Nonsuch (Geffen)

By Bob Bahr

XTC albums bloom slowly. The first couple of times through Nonsuch left me nonplussed, but by the fifth or sixth listening, the musical hooks went deep into my psyche.

That sequence of events surprised me not one bit; it has been that way for XTC records since the beginning. XTC's glossy finish has always been a sinister disguise for a hierarchy of catchy phrases and unforgettable melodies, a hierarchy that pulls you deeper into each song, without rendering useless the qualities loved at first blush. And on many, many levels, Nonsuch is a gorgeous record.

The lyrical subjects on Nonsuch veer smoothly from pointed satire to gentle poetic musings. In "The Smartest Monkeys," vocalist Andy Partridge thrusts the knife,

Well man created the cardboard box to sleep in it

And man converted the newspaper to a blanket

Well you have to admit that he's come a long way

From swinging in the trees.

Just one song earlier, he was lightheadedly extolling the virtues of the humble daisy. Jealousy is symbolized by a crocodile in another tune, and sex turns into a powerful wave in the next, all with a deft hand that gives the images a wonderful freshness.

The music here is glossy and uncomplicated, which makes the occasional provocative guitar figure or like musical trick all the more striking. The 17 songs on this recording range from the perfect pop length of 2 and 1/2 minutes to an extravagant five minutes, making it required listening for current would-be pop artists that seem long of breath and short of thrift. Guitarist/keyboardist Dave Gregory leads the fine musicianship in this English trio, with songwriters Colin Moulding and Partridge using the available tools perfectly.

One of these tools is pop history, particularly the chapters marked "Beatles" and "Beach Boys." Both are heard influencing the music, the Beach Boys flavor evident in the vocal arrangements, the Beatles in the song structures and instrumentation. Yet XTC continues to keep an "alternative" profile in American music circles, probably because this ultimately pop music has captured an audience the size of an alternative act's.

Like many musical groups, XTC makes categorization seem pretty silly. With infectious cuts such as "Crocodile," "Hop on Poppy," and "War Dance" standing out in a solid 60-minute disc, the best way to describe Nonsuch is simply "Agreeable Addiction."