XTC can be a study in contrast. On Black Sea, it's a minimalist quartet with expansive productions, a modernist circa-1980 dance band with undanceable rhythms and its heart in '60s pop. And it's a group whose songs—with unflagging intelligence—question everyone and distrust signs of intellect. Its leader, Andy Partridge, is the virtual definition of the standoffish British observer, preferring socio-political metaphor over matters of the heart—and always singing on the defensive, as if he's the kid at the bottom of the pileup being beaten senseless. Black Sea is the group's fourth album, continuing along the sonic improvements and compositional maturity that took root with its previous release, Drums and Wires. "Respectable Street," "Generals and Majors," and "Towers of London" are the closest this group of misanthropes is likely to come to accessible, mainstream pop. "Living Through Another Cuba" and "Love at First Sight" virtually define the group's obstinate approach, spelling out its internal paranoia with jagged rhythms, carefully placed and seductively catchy backing vocals, and a parade of sounds that suggest the circus is in town.