Chips From The Chocolate Fireball. This album combines the band's two releases, the EP 25 O'Clock and the album Psonic Psunspot, both pastiches of psychedelic rock in the style of, say, the Zombies or Jefferson Airplane, and both actually the work of the British new wave rock band XTC.
I don't know what XTC fans generally think of these records, but for my money, they're the best thing XTC has ever done. They are funny, inventive, catchy, and utterly lack self-importance, which, when XTC isn't so hot, is often the way they are not so hot. They employ all the familiar tricks and tropes of the era, including phased and modulated vocals, thick harmonies, combo organs, fake Indian chord progressions, acid-trip lyrics, hard panning of instruments, tape hiss, backwards guitar solos, and copious amounts of echo. Indeed, they court cliché, they toe the line so hard.
So why do they sound so inalienably like everything that is great about XTC? In part it's because this kind of music inspired the band in the first place. But mostly, I think, it's that this music was freeing for them--under a false name, and under the sway of artificial constraints, they didn't have to worry about making an XTC record. They just had to worry about having a good time.
When I think about which of my novels and stories and other things I like the best, and I try to remember what it was like to write them (as I often do when I don't like what I'm writing), I generally come to the conclusion that, at the time, I didn't care how it came out, and I assumed it would never be published. Mailman is a good example--it's my favorite of my books, and the whole time I was writing it I kept thinking, "Nobody is ever going to publish this thing. So why not write whatever the hell I want?"
Of course I was lying to myself, even then. Secretly, I very badly wanted those things to be published. But I somehow managed to lie to myself about lying to myself long enough to accomplish something.
It's not that I dislike the work that is the product of intense cogitation and self-conscious effort. Indeed, I've often said, here and elsewhere, that I don't believe in--or, more to the point, don't trust--inspiration. And the freewheeling stuff is always subject to multiple revisions, executed in a soberer mood, much later.
But I do think we're often our best selves when we forget ourselves. Perhaps this is why genre fiction so often appeals to literary writers--or metafiction, for that matter, or pastiche, or parody. We're such sniveling, self-pitying bastards; it's nice to step away from the mirror and be somebody else for a change.