Inside the Songwriter's Studio: Andy Partridge

Your voices have been heard! I introduce to you, Inside the Songwriter's Studio.

I've gotten great feedback and engagement on my newsletters covering artists who have passed away. One of my readers told me that they've appreciated discovering new music through a songwriting lens. I decided to try something different with this newsletter.

Instead of waiting for someone to die, I figured I'd share a few songs by one of my favorite songwriters and talk about their process.

Aside from reviewing books and sharing my musings, I thought it might be fun to share some of the stuff that inspired me on my songwriting journey. So for my first "Inside The Songwriter's Studio," I'll discuss Andy Partridge of XTC.

XTC is one of those bands that your really cool uncle listens to. They started in 1972 in Swindon, England, as a frantic organ-driven new wave outfit and, over three decades, evolved into a baroque power-pop trio. Boasting 14 studio albums (two of which were recorded as the pseudonymous Dukes of Stratosphere), the band has managed not only to secure their legacy as progenitors of post-punk but also to inspire generations of artists from Blur to Animal Collective.

While this list of XTC songs predominantly displays the songwriting talents of Singer/Guitarist Andy Partridge, Bassist Colin Moulding was no slouch when sharing songwriting duties, having penned their biggest hit, Making Plans for Nigel. That said, I've always been partial to Partridge's propensity for surprise and delight.

So here are some choice cuts: consider this a brief introduction to XTC.

This is Pop

This song's wonderfully foreboding intro anticipates an anthemic chorus par excellence. Andy Partridge's barking lyrics and daring song structure pose a defiant answer to the question posed in the song: "What do you call that noise that you put on?" Andy uses this type of fourth wall breaking to suspend the listener in ambiguity as to the song's subject. Is the question a critique of the music being listened to or performed now?

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty is one of keyboardist Barry Andrews's finest moments with XTC. Although his tenure in the band was short-lived, his contribution marks a definitive era in the band's sound that any Elvis Costello fan would appreciate. Andy never shied away from absurdity in his songwriting. Statue of Liberty displays this with playful lines like "Impaled on your hair, what do you do to me?"

Respectable Street

This track is off their fourth studio release, Black Sea, and marks a pivotal moment in the band's sound. Shortly after touring for this album, the group abandoned live performances in favor of studio experimentation and production. Respectable Street is a shameless and audacious screed against the phony politesse of English society. Partridge's wordplay shines with lines like, "While they speak of contraception and immaculate reception on their portable Sony entertainment centers."

Senses Working Overtime

I have always admired the quasi-medieval elements of certain XTC songs. The guitars and lyrics of the verses in Senses Working Overtime evoke the feudal imagery of peasants tilling fields. The dark-age ambiance gives way to massive Pete Townshend chords that lead to a jangly power pop chorus. With this song, Andy flexed his ability pull disparate sources of inspiration together to achieve something timeless yet fresh.

Love on a Farmboy’s Wages

The bucolic beauty of the jangly folk guitars in Love on a Farmboy's Wages evokes pastoral scenes of a humble farmhand romance. Andy uses long vowels at the beginning of his verses to evoke the sounds of shepherd horns and then at the end of his chorus lines to evoke the sounds of cows ("a schilling for the fella who milks the herrrrrd). The whole thing is delightful programmatic, making it one of my top 3 favorite XTC songs.

Andy Partridge is a fruitful case study for anyone looking to improve the quality of their lyrics. He uses words in a synesthetic fashion to paint pictures of the sounds he produces with his instrument. Partridge also employs double entendre and wordplay at almost every opportunity. Lastly, Andy proves that blending divergent styles of music is always a good move when you're at a compositional crossroads.

If you've never spent time with XTC's catalog, do yourself a favor and check it out. The sheer variety of over 14 albums is astounding, and you may find a new favorite band.