1980 reissued 2001
Ah, good old Black Sea. This, along with Big Express (remaster), turned up used and cheap at Morninglory Music. The Mummer remaster was lovely and made me re-evaluate a few songs, so I grabbed this quickly. Black Sea is the last really rockin’-out XTC album, one before the blossoming of English Settlement. On one hand that means it’s consistent in tone–the Black of the title and the deep sea diver cover really suit the dark music contained within. On the other, Andy Partridge’s skill at melody hasn’t yet developed and is still battling it out with his desire to aggravate with yelps, shouts, and mono-tunes over rock riffs (the interminable “Living Through Another Cuba”). It’s Colin Moulding’s songs that hold up best, which here include “Generals and Majors,” “Love at First Sight,” and the bonus track “Smokeless Zone.” The best Partridge songs turn out to be the singles: “Respectable Street,” “Sgt. Rock,” and “Towers of London.” It’s songs like “Respectable”, “Towers,” and “Paper and Iron” that look towards the dissecting of England that is to come on English Settlement.
Pros: The hardest XTC has ever sounded. “Respectable Street” rocks! As does “Travels in Nihilon”
Cons: Sonic palette not as varied as future releases.