Monday, December 12, 2011

Song #46 of 9999 - Mermaid Smiled by XTC

Song #46 of 9999

Title: Mermaid Smiled
Artist: XTC
Year: 1986
Album: Skylarking

As you know, I have returned to vinyl as my preferred format for audio listening. After 25 years of buying CDs and MP3s, it's kind of fun to hunt down vinyl versions of LPs I have enjoyed during the digital age and even more fun to purchase heavy-weight reissues lovingly remastered by the artists who recorded them.

By far, my favorite reissue is Skylarking by XTC, which is particularly interesting because it's probably one of the first albums I ever bought on CD back in 1986. I cannot even begin to tell you how excited we were about CDs and I feel almost the same way about this new vinyl release. There are all kinds of cool extras like banned original artwork and interviews with Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding. But what's really special about this double-LP is that it spins at 45RPM and sounds amazing as a result. The bass is so crisp and present and production details I never notice before just pop right out. It's probably not even my favorite XTC album, but this release is amazing.

Likewise, "Mermaid Smiled" is not the best song on the album; in fact, it didn't even appear on the US release back in 1986. But it's one of the tracks that benefits the most from its audio makeover. The twelve-string guitar glistens and the vibes are, well, vibrant. Mid-track, the song delves into Latin bop thanks to Colin Moulding's bass and muted brass swells reminiscent of those penned by Bernard Hermann for Taxi Driver. The track is over before you know it and you want to hear it again.

Finally, one of the things I really love about this album are all the stories about how much the band hated working with Todd Rundgren, who produced the record. The liner notes of this new release go into detail about how Todd insisted on working on the tracks in order and how the band would immaturely sing mean nursery rhymes about him prior to his arrival in the studio. But also how they would realize they needed a string quartet and Rundgren would come back the next morning with a complete and perfect arrangement. It may have taken 25 years but Partridge can now admit that the album is a masterpiece of production and Rundgren was able to get something from them they didn't know they had. I just love the idea of a work of art coming from such a miserable experience.

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