Authored by Dale Nickey:
U2 vs XTC
Up front let’s stipulate the phrase “Over-rewarded” does not mean I consider a band “Under-talented”. However, being a ‘spread-the-wealth’ social progressive, I do think it’s possible for scruffy yobs who sing and play guitar to achieve levels of wealth and celebrity that are obscene. For every band or artist that breaks the platinum ceiling, there are equally deserving bands left in the dust as a result of poor management, poor luck and poor judgement. Here a few comparison studies. And, for all of you true believing fans out there who imbue your favorite artists with pope-like infallibility; let the trouser loading begin!
U2 – If The Rolling Stones insist on retaining the title “World’s Greatest R&R Band”, then U2 can console themselves with being the most successful; And for good measure, they would see no competition for the title of ‘World’s Most Pretentious’. U2 waved bye bye to hockey arenas decades ago in favor of football stadiums and adoring crowds the size of small cities. U2 have done this with a singer (Bono) of limited range but uncommon bluster, and a guitarist (The Edge) armed only with a handful of arpeggios and a steamer trunk full of stomp boxes. Additionally, the rhythm section is solid but unremarkable, and rate among the world’s luckiest musicians. U2 is certainly an anomaly. No other band could pimp their polemics about hunger and the existential angst of the planet while at the same time leaving Godzilla-sized carbon footprints at every concert stop. U2 get away with it. They have written some good tunes to be sure. And (truth be known), they have put out a couple of great albums among the trove they’ve released. Talent and luck are a potent combination. U2 illustrates what can happen when you get a disproportionate amount of the latter.
XTC – XTC broke out in the late seventies as a quirky, atom-splitting punk/new wave gang of goofballs. On their third album (Drums And Wires) something strange happened; they became pop geniuses. By their fifth album (English Settlement), their fans believed, their label believed, and they had an ascendant crossover single “Senses Working Overtime” poised to deliver the knockout punch. Then leader Andy Partridge had an anxiety attack hours before the first date of their make-or-break American tour and decided to retire from performing. Game over. Well, not quite. They pulled a Steely Dan and decided to record in lieu of performing live. XTC kept evolving and putting out better and better albums. However, every step forward was matched by a step back. Even people who hate Steely Dan know the brand. Today in 2020 XTC is a boutique band with a body of quality work rivaled by only a tiny handful of artists. Those include The Beatles and…eh…I’ll have to get back to you on that. They should have been a contender; but instead shot themselves in the gonads at their defining moment in rock history.