XTC - Go 2

Go 2

Released 1978 on Virgin
Reviewed by Fitter Stoke, 06/07/2021ce

Their eternal cult status (with sales to match) aside, no-one could really classify XTC as an “unsung” band. As the years go by, their legacy of innovative, clever records has become more and more acknowledged by both critics and musicians, and I’d be the last to deny their greatness having been a fan from their ‘3D EP’ onward. But I’m here to talk about XTC’s second album ‘Go 2’ which, unfairly I think, rarely if ever figures in anyone’s reckoning of the great records of the immediate post-punk era. I’m proud to state that it’s my favourite XTC album, and I’ll try to explain why.

I can still remember the impact that XTC had on me the minute I heard ‘Science Friction’ (the lead track on the aforesaid ‘3D EP’) as a Pistols-obsessed sixteen year old. That, and a wacky, adrenalin-packed appearance on ‘Rock Goes To College’ (or something like it) had me hooked. I loved their debut LP (‘White Music’) and its attendant 45s to distraction. Along with the Buzzcocks, Ultravox! and Magazine, XTC were my favourite band, and when ‘Go 2’ appeared in 1978, I was primed and ready.

So here’s the thing. (God, I hate that expression. Forget that I wrote it.)

Most, if not all, of the albums I dug in my late teens haven’t stood the test of time for me. Even ‘Another Music In A Different Kitchen’ (which I literally wore out on LP) and ‘White Music’ have faded over the decades. I don’t dislike them, but their appeal has undoubtedly diminished with maturity and the wisdom (?) of passing years.

But not ‘Go 2’.

For some reason I can’t really explain, XTC’s second album has sustained me for nearly three quarters of my now pension age life. I just love it, from first track until last. For one thing, it features the tightest rhythm section of the new wave era at its best and, yes, I’m including my beloved Frantz/Weymouth in that reckoning. Driving ‘Go 2’ throughout is the uncannily symbiotic bass/drums understanding of Colin Moulding and Terry Chambers, the latter surely the tightest and most accomplished of all drummers of his era. Check out the pair’s work underpinning Barry Andrews’ ‘Super Tuff’ as an example. It’s just perfect.

For another thing, ‘Go 2’ sees XTC stretch out from being an Andy Partridge vehicle to a much more rounded, if hardly democratic, band. On ‘White Music’, Partridge’s songs stood out so much that poor Colin’s efforts sounded like filler. Not here. By ‘Go 2’ Moulding’s compositions come close to rivalling his old mate’s for accessible eccentricity and insight. ‘Buzzcity Talking’, ‘Crowded Room’, ‘The Rhythm’ and - especially - ‘I Am The Audience’ are almost as fine as anything Partridge had written up to that point, with the last-named deemed good enough to close the album - and rightly so.

Then there’s the emergence of Barry Andrews into the vocal and compositional mix. ‘My Weapon’ and ‘Super Tuff’ are different enough to add a whole new flavour to ‘Go 2’, the eeriness of the latter presaging the blacker elements its writer would bring to Shriekback in the ensuing decade. The disturbingly misogynistic lyrics of ‘My Weapon’ haven’t aged well but the song itself is as catchy as they come. (Andrews’ rejected songs for the album - released much later on the ‘Coat Of Many Cupboards’ box set - are better still, and go a long way in explaining his imminent divorce from the band.)

Whither, then, young Andy Partridge? Well, by ‘Go 2’ he’s in his element. If ‘Meccanik Dancing’ is a carbon-copy of ‘White Music’s similarly spiky opener ‘Radios In Motion’, it’s as great a way to get the album underway as I can think of, with a chorus so infectious there should have been a face mask supplied with the sleeve. ‘Jumping In Gomorrah’, ‘Red’ and ‘Beatown’ plough a similar, irresistibly fleet and feisty furrow, epitomising Partridge’s verve in producing punky-pop masterpieces seemingly out of nowhere. Any one of these would’ve made a great 45 but, like the contemporaneous wonder that was ‘Are You Receiving Me?’, probably would have bombed anyway, such was the indifference of a Boney M and Plastic Bertrand-loving nation at the time.

But Partridge saves his ace cards - two of them - for the second track of each side. ‘Battery Brides (Andy Paints Brian)’ shares the same eight-in-a-bar time as ‘Meccanik Dancing’, but at half the pace: even slower at the turntable-from-start engineered intro. A paean to those young ladies whose ambition ends at housewife status (a much more typical scenario then than now), the song has a randomness in its feel quite unlike anything Partridge - or anyone else for that matter - had recorded before. The twice-played middle section seems even more spontaneous, with Moulding playing seemingly alien bass notes in a keyless void, yet resolving beautifully at the “production line” pauses. ‘Life Is Good In The Greenhouse’ (“Rather be a plant than be your Mickey Mouse” - I love it!) is weirder still. While Andy intones his preference for a plant-like existence over a domineering relationship, Moulding and Chambers seem hellbent on plodding out the dreariest thudding beat in their arsenal. It should be a recipe for monotony but somehow it mesmerises, partly down to a sublime production job by John Leckie (with loads of reverb) and partly down to the oh-so-subtle keyboard embellishments of the soon to depart Mr Andrews. Those two belters not only bring a welcome change of pace (so lacking on XTC’s debut ‘White Music’) but represent a more abstract side to Partridge’s muse to which he has returned only sporadically.

Taken as a whole, ‘Go 2’ was and is one hell of a satisfying listen, packed with punch, variety and belting tunes, plus enough left-field moments to resonate long (try 43 years!) after it’s penetrated the psyche. Well, that’s how I see it anyway. It’s still the XTC album I turn to first for kicks, and gets played a lot more often than most of the other records I bought in 1978. Life really is good in the greenhouse.

A few side notes:

1. On its first release, ‘Go 2’ came generously packaged with a 12” EP called ‘Go +’ which contained some radically different dub takes on four of the album’s songs. It’s fun, but not essential;

2. I think I’m correct in stating that ‘Go 2’ is the only XTC album containing no tracks released on 45, at least in their studio version. I’ve probably said more than enough above to indicate what I think of that decision. Interestingly, the latest APE CD of the album places the non-album single ‘Are You Receiving Me’ after Colin Moulding’s ‘I Am The Audience’, spoiling the flow of the record for me;

3. The rejected Barry Andrews songs referred to above, ‘Things Fall To Bits’ and ‘Us Being Us’ feature Andrews’ Cockney wide boy vocal at its cheekiest with some deft lyrical touches that make me laugh out loud every time I hear them. Sadly, they can only be found on the 2002 box set mentioned above which is currently out of catalogue. I’d love it if APE or some enterprising reissue label could put out an expanded edition of ‘Go 2’ with all of Andrews’ tracks, both versions of ‘Are You Receiving Me’, its ace Moulding coupling ‘Instant Tunes’, and the ‘Go +’ EP tracks all present and correct. Hint hint;

4. The Hipgnosis-designed sleeve of ‘Go 2’ is a gas, especially with the original LP insert lined up at the correct angle. The map of Swindon included within is also quite a giggle. I’ll say no more.

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