.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:49 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


They had a long and interesting musical career before Tubthumping, which seemed like a hilarious fluke to anyone who had followed them to that point. "Oh, well hey, Chumba's on the radio! In the US!", and so forth.

"English Rebel Songs" is well worth a listen.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 9:50 AM on November 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Tubthumping" got me laid a lot in graduate school.

Are you just going to leave us hanging?


I had the same question but then I decided it was because of a really good karaoke version. But I'm a karaoke slut I might be an outlier.

(Okay, I'm definitely an outlier.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:51 AM on November 30, 2012


Karaoke. I'm surprisingly good. Being able to sing any song well at all somehow changes you from random drunk idiot to drunken badass pseudo rock star. It is simultaneously the best and worst thing that ever happened to me.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:02 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


which seemed like a hilarious fluke to anyone who had followed them to that point.

There are only two times I've been quite so shocked in my thirty-odd years as a music fanatic. "Tubthumping" was definitely the first. "Wait, this is WHO!?!?!" I thought it was the greatest musical prank/coup since the KLF.

(The other time, far less interesting, was when I heard "Ageless Beauty" by Stars after knowing them early on as a twinkly and insubstantial indie-synth duo.)
posted by mykescipark at 10:03 AM on November 30, 2012


.

/throws bucket of water in tribute
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:09 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Tubthumping" got me laid a lot in graduate school.

"Wanna fool around with Blaine?

(skit/gag continues after UCB opening credits)
posted by stifford at 10:10 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


thank god
posted by stormpooper at 10:13 AM on November 30, 2012


Your new favorite song:

She's Got All the Friends that Money Can Buy
posted by themanwho at 10:15 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


TIL Chumbawamba aren't an Australian band.
posted by furtive at 10:16 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Huh. I never realized they actually had more than one song.
posted by elizardbits at 10:19 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Judging from my still frequent explorations of used CD bins, "Tubthumper" is an album a ton of people regret buying.
posted by davebush at 10:19 AM on November 30, 2012


Their English Rebel Songs 1381-1984 album is a favorite of mine. I was very said when I heard they were calling it quits.

.
posted by immlass at 10:22 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not quite gone, there's still the Thatcher cd to come out once she finally pops her clogs.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:26 AM on November 30, 2012 [4 favorites]




There should be a term more nuanced than one-hit wonder for a band that is widely known for a single, anomalous song that is an outlier from the rest of their catalogue: Extreme being known for More Than Words, Green Day for Time of Your Life, and so forth.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:31 AM on November 30, 2012


And in keeping with the spirit of the post I made earlier today, I present the ABC's of Anarchism by Negativland and Chumbawamba, a really fun deconstruction of an unlikely pop hit.
posted by item at 10:32 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


As mentioned by others (and in the frickin' OP), they were a lot more than a silly pop hit. Example: In 2002, GM bought a Chumbawamba song for $70,000. Chumbawamba then took the money and gave it to corporate watchdogs that use the money to fund anti-GM ads.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:33 AM on November 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


When I was part of the anarchist community of the Twin Cities back in 90s, I sort of splintered off on my own. The focus there was really borrowed from contemporary European black block anarchists, with a lot of antifacist work, which was really silly, as there were maybe 60 self-identified fascists in Minneapolis, and most of them were skinheads who had actually been former high school friends and roommates of the anarchists, who were, in many cases, themselves former (or current) skinheads (of the anti-racist variety; they called themselves Baldies, not knowing that in Minneapolis, the Baldies had been an especially violent youth gang in the 60s.)

I wasn't interested in any of this. It was all something that Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin called "vanguard v. vanguard" politics, in which two fringes battled each other while doing nothing to actually influence the world in any meaningful way. There was a ridicuous facist v. antifacist riot at the University of Minnesota (I was there for it) that basically consisted of one racist sinhead showing up and getting maced and assaulted by antiracist skinheads. It was a big deal in the lefty press for a while -- one fellow was prosecuted for it, and the police tried to subpoena photos from the college paper, which refused on First Amendment grounds. What never got mentioned was that the Nazi that got beat up and the noble antifascist who beat him up were former schoolmates and friends. This started to seem more like a violent, politically tinged version of Peyton Place than anything that actually helped anybody. We were playing out a fantasy of noble antifascist streetfighters, they were playing out fantasies of nationalism and racial pride, and we were all closer to Civil War reenactors than real political figures, albeit reenactors who actually hurt each other. I am sure there were those who participated in all this who have a very different perspective, but this is how it struck me.

We were a pretty educated political community, though. And so I started sifting through the literature, looking for forms of anarchist organizing that addressed the sorts of things that I wanted to address. And I found myself responding to the two Digger movements: The True Levellers of Gerard Winstanley, and the later theatrical and cultural experiment in San Francisco of the same name. I suppose it was because I shared their viewpoint that the world is a common treasury, and that the act of segregating shared resources into very few hands and then forcing everybody else to work to get these resources doled out piecemeal was the source of untold misery. I had been through some very bleak periods of poverty and homelessness, and the anarchists around me didn't seem to be concerned with helping the poor or the needy in any meaningful way, perhaps because a lot of them were essentially Marxist and were looking for a revolution of the proletariat that they could hitch their wagon to, and so the lumpenproletariate weren't a pressing concern. And so I went my own way, and they became increasingly hostile toward me, dismissing my political concerns as "evolutionary" rather than "revolutionary" anarchist, and responding with extreme anger to any criticisms of their form of anarchism that came from my perspective.

At this time, English Rebel Songs was very important to me, especially their version of the Diggers' Song. I suppose it made me feel like part of an actual historic tradition, rather than a lone activist who had a deeply unpleasant break from his activist community, and it made me feel like a was a part of a still-living political tradition. It was a very lonely time for me, and the anarchist who were now nakedly hostile to me were me entire peer group and my former friends. I had really given my life over to activism at that timem and so were adrift. But the Diggers made me feel like it was possible to merge artistic and activist activities, as did Chumbawamba. So it saddens me that they have broken up, even if it has been a long time and everything has its lifespan. I still try to merge artistic work with social consciousness. I suppose because the band and I were both influenced by the Diggers, and I was influenced by Chumbawamba. I'll miss them.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:33 AM on November 30, 2012 [36 favorites]


I am still not entirely convinced there was ever an actual band called 'Chumbawamba,' that it is not some joke name someone heard from someone else while building flats for a high school play and it turned into a huge thing that everyone is pretty sure existed.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:34 AM on November 30, 2012


anomalous song that is an outlier from the rest of their catalogue

XTC: Dear God
posted by davebush at 10:40 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, don't forget that they extended Her Majesty by the Beatles to a full-length song critical of the Queen.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:47 AM on November 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


(I love that Hugo Ball with lobster claws picture so much.)

It was so much fun to stumble on to the "Shhhh!" album knowing nothing about them. I don't know why I bought it, but it was a used cassette (cassette!!), so probably cheap enough that an interesting cover made it worth trying. Interesting music that clearly had some thought and some historical knowledge behind it. But I didn't even try to interest others in them — too weird. When Tubthumping blew up a year or two later I tried the "y'know they've also got some really interesting songs beside that", but gave up.

Thanks for the music, you Working Men of England, you Sons of Freedom.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:53 AM on November 30, 2012


"You noble diggers all, stand up now, stand up now!"

Oh yes, indeed. When I saw them in Hollywood while they were touring on the strength of "Tubthumping," their merchandise booth didn't have any CDs or T-shirts or posters on offer, just anarchist literature. And they finished with lovely a capella number about...well...killing Nazis.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:30 AM on November 30, 2012


Amen
posted by snottydick at 11:38 AM on November 30, 2012


anomalous song that is an outlier from the rest of their catalogue

XTC: Dear God
Sgt. Rock isn't that different from the rest of their output.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:46 AM on November 30, 2012


There are only two times I've been quite so shocked in my thirty-odd years as a music fanatic. "Tubthumping" was definitely the first. "Wait, this is WHO!?!?!" I thought it was the greatest musical prank/coup since the KLF.

A couple of years ago, the UK Christmas no.1 was not, as usual, an X-Factor winner, but Rage Against The Machine's Killing In The Name Of. I'm not usually a fan of rockism and real-music-is-the-best-music stuff, but it pleased me that it confused so many people.

I would highly recommend Boff Whalley's book Footnote. From memory, it ends a little before their brief moment as pop stars, but it's interesting to read what it was like being in an anarchist band and squatting back in the 80s.
posted by mippy at 12:01 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sgt Rock and Dear God are my least favourite XTC songs by far.
posted by mippy at 12:02 PM on November 30, 2012


On the list of awesome bands that totally should not have been one-hit wonders, and that were ill-served by their unfair break in fame, Chumbawumba is number one. What a great band they were, and it still annoys me when people make jokes about "Tubthumping" any time they're mentioned.

Number two is probably the Buggles.
posted by koeselitz at 12:16 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sgt Rock and Dear God are my least favourite XTC songs by far.

Submitted for your consideration.
posted by mykescipark at 12:16 PM on November 30, 2012


anomalous song that is an outlier from the rest of their catalogue

It's a shame that Dexys Midnight Runners are still known in the US almost exclusively for Come on Eileen.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:19 PM on November 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


So does this mean they'll just be pissing their nights away from now on?
posted by spitefulcrow at 12:37 PM on November 30, 2012


"Come on Eileen" finishes a close second behind my most despised hit song of all time - Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love".
posted by davebush at 12:48 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I discovered punk rock and went straight to Crass. The beautiful riot grrl with the locker next to mine had dreadlocks and a home-made Chumbawamba t-shirt (this was in Indiana, very daring). She told me it was what "the people from Crass were doing now" - not technically accurate, but good enough for me. I bought Shhh and my life was changed. One of the best pop albums of all time.

English Rebel Songs got me laid pretty well too, a few years later.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 12:50 PM on November 30, 2012


anomalous song that is an outlier from the rest of their catalogue

XTC: Dear God


Really? "Dear God" seems to be (a) far from their most well-known song by most metrics and (b) not a million miles removed from "Senses Working Overtime" or "Life Begins at the Hop" or any of several other XTC songs. In any event, where I grew up (less than hour from the location mentioned on your profile page), they were probably best known back in the day for the slightly out-of-step-with-the-rest-of-the-catalogue "Making Plans for Nigel" anyway.

And note that some bands are so heterogeneous in their output that I don't know if you could even apply the same "this famous song is different from the rest" criteria. XTC's fellow new wavers Squeeze, for example: "Cool For Cats," "Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)," and "Tempted" sound to me like songs from three different bands. Of course, it is three different vocalists, but other bands with three singers (The Band, for example) seem to have produced a consistent sound no matter who sang.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:19 PM on November 30, 2012


Isn't Slade best known for some weird non-Christmas track in the US?
posted by Artw at 1:30 PM on November 30, 2012


davebush: “‘Come on Eileen’ finishes a close second behind my most despised hit song of all time - Robert Palmer's ‘Addicted to Love’.”

It's almost painful for me to read this. How can you compare the two? "Come On Eileen" was the anthem of a brilliant man who discovered a way to resurrect the music he loved and make something beautiful and great out of it; "Addicted To Love" doesn't even deserve to be mentioned. It is not fair that "Come On Eileen" was Dexy's only major hit, but that doesn't make it a bad song.

I guess at this point I'll just come out and say that XTC are a terrible, boring, bland pop band that couldn't make an interesting or stirring song to save their lives, and that relied so heavily on overproduction and cheesy gimmicks that they only could have succeeded in the 1980s.
posted by koeselitz at 1:37 PM on November 30, 2012


Glad we cleared that up.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:40 PM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am a fan of "Come on Eileen," which has some smashing lyrics. But I wish Dexy's was also known for work like this. And their song "Celtic Soul Brothers" was reportedly the inspiration for Roddy Doyle's The Commitments.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:49 PM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


God I love the Tubthumper CD so much. When I was in eighth grade I thought Mary Mary (No virgin me for I have sinned; I sold my soul for sex and gin) was like the greatest thing I had ever heard. I also quote those little bits at the beginning and ends of songs a kind of ridiculous amount. You'd be surprised how often I tell people to "blast the brains out with water or air".

I only recognized two songs, Silent Night and God Save the Queen. And I only know which is which because one of them everybody stands up for.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:52 PM on November 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Torturing James Hetfield
posted by yoHighness at 2:06 PM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mrs. Pterodactyl: For a little while I was uncomfortable listening to "One by One" off that same album because of the intro wherein a church organ plays and somebody distinctly coughs during it. That was, like, the edgiest thing I knew to exist.

Mary Mary I'd just skip over because geez, even the WORD sex was probably a crime somewhere.
posted by Rory Marinich at 2:13 PM on November 30, 2012


Dexy's had a No.1 with Geno in the UK as well as Come On Eileen...although it was in their first slumboy soul band incarnation. Searching For The Young Soul Rebels is an amazing album.
posted by mippy at 2:13 PM on November 30, 2012


I guess at this point I'll just come out and say that XTC are a terrible, boring, bland pop band that couldn't make an interesting or stirring song to save their lives, and that relied so heavily on overproduction and cheesy gimmicks that they only could have succeeded in the 1980s.

Why, I'll box your cloth ears for that talk!
posted by mippy at 2:14 PM on November 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Nothing That's New is a charming example of how good they could be. There is a risk I will post more.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 2:30 PM on November 30, 2012


XTC are a terrible, boring, bland pop band that couldn't make an interesting or stirring song to save their lives, and that relied so heavily on overproduction and cheesy gimmicks that they only could have succeeded in the 1980s

You're trying too hard. Calm down.
posted by davebush at 2:41 PM on November 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Koesolitz: I guess at this point I'll just come out and say that XTC are a terrible, boring, bland pop band that couldn't make an interesting or stirring song to save their lives, and that relied so heavily on overproduction and cheesy gimmicks that they only could have succeeded in the 1980s.

Um...i see what you're sorta saying here and...well...basically...err..ummmm...

.....no.
posted by Skygazer at 3:19 PM on November 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


XTC are a terrible, boring, bland pop band that couldn't make an interesting or stirring song to save their lives, and that relied so heavily on overproduction and cheesy gimmicks that they only could have succeeded in the 1980s

Did someone re-sleeve their Air Supply albums in your XTC collection, perhaps?
posted by mykescipark at 4:41 PM on November 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I guess at this point I'll just come out and say that XTC are a terrible, boring, bland pop band that couldn't make an interesting or stirring song to save their lives

they were one of those, "i guess they're ok" groups - but what about the dukes of stratophear?
posted by pyramid termite at 5:02 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Didn't know that they were still around; thought that they were a long-gone one hit wonder.
posted by octothorpe at 5:21 PM on November 30


Yeah, you probably thought the same thing about Dexys Midnight Runners too, right?
posted by Decani at 5:10 PM on November 30, 2012


All those songs sound like different varieties of crap pop to me :P
posted by palbo at 5:10 PM on November 30, 2012


I guess at this point I'll just come out and say that XTC are a terrible, boring, bland pop band that couldn't make an interesting or stirring song to save their lives

I regret to inform you that you're full of it.
posted by Decani at 5:12 PM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Isn't Slade best known for some weird non-Christmas track in the US?

Run Runaway
posted by candyland at 6:06 PM on November 30, 2012


Decani: "Yeah, you probably thought the same thing about Dexys Midnight Runners too, right?"

Until someone did a post about them here, yea. There do seem to be a lot of UK artists who are big over there and barely noticed here. I assume that it works the other way too.
posted by octothorpe at 6:16 PM on November 30, 2012


Decani: I regret to inform you that you're full of it.”

Yeah, there's some good stuff on White Music, but there's also plenty of aimless stuff. Go 2 is slightly worse, and Drums & Wires is finally full of cloying melodies that aren't really about anything. And everything after that – English Settlement, etc – well, I should like it, I love janglepop, but I can't really enjoy it a bit.

I don't know. I guess it's me. But I've got like half a dozen XTC records – I like that era of music, I tend to collect and listen to whatever I can get my hands on – and it's all just... meh.

pyramid termite: “they were one of those, 'i guess they're ok' groups”

That's probably the best description of XTC I've ever read. I think I was shooting to say something like that, but my internal criticism mechanism is keyed a little high.

“... but what about the dukes of stratophear?”

Wow, I have never heard of this. And it's better than any XTC I've ever heard. I didn't even know they did side-projects. Interesting.
posted by koeselitz at 6:33 PM on November 30, 2012


be sure and check it out, then - it's a wonderful pastiche and affectionate parody of 60s psych pop - they nail it better than anyone else i've ever heard, with good melodies
posted by pyramid termite at 7:07 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really thought it mattered. Thought that music mattered. Does it? Bollocks. Only awesome anarchist bands matter.

.

*thumps tub*
posted by stet at 8:59 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


koeselitz, XTC - River of Orchids. Starts out with silence and the sound of drops water. Wait for it...Turn it up....Wear headphones. IMO, XTC are some extremely talented guys, as you just discovered with Dukes of Stratosphear - they can play anything, any style. I think you're getting tied up in how slick they can sound.
posted by ashbury at 9:50 PM on November 30, 2012


My favorite Chumbawumba moment I was aware of before this thread: Calling for the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal from the "platform" of the David Letterman show.

My favorite Chumbawumba moment I was unaware of before this thread, courtesy Wiki:

"General Motors paid Chumbawamba $100,000 to use the song 'Pass It Along' from the WYSIWYG album, for a Pontiac Vibe television advertisement in 2002. Chumbawamba gave the money to the anti-corporate activist groups Indymedia and CorpWatch who used the money to launch an information and environmental campaign against GM."

Thanks also to Wiki, we have something resembling a metric for "one-hit wonder." I'd do the Wiki research, but I've had a very, very long day...
posted by dr. zoom at 10:17 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


After all is said and done, I am sad that Chumbawumba is gone. But you know what? The Mekons are still together. There is hope for this sad world yet.
posted by koeselitz at 11:07 PM on November 30, 2012


ashbury: “koeselitz, XTC - River of Orchids . Starts out with silence and the sound of drops water. Wait for it...Turn it up....Wear headphones. IMO, XTC are some extremely talented guys, as you just discovered with Dukes of Stratosphear - they can play anything, any style. I think you're getting tied up in how slick they can sound.”

Hm. Well, this is interesting. The internet says this is from... 1999? I'll admit that I am not really aware of anything they've done beyond maybe 1986. I really have gone at their first five or six albums a bunch of times expecting to love them; jangle-pop is a penchant of mine, I love all that stuff generally. I must've slogged through English Settlement half a dozen times, but nothing sticks. Drums & Wires was really fun the first time or two, but after that – well, it's pop music, with the same shallownesses. I think there are probably people somewhere who love "Life Begins At The Hop" and things like that. I guess I'm just not one of them.

This "River Of Orchids" thing is somewhat intriguing, though. I'll give it a few more listens.
posted by koeselitz at 11:15 PM on November 30, 2012


Wow, I have never heard of this [Dukes of Stratosphere]. And it's better than any XTC I've ever heard. I didn't even know they did side-projects. Interesting.

XTC always had a serious edge to it though even if they were making pop-music so to speak, they were either pushing the boundary of melodicism with a fair amount of dissonance and/or with lyrics lambasting British conservative sentimentality.

I remember the first time I heard Making Plans For Nigel on the radio as a kid and thinking it was just about the weirdest and coolest freaking song imaginable. I still love that song and think of it as the song that brought with it all the sorta borderline radio friendly New Wave pop coming from England at the time (Along with Don't You Want Me, Baby...).

I sorta get that their records can get a tad cloying, but their singles were usually just fantastic, and how can you not like all the great shit going on (musicianship wise, lyrics and music-wise) as in a song like Generals and Majors not to mention, it's infectious as heck.

XTC also probably made a fair amount of the Talking Heads eclecticism acceptable for American radio. Man, 1980 was just a great time for interesting music, and the 80's in general, unique band sounds were so prized and appreciated.
posted by Skygazer at 6:51 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which is all to say, yeah, Dukes of Stratosphere were like critics darlings and universally beloved, and it made you realize what they could really do pop-wise, but at the same time they didn't feel comfortable doing it under the XTC flag or brand, you might say, and I think they really struggled with how codified that DoS/Beatles-esque sound had become. I mean obviously they could pull that off effortlessly, but I think XTC came from a time when it was all about destroying and mucking around with conventional structures.

I think a lot of artists in many fields go into this mid-period where establishing their own voice gets downgraded a bit and try to join the canon, as it were, of what they truly love and what comes most naturally just to feed the heart and the soul of what originally attracted them to something and that motivated them to doing it themselves.
posted by Skygazer at 7:01 AM on December 1, 2012


Yeah, there's some good stuff on White Music, but there's also plenty of aimless stuff.

Yeah, the point is you were proved wrong.
posted by Decani at 6:17 PM on December 1, 2012


Yeah, the point is you were proved wrong.

no, the point is that we showed him a side of a band he hadn't heard before and he was intrigued by it and said so

that's cool

it isn't about proving people wrong - it's about turning them on to stuff they haven't heard and might like

everyone wins
posted by pyramid termite at 6:45 PM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, it's about proving people wrong, humiliating them, and making them feel like they need therapy if they're American or booze if they're not.
posted by Decani at 7:03 PM on December 1, 2012


so, in this case, that would work out to 30 seconds texting a friend with use of the phrase LOL or splitting a bottle of o'douls with his dog

gotcha
posted by pyramid termite at 7:34 PM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


and making them feel like they need therapy if they're American or booze if they're not.

Therapy and Booze, is going to me the name of my next memoir.
posted by Skygazer at 9:23 AM on December 2, 2012


Skygazer: “I remember the first time I heard Making Plans For Nigel on the radio as a kid and thinking it was just about the weirdest and coolest freaking song imaginable. I still love that song and think of it as the song that brought with it all the sorta borderline radio friendly New Wave pop coming from England at the time (Along with Don't You Want Me, Baby...). I sorta get that their records can get a tad cloying, but their singles were usually just fantastic, and how can you not like all the great shit going on (musicianship wise, lyrics and music-wise) as in a song like Generals and Majors not to mention, it's infectious as heck. XTC also probably made a fair amount of the Talking Heads eclecticism acceptable for American radio. Man, 1980 was just a great time for interesting music, and the 80's in general, unique band sounds were so prized and appreciated.”

Heh. Well, I'll admit this is probably partially just taste, but "Generals And Majors" has always been archetypical for me of the band's sound, and I... well, I really can't listen to it without getting annoyed. That singsongy chorus is really what does it; the melody is just... well, I listen to XTC and I think "circus music" and I generally can't shake that feeling.

Actually, I discovered Drums & Wires and "Making Plans For Nigel" years after I'd tried enjoying XTC (I started with English Settlement, then Go 2 – weird, I know, but that's how it works when you do it through cratedigging) and for a long time "Making Plans" was my favorite XTC song. After a while I realized why: because in many ways it's utterly unlike the other stuff they've done (that I know of) – it settles into a kind of groove, it has a riff that can't really be described as "wacky," and it doesn't bounce up and down too much as it goes along. I went into Drums & Wires hoping for more like that, but... well, I didn't get it. And in time I've gotten jaded even with "Making Plans" because it's interesting, but somehow superficial.

And maybe this is utterly unfair to a pop song, but – that superficiality is probably one of the things that bugs me about them. I grew up with new wave, it's the soundtrack of my youth, but I've learned to be wary of its sheen. XTC's most resonant tunes (to me, anyway, which probably isn't saying much) at most express kind of a leaning. "Generals and Majors" is sort of an anti-war song – sort of – and anti-war songs were fashionable at that time; but it always seemed weirdly archaic to me. I really don't believe anybody in the 1980s made war for the sake of glory. And it's vague enough to lack real bite (probably because it's supposed to be a pop song). The same is true of "Making Plans," which at least is an interesting concept, but they don't really take the generation-gap commentary far enough for it to become compelling to me.

But really, as I said, this isn't fair. They're pop songs. They were experimenting. I've probably been listening to this too much lately.
posted by koeselitz at 6:26 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really don't believe anybody in the 1980s made war for the sake of glory.

It's not quite the same thing as "glory", but an amazing number of people thought that Reagan's military build up and successful invasion of Grenada showed that "America is strong again". The reason that anti-war songs were fashionable at the time is that Reagan (and Thatcher) really did want to use military might.

That said, I really don't think "Generals and Majors" is a very good XTC song ‐ their musical style just doesn't work with The Big Issues. But I love them when they deal with the small bits in the junk drawer of human emotion, so I'm more than content to have "English Settlement" and "Drums and Wires". YEnjoymentMV
posted by benito.strauss at 7:53 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I went to their last show, in Oslo. I had only seen them once before, in London in 1992.

I enjoyed them more the first time around, but it was still a great concert here in Oslo. The high point was probably when we all were singing The day the nazi died.
posted by magnusbe at 9:28 PM on December 2, 2012


Chumbawamba’s Long Voyage
Chumbawamba’s story is a kind of allegory: what does a fully realized radical band do when they run up against the contradictions and limits of a conservative subculture? How do you propagandize for your beliefs when you stand to lose your credibility by using mainstream distribution and airwaves? Does the stale and now-gelatinized debate between “major” and “indie” mean anything when, with the Internet, a divide no longer exists? If you had the opportunity to support yourself, your family, and your local community with one hundred thousand dollars, would you allow your legacy to be reduced to a CGI dancing-baby two-minute pop song?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:43 AM on December 6, 2012


well, I listen to XTC and I think "circus music" and I generally can't shake that feeling.


I know what you mean, there is a weird bounce in their songs, like the sort of thing that would happen with some other eighties bands, with the quickest example that comes to mind at the moment being Midnight Oil and I don't know perhaps Huey Lewis and the News (but that might just be my inner Patrick Bateman talking)? I think it comes from playing something essentially somber that should be in a minor key, or is in a minor key with a poppy and bright rhythm. But XTC were walking that fine line between bigtime commercial presence and being pretty much a very very accomplished bunch who indeed had quite an edge.

It's a tough balance, but the fact that songs like "Nigel" and "Generals and Majors" (And if it was in reference to the Falklands, lyrically it's a scathing indictment of that fiasco/military adventure Thatcher felt necessary and then the whole antediluvian aspect of the song makes a lot of sense and is actually not only a nice kick up the Tory collective ass of the time, but funny as well. And I think "Dear God" is just tremendous, lyrically and performance-wise, and the video was brilliant. Again, that something like that charted at the time, in the late 80s when the whole top-40 was useless pap is impressive indeed.

Album-wise I think their most cohesive and best work is Skylarking, and it also contains some of their best songs period, and I guess that album is what led to the Dukes of Stratosphere side project. Somehow on Skylarking they never get wierd or bouncy, and the songs breath...and please the aural palatte, and just really work. There's a lot in that Wiki link about Todd Rodgruen's influence on the record...
posted by Skygazer at 7:41 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


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