Monday, February 9, 2009

1989: Poor Skeleton Steps Out

XTC: Poor Skeleton Steps Out


1989 saw the release of Oranges and Lemons by XTC. The obvious choices here would have been Mayor of Simpleton or King for a Day. But the album is a gold mine of great choices that never received proper attention. Poor Skeleton Steps Out is one of these.

Oranges and Lemons found XTC at a turning point creatively. They were a punk band for all of one album, and then the began to find their voice. The band developed a muscular and highly rhythmic sound, as exemplified by the song Senses Working Overtime. But, in 1989, they began to expand their sound. The Garden of Earthly Delights, which opens Oranges and Lemons, begins XTC’s exploration of psychadelic music. The band experiments with more complex arrangements, using instruments that had never been part of their sound before. And an explosion of creativity gives them so many songs to go with that Oranges and Lemons was originally released on vinyl as a two-record set.

Poor Skeleton Steps Out has the rhythmic signature that marked an XTC song up to that point. But the arrangement includes xylophone in addition to the usual instrumentation. The lyrics talk about human beings having a “muscle mask”, meaning our consciousness of our image and appearance, and imagines that a human skeleton would feel imprisoned by this. How would a skeleton feel if it could be free of the “muscle mask”? The song is Andy Partridge’s answer to that question.

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