The artistic success of 1986’s Skylarking initiated the British group’s second creative and commercial wind. Originally aligned with the late-'70s new wave movement, XTC reprofiled itself as a modern-day pop group as likely to surf a psychedelic wave as a prickly, complicated rhythm. It was no longer typecast as an askew pop band permanently stuck on the musical sidelines. And as the ‘90s alternative wave gained momentum, XTC stubbornly refused to murky its waters with extra layers of in-fashion distorted guitars and abrasion. As the members were studio perfectionists, XTC tunes are most admirable for the little intricacies lurking underneath the broader strokes: the ever-present harmonies, the swooning melodies that emit unusual sunshine (“Dear Madam Barnum”), the social commentary (“Books Are Burning”). “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” has the immediacy of the hit single that never was, but the smoother, moodier pieces (Colin Moulding’s “My Bird Performs,” Andy Partridge’s “Holly up on Poppy“) remain the group’s strongest attractions.

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