I find it hard to be objective about XTC. I'm one of those that cannot understand why the world doesn't worship at the band's feet. I do realise that a review of Skylarking will largely be preaching to the converted, but I will go through the motions of putting some songs up from youtube (not from this remaster) in the hope that more are converted.
Firstly, despite the majority disagreeing, Skylarking isn't my favourite XTC album. It's not that it isn't superb, it is, but to these ears it's behind Oranges And Lemons and Black Sea. Secondly, you get tired of all the wrong polarity / right polarity, definitive version rubbish. I can tell you that these aging ears ears have led me to decide that this Steven Wilson Mix is his best ever, listen to Season Cycle to note the difference.
Thirdly, there is so much history to the recording. I don't want to drag up the Andy Partridge and Todd Rundgren shenanigans, Partridge isn't the only one to criticise TR's dictats in production, I read an interview with Ron Mael saying the same recently. There was petty jealousies too, complaints about how Colin Moulding's songs were favoured. My view is that the production wasn't great on the original, but the arrangements were fantastic and Todd Rundgren is fantastic at arranging.
As a final point, I asked a while ago why these reissues weren't on multi CDs instead of Blu Ray. I could understand why people wanted 5.1 and the space it needed, but these ears didn't notice the difference. I personally rip all the audio to WAV and then CD and then the Blu Ray sits on the shelf. It was explained to me that it's something to do with the rights from Virgin. Ape could only get the rights for the original CD in that format, Blu Ray got round that, so you could put loads of extras on it.
So to the music...........Well the album sounds fantastic, greater clarity and you realise again how brilliant it is. People bemoaned XTC's non touring, but would they have developed as much writing stuff that could be played live? I love all three stages of XTC, the shouty start, Dave Gregory joining and then post touring. From 1985 onward they were untouchable. There's also a valid argument that Todd Rundgren's involvement developed them further.
Skylarking brought a mellower Andy Partridge voice and it just added to the songs. The arrangements are fantastic and the seguing works beautifully. The album is a joy from start to finish. The unconverted should listen to the songs in this post and then when you hear this version you'll be smitten.
As for the extras.............There's four bonus tracks on the Steven Wilson Mix, there's 5.1 Surround mixes in LPCM and DTS and the Wilson Mix in LPCM. That's the technical stuff out the way, phew. There's also the corrected and uncorrected polarity versions of the album.
Audio extras are the instrumental version of the album, the complete album in demo form in the order that Todd Rundgren originally suggested, 24 Demos And Work Tapes showing the masterpiece in progress, including an early version of Across This Antheap and the videos for Dear God and Grass.
A glorious album that everyone should own, but most probably will not. The days when albums were events. It is unlikely that XTC will ever reform, but their legacy lives on.