X T C ** n o t h u g s i n o u r h o u s e

by anti-folk hero

For those of you out there who love rock music, especially British rock music, who haven’t heard of Andy Partridge or his group XTC, you’re missing out on one of the best pop groups of the post-punk era. Like a true songwriter, his music isn’t confined to a single sound or approach; rhythms can change without warning, as well as melodies. His lyrics as well as his song structures affirm his commitment to originality and pop sensibility.

Andy Partridge

I really shouldn’t be so hard on people who haven’t listened to XTC. It took me a long time to fully appreciate their songs. The erratic vocal rhythms and rhyme schemes make it especially difficult to pick up on the lyrics, which are important to the overall interpretation of the song. Take “No Thugs in Our House,” off of their album English Settlement. Forget the fact that the song is incredibly catchy; while that is hard enough for most bands to achieve, XTC manages to write a coherent set of lyrics that tell a story. Here’s my interpretation of the song (note – if you want to read along to the song, start the vid at the bottom of the page playing and then scroll back up and read the lyrics as the song plays);

No Thugs

n o t h u g s i n o u r h o u s e

The insect-headed worker-wife
will hang her waspies on the line;

  • Ok, so you’re thinking, “what?”

her husband burns his paper,
sucks his pipe while studying their cushion-floor;
his viscous poly-paste breath comes out,
their wall-paper world is shattered by his shout,

  • So far, you have no idea what’s going on. But when you think of the insect-headed worker wife hanging her waspies on the line (waspies being a play on a WASP’s white laundry) and their wall paper world being shattered by his shout, you get a pretty clear picture of a bland white family in working-class England (or America) with the typical, bossy, overbearing father and the good house-wife mother. So far, though, this is all set-up, like a good story.

a boy in blue is busy banging out a headache on the kitchen door.

  • This line is easy to skip over, but it’ll come to mean something later in the song. Amateur writers and lyricists take note; this is called foreshadowing. Its part of a greater writing style called subtlety, the meaning of which has been forgotten in the modern era but is believed by current experts to mean “writing while thinking.”

all the while graham slept on,
dreaming of a world where he could do just what he wanted to

  • The first time they sing the lines about Graham, you’re thinking, “oh Graham, sleeping away, dreaming of a world where he can do just what he wanted to. I can relate to that.” But this song isn’t about a kid in a boring middle class suburban family with nothing to do. That would be too easy. However, thus far, this is what you’re led to believe the song is about.

no thugs in our house,
are there dear?
we made that clear
we made little graham promise us he’d be a good boy.

  • This is the chorus. Right now this doesn’t mean much, but it will later on. I’d hate to spoil it for you.

no thugs in our house ,
are there dear?
we made that clear
we made little graham promise us he’d be a good boy.
the young policeman who just can’t grow a moustache will open
up his book,

  • Remember the man in blue knocking out a headache on the kitchen door? Voila.

and spoil their breakfast with reports of asians who have been so badly kicked, is this your son’s wallet I’ve got here?

  • The last two lines really give away the most about the actual meaning of the song. This explains the policeman’s visit and also gives us a hint that maybe Graham isn’t the nice little kid we all thought he was.

he must have dropped it after too much beer!
oh, officer,
we can’t believe our little angel is the one you’ve picked.

  • This is his parent’s most likely excuse for why the wallet was outside. Seems obvious, right? But the bigger idea here is what is going on. Graham is a some sort of neo-fascist, racist thug, and they’re so delusional that they refuse to accept it.

and all the while graham slept on,
dreaming of a world where he could do just what he wanted to.
no thugs in our house,
are there dear?
we made that clear
we made little graham promise us he’d be a good boy.

  • Now the chorus reads completely differently. Instead of Graham being some sort of rebellious kid being punished by his boring parents, Graham is a sinister little monster being protected by his parents. The chorus reads like a conversation between his parents where they are convincing themselves that he couldn’t possibly be the little shit that they know he is.

no thugs in our house,
are there dear?
we made that clear we made little
graham promise us he’d be a good boy.
they never read those pamphlets in his bottom drawer,
they never read that tattoo on his arm.
they thought that was just a boys club badge he wore,
they never thought he’d do folks any harm.
the insect-headed worker wife will hang her waspies on the line;

  • Right here you think the lyrics are about to repeat, but Andy changes it up and continues the story. The next part takes place after the cop leaves, after having not arrested Graham.

she’s singing something
stale and simple now this business has fizzled out;
her little tune is such a happy song
her son is innocent,
he can’t do wrong,
‘cos dads a judge and knows exactly what the job of judging’s all about.

  • I like the play on the word “judge” from the above line. Dad’s a judge who knows what judging’s all about; judging that his kid is innocent despite the plain facts and also filling his kids head with stereotypes and racist judgment of other groups of people.

and all the while graham slept on,
dreaming of a world where he could do just what he wanted to.
no thugs in our house,
are there dear?
we made that clear
we made little graham promise us he’d be a good boy.
no thugs in our house,
are there dear?
we made that clear
we made little graham promise us he’d be a good boy.

At the end of this song, you realize that instead of hearing a light-hearted song about a young teenager who needs to get out of the house and party, you’ve instead just heard a sharply written social critique of parents who condone their children’s behavior by ignoring reality and sticking to their delusions. Partridge’s lyrics are a mirror; by showing people their own phobias and sacred cows he is getting them to judge themselves.

I decided to write this song up because in my last article I thrashed Fall Out Boy’s lyrics while still admitting that they were a catchy band. I wanted to show that a song could be catchy without having to be devoid of any meaning, but also that when a song is written in such a way that it does have meaning, its much more satisfying to listen to. To those of you who haven’t heard this song yet, here’s a link below.

[Youtube=http://youtube.com/watch?v=WJ9ieVLaLo8]

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7 Comments

Filed under 70s, 80s, andy, andy partridge, antifolk, barn, barn stormer, barnstormer, brit, brit pop, british, colin moulding, criticism, english, good music, guitar, lyrics, moulding, music, new wave, no thugs in our house, patridge, pop, punk, rock, songwriter, songwriting, stormer, xtc

7 responses to “X T C ** n o t h u g s i n o u r h o u s e

  1. Dave

    Its a goddamn shame you’re not making music. Regardless, you could have a damn good music review/commentary website. Oh wait, you do.

  2. Always a great song and still (sadly) relevant today. It’s a shame that XTC ‘s career was at the mercy of outside forces, inductry mismanagment and Andy’s stage fright issues.

  3. Dan

    I hope XTC get the respect, rewards and exposure they so deserve. There is so much “Bacardi Breezer” music out there, and so very little “Single Malt” of the quality and creativity of Partridge et al.

    Keep the XTC flame burning.

    And heres hoping Partridges ear problems clear up and they get to make another fine album.

    Only trouble with being an XTC fan is that everything else seems so shallow and dull once you have eperienced something so fine as their back catalog.

  4. I have not hear about them yet, but as I read the translation of the lyrics of the song, I am touch. I want to hear that song from them. Hope that I can find there song over the net.

  5. I think you’ll like them headbanger. They’ve got a really innovative sound and their lyrics are intelligent and subtle. Tell me if you ever get a chance to listen to them.

  6. Richard

    You don’t think Graham’s dad is in fact a judge, as in “your honour Mr Justice Graham’s Dad”, and that’s how the nasty little business got tidied over?

    • I think you nailed it. Definitely makes more sense. Thanks for reading! Reminded me I had written this article a million years ago. Got me listening to some XTC right now on Spotify. How did you find my little blog post, if you don’t mind me asking?

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