A Coat of Many Cupboards

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A Coat of Many Cupboards Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

XTC fans are a dedicated lot. There may not be many of them, but nearly all of them need to hear everything the group ever recorded. They'll happily spend hundreds of dollars on rare singles and bootlegs, or buy official releases of demos, even when they sound nearly identical to the official release, so a four-disc box set of rarities, demos, alternate takes, and live versions like Coat of Many Cupboards is essentially manna from heaven. If there's any problem with the set, it's that Virgin and XTC didn't go far enough and dedicate the set entirely to unreleased material; they hedged their bets, devoting 41 of 60 tracks to previously unreleased cuts, with the lion's share of the rest -- a full 14, actually -- being album tracks any XTC fan already has. No matter how good these songs are -- and they include such masterpieces as "Chalkhills and Children" and the Dukes of Stratosphear's "Vanishing Girl" -- their presence on a lovingly assembled rarities set is a fairly major irritant (even if the band is reportedly working on an even larger archival release, provisionally titled Fuzzy Warbles, that may span as many as eight volumes). Still, if this set had just one disc of rarities, XTC fans would have purchased it anyway, and they'll overjoy in the sheer volume of unheard music here. And rightly so, since even if there aren't that many demos and alternate takes that are radically different from the finished product -- there's an acoustic run-through of "Senses Working Overtime" and an embryonic version of "Mayor of Simpleton" that are fascinating rough drafts, while an early version of "Life Begins at the Hop" is appealingly awkward -- this is still rich listening, filled with such delights as three White Music outtakes showcasing Barry Andrews (who would leave not long afterward), Colin Moulding's Nonsuch reject "Didn't Hurt a Bit" (which should have been on the album), and the live "Atom Medley," one of several in-concert performances that illustrate how good the band was on-stage, no matter Andy Partridge's stage fright. These moments and the uniform high quality of music, along with the track-by-track annotation by Partridge and Moulding, make the repetition of album tracks easy to forgive, since this is as close to a perfect gift for fans as imaginable (until Fuzzy Warbles materializes, that is). Although fans would have settled for anything rare, XTC has returned their affection with a box that shows as much love as the fans have shown over the years. It doesn't get much better than that.

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