From their third album on, the band, consisting of Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, Terry Chambers and newcomer David Gregory, began to open up like a powerful flower. Songs like Making Plans For Nigel, Towers of London, and Respectable Street teased the intellect with their sly wit and grabbed the ear with their pop-savvy hooks and sweet melodies. It was as if Lennon and McCartney had joined The Clash. With each new album, the pop sensibilities became keener, the sound more lush and intoxicating.

Physical collapse plagued Partridge on the road, and so he pulled the band (minus the departing Chambers) into the studio permanently, the better to create the vivid soundscapes at which they were becoming so adept. (Only Squeeze was channeling the 1960’s with as much panache.) After two sonically adventurous albums that sold only middling well due to friction with Virgin Records over their refusal to tour, they hitched their wagon to a true star. Studio wizard Todd Rundgren came aboard to produce their masterpiece, Skylarking, an album that, despite some alleged friction between Rundgren and the band, achieved an almost overwhelming loveliness.

Ever inventive, the band recast themselves as The Dukes of Stratosphear, and recorded two albums of what was both parody of and homage to psychedelia. The next XTC album, Oranges and Lemons, redirected that atmosphere in a slightly more sober light, producing their only charting U.S. single, The Mayor of Simpleton. One more critically
acclaimed album followed, and then a curtain fell for much of the nineties, while they wrestled with labels and with each other, and their catalog languished in the shadows of obscurity.

The millennium, however, has been a magic regenerator for progressive rock, and happily, the Big Turn was bookended by the two parts of their long-anticipated Apple Venus project. The All-Music Guide calls XTC “the great lost pop band,” and while that may be true enough, nothing this good can be ignored forever.