Yesterday was the birthday of Colin Moulding, Andy Partridge’s partner from the original XTC to its demise when, apparently, Moulding demurred on any further work to that end. Partridge was always the more prolific, but Moulding contributed some of the best-known XTC songs, at least in the early going. 1984’s The Big Express isn’t an exception in as much as “Wake Up”—Moulding’s—is probably the song I most readily associate with the album. And today’s song, also Moulding’s, is one of the other standout tracks. Partridge, of course, is responsible for the rest of the LP and it’s still probably my favorite XTC album—shorter than English Settlement (1982) and Nonsuch (1992), which both go on a bit, and more rock and odd than the lapis sheen of Skylarking (1988) and Apple Venus (1999). Nothing else is in the running, in my book. I’ve already posted about the brilliantly condensed “I Bought Myself a Liarbird,” so, today, Moulding’s.
Since Moulding and I share a birthday (he’s four years older), I feel that I have even more reason to identify with “I Remember the Sun” which is a song about summer as an ongoing, recurrent experience. Especially the way the summers of childhood stay with you. Moulding packs in lots of description of the heated sun of your average August, which maybe you notice more when you’re changing age as it rages. “When I remember distant days / I remember many things, but / Most of all I remember the sun / Squinting at the sun through eyes / Screwed up by a fireball.” You can see the sunspots swarming before you. He even gets the “Tarmac on the road is soft”—and I remember it with bare feet, kids—and “heat that hangs like water on the road.”
The latter line comes at the end of the bridge, which is a truly odd one, reminding me of how McCartney and Lennon used to write sometimes, one doing the bridge for the other’s tune. Here, Moulding does both but as if his “other” came up with it. The singing of “Sun that worked on overtime” is somewhat unnerving, hitting a high note at the start of the phrase seems to throw it off. But then the song, with its nervous horn and slow-sliding beat that seems to be backing its way into the tune, is full of odd bits. Not least how the lead voice attacks “Most of all” to be backed up by unison voices on “I remember the sun.” The words claim “I give emotion at the drop of a hat” and yet it’s not an emotional song—the syncopation makes it sound like an early Pink Floyd track played speeded up. It’s very much an English summer—or maybe they summered elsewhere, like the Mediterranean. It wouldn’t be out of place.
The part that immediately sucked me in is “Days we had enormous super powers”—that’s the childhood I remember too. Not only playing “super heroes” from our favorite Marvel comics regularly, but also that feeling that one had, because of imaginative reveries—particularly in the backseat on long drives to holiday spots—that seemed a power in themselves, that the mind always opened on possibilities that exhausted the realm of the possible. “Hot as golden sands in fields / We wiled away the hours”—long days to “play” outside when the heat made transformation inevitable. The deserts we crossed, the seas that washed us up here, the uninhabitable planets we explored.
XTC is one of the best of the post-punk, post-Beatles bands, combining the musical idioms of their times—contemporary with ska and The Clash and Talking Heads—with a grasp of how The Beatles did it, and even at times some of the acerbic bite of Elvis Costello meets Ray Davies. All of which is to say that they were one of the more consistently inventive, interesting, musical and prickly bands of their day. At times Partridge is a bit lacking in finesse and I think the albums would’ve benefited from more Moulding than they have, but, still. It worked for a good little while. So that now, when I remember distant days, I’m remembering the mid-Eighties and the ongoing sequence of XTC albums when the band was in its prime, and so was I.