XTC – Skylarking

The feud between producer Todd Rundgren and XTC, which transpired during the recording of Skylarking, has been exhaustively covered in myriad articles and in several books over the past two-plus decades. Yet, buried in each band member’s liner-notes prose on this deluxe edition of their 1986 epic is that, in retrospect, Rundgren was actually much more of a genius than they realized at the time. Not that some bad feelings don’t remain. In closing his essay, vocalist/guitarist Andy Partridge can’t resist taking one last parting passive-aggressive shot at Rundgren: “Thanks Todd, time wounds all heels.”

On a more pragmatic level, Partridge mentions that while neither XTC nor Rundgren know what became of the master tape, they found some alternates that were used instead; Partridge refers to it as a “sales tape.” Moreover, he claims that the original as well as all subsequent remasters (Mobile Fidelity’s mid-90s CD release included) were all produced out of phase, and that this new version is finally correct and features the tracks in their original intended order, with the missing “Mermaid Smiled” in the 11th position.

While the additional groove width and velocity certainly give this set some much-needed dynamic range, it still sounds slightly mechanical—as if it’s produced from a high-res digital copy. Partridge also notes that this version is “approximately 30% better than the MoFi.” But a quick comparison reveals that the audiophile imprint’s 16/44.1 disc was handled with extreme care, and claims a naturalness to the midrange that even this analog pressing can’t quite match.

However when comparing the 45RPM set to average vinyl pressings that fetch between $5 and $15, the new version boasts improvement in all aspects. It has considerably more punch and more depth; the three originals in my collection are fairly compressed. Surface noise is greatly reduced in this version, too, and since this record hails from the early Geffen years, you know what that means.

So, $45 bucks gets you a competent mastering job (no mastering credit is given), quiet surfaces, and the original banned artwork—a girl part on the front cover and a boy part on the back cover—along with photos and commentary that will likely amuse and entertain loyal fans. —Jeff Dorgay

Virtual 180 Records, 2 45RPM LPs