“Hey Nigel! Come here Nigel!” Kids are weird. Hell, we all are. When your Uncles and I were younger, we used to call each other so many different names. Some were obvious in their intentions to hurt and others were simply ridiculous. For some reason, we always called your Uncle Mitchell…“Nigel.” I know for fact that we took the name from “Making Plans for Nigel” because we all loved the song, but sadly I cannot remember why. Drums and Wires stands the test of time for me. It also is an album to grow up with. I loved it on the surface as a child and then the depth of it as I got older.
Released in 1979 (the same year I was released), Drums and Wires was the band’s third studio album and marked a significant departure from their earlier, more psychedelic and punk sound. With its jagged guitars, angular rhythms, and insistent beats, the album was a bold and uncompromising yet open to so much interpretation given the atypical XTC incisive lyrics.
At the heart of the album’s sound is the interplay between drummer (Hmph Drums) Terry Chambers and guitarist (Hmph Wires) Andy Partridge, who together craft some of the most distinctive and memorable rhythms in rock history. From the driving pulse of “Making Plans for Nigel” to the frenetic energy of “Scissor Man,” the album’s songs are propelled by a propulsive and relentless groove that never lets up. It was this frenetic energy that we loved as kids. We were very active, wild boys. That’s usually the case when you have 3 brothers within 5 years of each other. A babysitter of ours recently told me the story of how one night she was watching us, and we were playing football in the upstairs hallway to each of our bedrooms. However, we were using “Nigel” as the football. We had duct taped him in pillows and she says “crushing him non stop from down to down. I started balling but then realized Mitchell was laughing the entire time. Then one of you was thrown through a sheetrock wall. And yall still just laughed!” While I cannot remember all the details of that, I do remember bits of it. Especially our dad’s reaction when they came home. Like this album to me at the time, it was a joyous, frenetic time!
But Drums and Wires is more than just a showcase for the band’s rhythmic prowess. It is also a deeply personal and introspective album, with Partridge’s lyrics exploring themes of alienation, anxiety, and the pressures of modern life. In “When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty,” he sings of the fear of intimacy and the struggle to connect with others, while “Complicated Game” offers a wry commentary on the complexities of human relationships. These would be the same themes I would be exploring in my adult life that allowed me to reconnect with the album.
Overall, Drums and Wires is a masterpiece of art-rock and pop songcraft. It’s an album that rewards repeated listens. You are an only child, and it pains me that you won’t have some of those amazing childhood interactions that siblings have. Of course, you will be fortunate enough to avoid the copious bad ones that can stick around for way too long. Life is a complicated game. You will be thrown through many walls, but LIFE is so much fun too. Keep laughing through it all. Nigel is happy in his world. Still is.
Favorite Tracks: “Making Plan For Nigel” “Helicopter” “Scissor Man” “Complicated Game”
Pressing: Virgin Records. V-2129. Canada. Original Pressing. 1979.