XTC was arguably the most interesting group of the 1980s and it is most closely associated with the songwriting genius of its central figure, Andy Partridge. But XTC would not be the band it was if it weren’t for “the other guys,” especially bassist Colin Moulding, who wrote and sang plenty of influential songs, drummer Terry Chambers and whiz guitarist Dave Gregory.

Dave isn’t there, but Colin and Terry are here to remind people that the spirit of XTC is alive and well. In 2017, they released their four-song Great Aspirations EP and then, in late 2018, TC&I (as the duo is called) played their first shows together in 36 years (Terry left the group in 1982). Naked Flames collects the best tracks from those shows in Swindon, which features performances of the Moulding-penned XTC songs as well as the newer material from the EP. With Steve Tilling on the guitar and Gary Bamford on keyboards and guitar, the duo not only does great justice to the XTC material, it reinvigorates its avant-baroque-pop legacy further.

The albums that get the most attention here, thanks to Moulding’s contributions to them, are the 1979 album Drums and Wires, represented by “Ten Feet Tall” and of course “Making Plans for Nigel” and “Life Begins at the Hop,” and the 1986 album Skylarking, represented by “Grass,” “The Meeting Place” and “Big Day.” Equally pleasing is the haunting song “Bungalow,” from the 1992 album Nonsuch, or the slightly jauntier/jazzier “Wonderland,” originally from their 1983 album Mummer, both of which are welcome reminders of Moulding’s subtle, moving writing.

The lack of Gregory and/or Partridge’s guitar playing is felt throughout, to be sure. With keys and melody being emphasized, the material here lays bare the group’s more poppy influences (Beatles, Kinks and Zombies). But XTC was a rock group, after all. The listener is reminded of this thanks to the inclusion of the perhaps lesser-known “Standing in for Joe” from the second volume of Apple Venus, Wasp Star, the angular “hit” “Generals and Majors” from Black Sea and “Statue of Liberty,” a memorable Partridge tune from the group’s first album.

From the new EP, we get only “Scatter,” but with its melancholic piano leading into an infectious chorus, it does not sound out of place alongside the better-known tracks; indeed, it could easily be an underrated cut from several of XTC’s older albums. Though not all the performances are stellar, and a few definitely suffer from the passage of time, the material is so strong and the two members’ performing chops are still present enough that it makes for a charming throwback to the group’s halcyon days (well, sort of) and presages some of what may be yet to come.

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