Go 2 is more an odd outlier in an otherwise flawless career than indicative of the band’s capabilities.
On Go 2, XTC is still a nervy, twitchy post-punk band, all angular edges and fluid melodies built around a rhythmically sound foundation courtesy of bassist Colin Moulding and drummer Terry Chambers. Hints of the pure pop bliss for which they would soon become known crop up here and there throughout the album, but for the most part it is decidedly a product of its time (check Barry Andrews’ Steve Nieve-aping keyboards throughout and the band’s overreliance on caffeinated herky-jerk arrangements).
Opening track “Mechanic Dancing (Oh We Go!)” kicks things off in manically frantic high gear. Sadly, it would prove to be a false start from which the album never truly recovers, instead fully succumbing to the clichéd sophomore slump. With the ideas appearing to have dried up in the wake of White Music’s success and the rush to strike while the proverbial iron was hot, XTC here more often than not sound as though they are flailing rather than moving forward creatively.
It’s not that the ideas aren’t there, necessarily, rather more that they play as retreads of White Music with only the slightest of tweaks to help differentiate one from the other. But more than anything, Go 2 sounds very much like a late-‘70s post-punk record with hints of new wave and pop melodicism scattered throughout to help temper its more avant leanings (check the chaotic screams that end “Red”). For instance, “Crowded Room” is one of the better songs Joe Jackson never recorded, while “Beatown” sounds like the Jam on speed.
But overlong tracks like “Battery Brides (Andy Paints Brian)” are dull and repetitive with little going for them in terms of accessibility or for precipitating a desire for repeat listening. This might be excusable were it on the album’s back half, but when such a song comes in the number two slot, it kills any and all momentum and goodwill engendered by “Mechanic Dancing (Oh We Go)!”
Much like the Velvet Underground’s post-John Cale period, the departure of multi-instrumentalist Andrews saw the band embrace a more streamlined, pop-oriented sound that put aside the more esoteric elements inherent on Go 2. That he would be replaced not by another multi-instrumentalist but rather a second guitarist following the release of Go 2 is further indicative of the band’s desire to move into a more accessible – and ultimately critically and commercially successful – direction.
With such middling music contained within – indicated by the complete lack of singles released in their native UK – Go 2’s most notable feature is its Hipgnosis-designed cover. Featuring a dense collection of white type against a black background, it displays an essay on how album covers are used to attract buyers. It’s a fairly meta approach, to be sure, and one that goes on to prove its inherent point: the album’s cover is ultimately more interesting than anything the band was doing musically.
Yet even this analysis is somewhat unfair as the bar set by much of the rest of the band’s catalog is so high that Go 2 can’t help but flounder as the members of XTC continue to sort out their stylistic identity. If nothing else, the album serves as a cautionary tale for groups looking to continue their commercial momentum at the expense of their creative output. They quickly righted the ship with the following year’s Drums and Wires – not to mention nearly all subsequent releases – so Go 2 is more an odd outlier in an otherwise flawless career than indicative of the band’s capabilities.