Monday Morning Music: XTC, “Wrapped in Grey”

XTC’s Andy Partridge can be a cynical songwriter at times, and he usually comes across that way in interviews. The band’s history also is rather rocky. And yet he’s capable of writing wonderful songs taking joy in life and urging others to do the same.

His songs on Nonsuch, their classic 1992 album, finds him equal parts surly and hopeful. The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead is a biting commentary on how we treat those who try to lift humanity up from under the thumbs of the powerful. Omnibus is downright playful. Then She Appeared is a sweet love song.

Then there’s Wrapped in Grey, addressed to anyone who’s feeling crushed by lifeless, loveless routine. It’s a perfect marriage of lyrics and music, with the verses depicting a cold, grey world and the soaring choruses (“Awaken, you dreamers ….”) pulling us out into a more colorful world with “parrots and lemurs,” “balloons and streamers” and anything else Partridge conjures.

The song has inspired a few people to create their own videos on YouTube. This one is a little too literal but gets the point across:

There’s no official video, and that proved to be the final breakdown between XTC and their record label. Partridge goes into detail on that scenario, the lyrics, the recording of the song and some moderately tasteless comments on Kate Bush in this interview.

This was the last of three classic XTC albums — Skylarking, Oranges and Lemons and Nonsuch. They didn’t record again for seven years, and by that time, the trio was fragmenting. They put out two more albums, neither one quite up to the standard of these glory days. Partridge fell out with guitarist/keyboardist/string arranger Dave Gregory first, then with bassist/second songwriter Colin Moulding. They’re apparently starting to communicate a bit more now, but they’re in various states of well-deserved retirement. And hopefully they can all take some pride in songs like this.