Listen to this song by a spikily new wave XTC. It’s “When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty’ as taken from their shimmering pop album, 1979’s Drums and Wires. There are an awful lot of bands today, at this very minute, who are trying to capture the sounds XTC were making thirty years ago (!). I think this proves something of their worth alone.
This is a nerd song, written about nerds for nerds. Of course this endears it to my heart, for reasons which I think you can guess. But the music behind it is far from shy and awkward, with all of that call and response between singer/guitarist Andy Partridge’s yelping vocal, and guitarist Dave Gregory’s ferocious lead work. And I love that they’ve thrown a bit of the edginess of post-punk together with a kind of hyperactive ska, the rhythm being off-the-beat, and very tense sounding while also being fun.
I think too that the lines about being ‘an iceman living in an iceman town’ in the middle-eight section of the song is interesting too. It’s like even though the narrator feels awkward around his object of affection, she is doing him a favour, bringing him out of a state of numbness. This adds a whole dimension for me to the song. It ceases to be just about an awkward guy who’s shy around a woman. It becomes a song of liberation too.
The Drums and Wires album was a big hit for this band, mostly due to how much play bassist Colin Moulding‘s song “Making Plans For Nigel’ got on North American radio. Even though they would gain similar recognition for another song of theirs, 1982’s “Senses Working Overtime”, their popularity would be curtailed by Andy Partridge’s extreme episode of stage fright while touring the English Settlement album, resulting in a permanent decision not to tour. As such, they would be relegated to the status of a cult band, both in their native UK as well as in North America.
For more information about XTC, check out Ape Records Andy Partrige’s label.