Song of the Week – Senses Working Overtime, XTC

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

Today’s SotW is from the “Restored” dresser drawer. It is “Senses Working Overtime” by XTC from the English Settlement album. “Senses…” reached the Top 10 in the UK but only managed #38 on the Rock Album Tracks chart in the US. It was released in two formats, the 4:34 single version and the 4:53 album version. Why Virgin records thought they needed to cut out a few lines to make the song 19 seconds shorter is incomprehensible to me.

“Senses…” is an impressive composition. The musicianship is amongst the best in the vast XTC catalog. The first of three sections opens with a folky “medieval” sounding acoustic guitar playing some variation on an E flat chord. Shortly it’s joined by a cool bass line. Colin Moulding plays his fretless bass with creativity and panache. I especially dig the legato slides.

The middle section makes effective use of diminished chords and acts as the bridge to the rousing count-up chorus.

The drumming is ear catching. The fills in the choruses (after the count of “5”) insist that listeners play “air” drums along with the record.

The lyrics are cryptic. Is it a peculiar love song? Is it about an insane person? It doesn’t really matter. To me it’s a lot like The Beatles (John Lennon’s) word salad, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” The expressive lyrical imagery is way more important than the “meaning.” Thematically, the lyrics are much closer to The Beatles (George Harrison’s) “All Too Much” from the Yellow Submarine soundtrack.

Beyond the words are the way they sound. It was a creative mind game to write “1-2-3-4-5, senses working overtime.” After the count, you expect to hear 6-7 and get the word “senses” that’s a bit of a trick.

Sadly for us XTC fans, there were few opportunities to see the band live. In April 1982, just a few months after “Senses….” was released, the band played their last concert in San Diego. Andy Partridge experienced a nervous breakdown of sorts and was unable to perform in front of audiences. He retreated, Beatle like, to the studio and crafted several more outstanding albums – including Skylarking, Oranges & Lemons, and Nonsuch.

Enjoy… until next week.

BTW – Did anyone notice that everyone in the video is playing left handed — including the drummer. Still messing with our senses?

5 thoughts on “Song of the Week – Senses Working Overtime, XTC

  1. I never got this band. The chorus is catchy but I can hear them trying to be clever here, there, and everywhere. To coin a phrase. The Beatles influence is obvious, but from the period when The Beatles themselves were trying to be clever. But The Beatles could always make more out of their ingredients, with little touches and of course great harmonies, so that even pedestrian material had a spark.

    I compare XTC to Squeeze, who wrote several great songs and rocked both harder and more soulfully. While hardly obscure, this song has held up and then some. The cleverness seems organic to me, the musicians all playing TO the song.

  2. “Pulling Mussels…” is a great song too. I agree that it still holds up as do many other Squeeze songs like “If I Didn’t Love You.”

  3. I think I had XTC’s debut, “Drums And Wires” long, long ago. Always liked “Helicopter” (and The Hellacopters).

    I get what you say about XTC as Squeeze maybe trying a little too hard, Gene.

    Loved Squeeze’s forgotten debut as UK Squeeze and the urban legend that they brought a batch of songs into the studio to record and John Cale told them they’re not doing any of those and to write a new album on the spot. Perhaps the spontaneity and simplicity is why it’s always been my favorite. It also rocks harder than Squeeze ever did later.

  4. Just fell upon the Rockpalast concert of XTC on YouTube, and there is no doubt that “Senses” was on one of their most brilliant pop tunes. There’s something about actually seeing Andy’s interpretation that extends the songs depth.( as is often the case with live performances)
    I’m in love with XTC all over again…

    • I watched the Rockpalast video. It was very good and “Senses…” was a highlight. Thanks for pointing it out.

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