Melody Maker | Album | 25 October 1986
XTC? Rarely the pushers of trite drivel, they've even mined the occasional nugget to clutch tightly at times of pain or pleasure. It's been over two years since their last LP, so you never know.
A collection of wandering spirits, "Skylarking" is delicate and disturbing, sinking into a melancholic pool one moment, dancing on the surface the next. Funny noises are all over the place – bees humming in "Drowning In A Summer's Cauldron", plinky-plonk piano rain in "Ballet For A Rainy Day", the surf's up of "Mermaid Smiled". It's a quaint and idyllic parallel to Big Audio Dynamite's urban effects.
Much of "Skylarking" has a preoccupation with the elements. "Grass" and "1,000 Umbrellas" are almost the sort of weather songs that Rod, Jane and Freddy parade on "Rainbow", the kiddies TV show. Were it not for the smutty humour of the former and the nose-against-the-window misery of the latter, it would be easy to imagine Andy Partridge with long, blond locks and producer Todd Rundgren as Bungle the Rocky Mountain Bear. Actually, the reference is not unwarranted as much of the LP exudes an innocence, a let's pretend, and tears are never far away. Sometimes it reminds me of early Pink Floyd.
"Dying", with its grandfather clock beat and pleading for immortality, is a clearly defined and expertly explored mood, as is the brassy uptempo sound of "The Man Who Smiled Around". Complacency creeps in once or twice, but "Season’s Cycle" captures the essence of the album - the greenery, the distant clouds, the threat of winter's rape, the unpredictable climate that is forever England. Forever XTC too.
The balances of "Skylarking" will surely see XTC back on the turntables. I might try to resist, but I've a feeling that its place on mine for the next few weeks is booked and paid for in advance.