‘Skylarking’ starkers, with polarity fix

xtc psychedelic album skylarkingA sonically correct and politically incorrect version of the late psychedelic classic “Skylarking” by XTC is on its way to CD.

“Now, some 28 years after its initial recording & release, ‘Skylarking’ finally appears on CD as it was originally intended to sound — and in the packaging as initially envisaged,” the XTC record label says.

That’s more than a PR pitch: The CD features the sonic corrections made in 2010 by mastering engineer John Dent, who discovered a polarity issue that affected all previous releases, including the gold audiophile CD.

And the CD presents the original album artwork that Virgin Records rejected as too hot to handle back in the day.

XTC leader Andy Partridge says the corrected “Skylarking” audio produces a recording “approximately 30% better” than the Mobile Fidelity CD, with tighter and more prominent bass. The new CD is billed, straight-faced, as the “corrected polarity edition.”

The 2010 double-disc vinyl version of “Skylarking” — on Partridge’s Ape House Records — debuted the original album artwork cooked up by XTC. The front cover shows a woman’s pubic region adorned with delicate flowers. The male version takes up an alternate cover.

That audiophile vinyl release is out of print, but the Ape House label CD finally is on its way April 14. It’s being sold in the UK by Burning Shed, with U.S. retail/shipping under $15.

The “Skylarking” recordings have had their share of controversies, with the B-side song “Dear God,” an atheist hymn, stirring up considerable fuss in 1986. That B-side wasn’t even on “Skylarking,” but its popularity inspired the label to jam it into repressings. This resulted in multiple song sequences on various rereleases of the album.

The new CD version has Partridge’s definitive running order. It returns the Indian-influenced “Mermaid” to the lineup while retaining “Dear God.”

The recording sessions were famously troubled, with Partridge and U.S. producer Todd Rundgren at war throughout.

Time has healed many of the “Skylarking” wounds, with Partridge admitting that “Todd conjured up some of the most magical production and arranging conceivable. A summer’s day cooked into one cake.” The album is widely considered among the best of the 1980s.

The album reflected the two creative chiefs’ love of the “Revolver”-era Beatles and other psychedelic pop of the late 1960s.

Key psychedelic tracks include the pastoral twosome of “Summer’s Cauldron” and “Grass” that opens the album (audio below), “Season Cycle,” “1000 Umbrellas” and “Mermaid Smiled.”

Partridge was deep in his psychedelic period, with “Skylarking” bookended in the market by recordings credited to XTC’s side project the Dukes of Stratosphear.

Partridge says the album’s core concept is that of sex on grass — real grass. “The atmosphere of the album is one of a playfully sexual hot summer,” he said.

Ape House has this eye-opening teaser as well: “When & if the multitrack tapes can be found, a 5.1 Surround Sound edition to be mixed by Steven Wilson is also planned.” XTC’s “Nonsuch” received that surround treatment in 2013.

Tracks:

  1. Summer’s Cauldron
  2. Grass
  3. The Meeting Place
  4. That’s Really Super, Supergirl
  5. Ballet for a Rainy Day
  6. 1000 Umbrellas
  7. Season Cycle
  8. Earn Enough for Us
  9. Big Day
  10. Another Satellite
  11. Mermaid Smiled
  12. The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul
  13. Dear God
  14. Dying
  15. Sacrificial Bonfire

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