Listen to this track by Swindon new wave representatives and documented America-admirers, XTC. It’s “Statue Of Liberty”, a single as taken from their 1978 debut album White Music.
The line-up to be heard here is the earliest incarnation of the band, with stalwarts Andy Partridge (vocals and guitar) and Colin Moulding (vocals and bass) being joined by drummer Terry Chambers and keyboardist Barry Andrews. Chambers would depart by the time the sessions for 1983’s Mummer were in process. Barry Andrews would leave soon after this record, and go on to form Shriekback.
Starting out, XTC was very much in the vein of their post-punk peers. And this was among their earliest singles, a tune about the iconic lady statue that adorns the New York City skyline, symbolizing the ideals of freedom and liberty for immigrants to a land of opportunity.
But, this song takes a bit more from that equation, with a more erotic attachment to the lady herself, so much so that the line about “sailing beneath your skirt” raised eyebrows at the BBC. But, I think this song says a lot more than just being provocative for its own sake.
“America” is a big theme in pop music. This stands to reason, of course. After all, a huge portion of the pop music pie was baked in America, although drawn from ingredients that have their origins elsewhere. One of the themes that is most common within that paradigm is the idea of being confronted by America as a cultural entity from the outside. America is sexy, but at times she’s overwhelming, too. She’s on a mythical scale; mysterious, and slightly dangerous. She may be out of one’s league.
That’s where this song is coming from. Here, America is a towering goddess, one to be loved but ultimately to be loved from afar. She’s literally too big to possess, and too big to really notice any affection shown to her. For rock bands in thinking about the possibilities of making an impact in America, this takes on a special meaning. And for a band like XTC, even more so, drawing from a point-of-view even that is decidedly from the outside looking in, infused with a brand of cartoon-like irony that would bring the whole thing into focus. But, it also suggests a political statement of how America is viewed within its borders, too, particularly in relation to those perceptions in other countries.
That line of satire in XTC’s material would continue afterwards as well.”Making Plans For Nigel”, “Generals and Majors”, “No Thugs In Our House”, “Respectable Street”, would be among the songs in their oeuvre that make satirical comment on the state of a nation, even if it was their own. And into the 1980s, their interest in an adapted form of pastoral psychedelia would come more to the fore as they made a slow drift away from spiky, guitar-centric, and potentially more bankable new wave. But, Andy Partridge would not forsake a musical love affair with America, given his interest in artists like Brian Wilson and Judee Sill, both of whom in turn offered up some mythical visions of America all of their own in Californian endless summers, and frontier-questing Western folk music respectively. Their work would feed his own.
After a rotating and diminishing line-up over the course of twelve official albums, XTC would go on indefinite hiatus in 2005. America would remain largely “uncracked” by them, although they would achieve a loyal audience there, plus a few respectable chart showings along the way.
Andy Partridge would go on to become a curator of the XTC catalogue, as well as a songwriter, label owner, and producer of other acts. You can find out more about what he’s up to at Ape.uk.net.
For an interesting exploration of his musical brain, check out this interview with Andy Partridge on the Sodajerker songwriter’s podcast.