Sunday, January 14, 2018

XTC: This is Pop

Directed by Roger Penny and Charlie Thomas, XTC: This is Pop is a documentary film about one of the great British bands to come out of late 70s new wave boom who went from this oddball post-punk group to becoming one of the darlings of the British music scene despite their limited commercial success. The film follows the band from their early years to the period in the mid-80s where they became a studio-only band until the early 2000s when they disbanded as vocalist/guitarist Andy Partridge, bassist/vocalist Colin Moulding, guitarist Dave Gregory, and drummer Terry Chambers tell their story as well as comments from several admirers including Stewart Copeland of the Police, Clem Burke of Blondie, Harry Shearer, music producers John Leckie and Hugh Paghdam, and Steven Wilson. The result is a whimsical and offbeat film from Roger Penny and Charlie Thompson.

From the late 1970s to the early 2000s, XTC was a band that were signed during the wave of punk where anyone that was punk or new wave were in as they had some songs that were unique and eventually became more sophisticated and elaborately arranged into pop songs that were inventive and catchy. Though they didn’t have a lot of commercial success in their time, many felt that XTC were very influential for a lot of bands including the Britpop music scene of the 1990s. The film isn’t just a straightforward documentary about the band but also a spoof of sorts of rock-based documentaries where band leader Andy Partridge takes shot at many of these conventions in his interviews as well as talking about many of the clich├ęs that would include a hilarious cameo from the legendary progressive rock keyboardist Rick Wakeman making a snide comment toward the band.

Though the documentary doesn’t make much mention of their hiatus for much of the 1990s due to a legal dispute with their record label nor the mention of the band’s eventual break-up in 2006. The film does follow their evolution dating back to the early 70s in a line-up that included Partridge, Moulding, Chambers, and keyboardist Barry Andrews who would be part of the band until 1979 due to tension between him and Partridge where the latter thought the former’s songs weren’t any good. Dave Gregory would join the band shortly after Andrews’ departure as he was an old friend of Partridge where the band evolved from these complex and abstract post-punk songs into something more pop-based through the songs written by Partridge or others by Moulding who would be a revered songwriter in his own right.

Things changed in 1982 during a tour with the Police where Partridge had a breakdown that lead to the band no longer becoming a touring act which was something Chambers couldn’t accept as he later admitted that he could’ve been more sympathetic towards Partridge’s health issues as it related to a valium addiction that he had when he was a teenager due to his own relationship with his mentally-ill mother. Following Chambers’ departure and legal issues relating to lost finances, the band would continue as a trio as a studio band that some felt hurt their commercial fortunes despite their early success in the late 70s/early 80s. It was during those studio years in the mid-80s the band formed a side project with Gregory’s brother Ian called the Dukes of Stratospher as a psychedelic pop band that released two albums in 1985 and 1987 to great acclaim and some success. In 1986, the band made what some consider to be their best album in Skylarking with producer Todd Rundgren that featured the controversial song Dear God.

Much of the film’s direction is straightforward as Roger Penny and Charlie Thomas would film with the interviews with cinematographer Den Pollitt with editor Roger Penny would use footage from music videos and rare footages to tell the story. The sound work of Rhys Adams, Matt Clark, Michael O’Donoghue, and Oliver Rotchell would play into the different mixes of the music to help tell the story yet what makes Penny and Thomas’ direction unique is the usage of model trains and its surroundings modeled after the band’s home town of Swindon which is a typical British suburban town that is still enchanting while it also include miniature models of the band designed by Ian Kay and Paul Marshall-Porter. The film also include some animation and drawings by Partridge as it played into his own whimsical personality.

XTC: This is Pop is an incredible film from Roger Penny and Charlie Thomas about one of Britain’s greatest pop bands. It’s a film that doesn’t just show why they’re one of the most beloved groups in the world of pop music but also a band that doesn’t get enough accolades for their contributions though there’s fans that want them to remain a cult band of sorts. In the end, XTC: This is Pop is a remarkable film from Roger Penny and Charlie Thomas.

© thevoid99 2018

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