Smile Politely

Now Hear This! XTC — “Reign of Blows” (1984)

Like most children, I gravitated to the things I was not allowed to pursue. For music, that meant at least two of every five songs that we heard on MTV. My folks, bless their hearts, simply didn’t want my young mind corrupted by the likes of artists like Twisted Sister, Dead or Alive, Duran Duran (their early stuff was basically softcore porn in a song) and the like.

One such artist that my father freaked out about was XTC. Unfamiliar with the body of their work, his only understanding of their craft came in the form of the unlikely hit single, “Dear God” off the Todd Rundgren-produced album, Skylarking. In the video, we see a young child standing next to a huge old tree, questioning God’s existence through song. Andy Partridge does him one better near the end, when he proclaims, without question, that he simply does not believe in “Him.”

As a young leftist evangelical Christian, I don’t think my father could, in good conscience, allow his heady and rebellious seven-year old middle child the opportunity to invest much time into the band. I don’t resent him for it, either. In fact, I am grateful. My repression led to an obsession: XTC is easily my favorite band of all time, and you’ll forgive me if I share song after song of theirs, now and in the future.

On this cut from the 1984 album The Big Express, Partridge is quick to get to the point in this pop gem condemning the United States of being those to blame for the Cold War and the worldwide repression that was happening because of Reagan’s rule. I was never a huge fan of harmonica, but for some reason, set against the fuzzy vocals and a dominant synth at 2:35 mark, I would argue that this particular moment helped to define fusion in pop music.

In the end, my father apologized for trying to take them away from me. He recognized their scope as being much more than a champion for an atheist movement in the western world; they are also some of the most brilliant lyricists regarding the political woes we face each day. God knows we could use them now.

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