Skylarking is the ninth studio album by the English rock band XTC, released on 27 October 1986. Produced by American musician Todd Rundgren, Skylarking is a loose concept album centered around various cycles in life, such as the seasons, days, and years. Like XTC’s cross Wires – XTC – White Music Dukes of Stratosphear sideproject, Skylarking was heavily influenced by the music of the 1960s.
Most of its recording was at Rundgren’s Utopia Sound Studio in Woodstock, New York. Upon release, Skylarking was met with indifference in the UK, rising in the album charts to No. The Meeting Place” peaked at No. Early sales of the album were hampered by the omission of “Dear God” from the album’s original pressings. By the mid 1980s, XTC had a personality and sound that was at a marked contrast from the ironic punk rock they were known for in the 1970s.
Their albums became increasingly complex, and after frontman and songwriter Andy Partridge suffered a panic attack before a concert, the band ceased touring. During a routine meeting in early 1986, Virgin Records executives threatened to drop the band from the label if their next album failed to sell more than 70,000 units. One reason why the group was not selling enough records, the label reportedly concluded, was that they sounded “too English”. He’s got it down to an extremely cruel art. I just thought it was so insulting. He did do great things musically.
The collaboration with Rundgren proved to be difficult, particularly for Partridge, and numerous disagreements arose over drum patterns, song selections, and other details. On the extent of the altercations, Rundgren says “there was the moment Andy said he wanted to cleave my head in half with an axe. But there was never anything physical. Conversely, Partridge remembers that Rundgren would “ask how you were going to do the vocals and you would stand in front of the mic and do one run through to clear your throat and he’d say, ‘That was crap. Based on the stories written about Skylarking, Partridge became known for being difficult to work with. Partridge: “You end up thinking, ‘Has taken a personal dislike to me?
In January 1986, Partridge and Moulding mailed Rundgren a collection of more than 20 demo tapes they had stockpiled in advance of the album. Partridge was annoyed by Rundgren establishing the album’s songs and running order so early on in the process, remarking that “you hadn’t spoken to the bloke for three minutes, and he’d already been hacking and throwing your work in the bin”. All of the basic tracks were recorded in the same order as they appear on the album, as were the drum overdubs that followed. The recording sessions took place in early 1986, largely at Rundgren’s Utopia Sound Studios in Woodstock, New York.
Moulding remembers that “one track ran into another. Todd had a very unorthodox way of recording—15 ips. I think we got it all on one reel of tape, and done very quickly. Second takes were uncommon, but it was all charming in a way. The opening track “Summer’s Cauldron” was written from a poem called “Drowning in Summer’s Cauldron” and emphasizes droning sounds. Rundgren played melodica, Partridge recalled, “and we got to bully him! Joe Stannard, “Ballet For A Rainy Day”, “1000 Umbrellas” and “Season Cycle” each “distil the flawless orch-pop of Smile and Abbey Road into a handy three-song suite.
Side two begins with “Earn Enough For Us” and “Big Day”, which Stannard calls “typically breezy XTC power-pop nuggets”. Moulding temporarily left the group after a dispute over the bass line of “Earn Enough for Us”, which Partridge felt had been going in a direction that was too “bluesy”. Original pressings of Skylarking omitted “Dear God”, an introspective, agnostic song. On the request of XTC and Virgin Records, Rundgren submitted three different mixdowns of the album before quitting the project.