100 Greatest Songs of the 80’s #34 XTC – Senses Working Overtime

Released : 1982

At it’s obvious end, punk and new wave bands responded to it’s demise in many differerent ways; Stuart Goddard donned makeup and highwayman’s gear in his reincarnation of Adam & The Ants, Jim Kerr elevated Simple Minds into thinking man’s synth pop. For Andy Partridge and the rest of XTC however the creative straitjacket of some of their earlier work – as well as an incessant touring schedule to support it – prompted an almost unthinkable idea. Still neck-and-crop with an era where more than half an hour was regarded as a hippy indulgence for a release, their next album English Settlement would be a sprawling double.

Nervous label executives aside, the band threw themselves into a project which would look back at the English folk tradition whilst many of their contemporaries were just getting their head around synthesisers – but the approach proved in it’s own way to be a stroke of contrarian genius. That said, Partridge knew there would still be a need for radio airplay and hit singles, the bedrock at that point of any sort of commercial success. Blessed with the kind of songwriting talent which few others of his generation possessed, he set out to write one.

Senses Working Overtime was in every way the classic Trojan horse, a hook-laden prelude to an album which was far deeper in concept and tone. This was pop, but high on idiosyncrasy, a medieval stomper which entered with a reed-thin Partridge vocal harking back to a pre-Industrial Revolution Britain, before dusting off a wytch-dunking chorus he would later reveal was based on Manfred Mann’s 5-4-3-2-1. It was a love song to a nation that had lost it’s way under Thatcherism, a reminder of the innocence urban living had robbed us of. And as we climbed into our tin coffins and trudged back into the factory, the crows looked down on our madness, black eyed and calm.

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