Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
After the release of Nonsuch in 1992, XTC essentially went on strike against Virgin Records for various contractual reasons that I couldn’t possibly summarize here. Both parties stood their ground until the label finally gave in after more than 5 years and released the band from their contract. During this forced hiatus they stockpiled songs, especially singer/guitarist Andy Partridge and to a lesser extent singer/bassist Colin Moulding. They also formed their own record label, Idea Records, and signed a deal to distribute their newly recorded music with UK indie label Cooking Vinyl (and TVT Records in the US). Initially the plan was to release a double album, with one disc focusing on their orchestral side (last explored on the Nonsuch track “Rook”) and the other disc in the classic pop/rock vein they were best known for, but then it was decided to split them into two separate albums. I think this was a smart decision, since it would be a tough sell to re-introduce the band after a 7-year absence with a sprawling 2-disc set. Choosing to release the aforementioned orchestral album first may not have been the best move, commercially speaking, but from an artistic standpoint it was a bold declaration of their mindset at the time. Andy described this side of their music as “more rosin-ville than plectrum place,” a clever way of explaining the use of classical strings over traditional rock guitars.
In this post I’ll discuss these two records, which are also currently the final two albums in their catalog. After the release of each of these albums they put together a disc of demos for every song. In most cases the demos don’t reveal much that isn’t there on the finished recording, although in some cases it was fun to discover how a basic idea was enhanced in the studio by Andy, Colin, producers Haydn Bendall & Nick Davis and various session musicians. Since these demo collections are so closely associated with each studio album, I’ll be discussing each pair together. Going into this series, I was only slightly more familiar with these two albums than I was with White Music, Go 2, Mummer and The Big Express. Revisiting them over the past month has allowed me to discover a lot of great music that I had overlooked in the past, and even though none of those albums has surpassed my existing favorites, they’ve certainly grown in stature. That’s what I was hoping for as I approached the end of their discography. I should note that during the long layoff Andy went through a divorce and began a new relationship (which I believe is still going strong), so his new songs often contained a mixture of anger & elation as he dealt with these powerful events in his personal life. Guitarist/keyboardist/arranger Dave Gregory eventually grew weary of the band’s new orchestral direction and, depending on who you believe, was either forced out of the band or resigned. Whichever is true, it’s hard to imagine XTC without his brilliant contributions. He may not have written songs for the band, but since his arrival on their third album he was an integral part of their sound and their records wouldn’t have been as good without him.
The first fruit of the new 2-man XTC lineup (Dave is credited merely as a guest performer) was Apple Venus Volume 1 (1999), and the related CD of demos was Homespun (1999). On first or second listen it’s hard to gauge the strength of these songs, but they slowly bloom like the beautiful flowers Andy envisioned in the first track, “River Of Orchids.” Beginning with a 90-second instrumental section that’s all dripping sound effects & pizzicato strings, a frantic melody & jarring horns then join the fray. My favorite hooks are at “push…your…car…from the road” and those “Mmmm” grunts at the end of certain lines. I like the sentiment of a fantasy world where roads are replaced by flowers, showing Andy’s hippie side. The demo version is nearly 2 minutes shorter, without the extended intro. “I Like That” is a bouncy Paul McCartney-esque ditty with thigh-slapping percussion. I love the way the verses build to an anticlimactic end (“Really high, really high, like a really high thing, say, a sunflower”), even though the “like a really high thing” lyric makes me cringe a little. I also hear hints of Jeff Lynne/ELO. The demo switches from the original rough cassette recording to a more fully formed take. The sparse orchestral arrangement of “Easter Theatre” gives way to some gorgeous harmonies from Colin (“Stage left…stage right”), and I have to assume that’s Dave delivering the guitar solo that reminds me so much of Queen’s Brian May. Although the verses sound impressive with those horn stabs, they’re a bit tuneless, while the other sections are very pretty…especially the late-60s Beach Boys homage at “Easter…in her bonnet.” In the notes for the demo version, Andy described this song as “one of the best things I’ve ever written.” “Knights In Shining Karma,” with that awful title aside (and I’m someone who enjoys a good pun), is a soft lullaby written by Andy as “a song to salve my worried mind…I needed hugging & guarding…so I tried to do it to myself.” It’s a lovely respite from the intense orchestral arrangements that precede it. Although the song came to him as he worked with the chords to The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” it captures more of the mood from their song “Julia.”
Colin only contributed two songs here. For the first, “Frivolous Tonight,” he references Music Hall, various British entertainers I’m not familiar with, as well as The Beatles’ “Good Day Sunshine,” but to me it sounds more like the theme to a ‘70s children’s show. It’s a playful but minor song, certainly not one of his finest moments, but I love his voice at “We’re all so frivolous…tonight.” His other contribution is “Fruit Nut,” a fun little song with an insistent repeated musical motif, about various activities men undertake in their sheds (the British equivalent to the “man cave,” I suppose). It has the simple playfulness of The Beach Boys’ “Vegetables” with a stronger melody that’s more in the vein of The Beatles’ “Penny Lane.” The two best hooks come at “Some people say…that I am out of my tree” and “A man must have a shed to keeeeep him sane.” Sitting between these Colin songs are two of Andy’s most notable contributions to the album. “Your Dictionary” was the first song that caught my ear back in 1999, featuring clever or cringe-worthy lyrics (depending on your tolerance for lines like “H-A-T-E, is that how you spell love in your dictionary? K-I-C-K, pronounced as ‘kind’.”) Some of the other four-letter spellings, which get into expletive territory, are even more bitter & angry. Musically it’s an immediately catchy song with strong acoustic guitar work, and the addition of piano & strings in the second verse is a nice touch. He gets into Beach Boys territory again at “Now your laughter has a hollow ring.” Apparently, Andy wanted to leave this as a demo, but the others thought it was too good to discard. The highlight of the album for me has to be “Greenman,” of which Andy said: “The music seemed to suggest the land & forests…a Pagan ritual, a celebration of timelessness.” Although he claims it’s rooted in English folk music, there’s no denying the Arabic/Middle Eastern vibe conjured up among the steady loping percussion & sweeping strings. Even though it runs longer than 6 minutes, it remains interesting throughout, and I simply love the melody at “And you know for a million years he has been your lover/father.”
Two more Andy compositions offer up some interesting musical ideas but don’t completely work for me. “I Can’t Own Her” has a baroque quality & is slightly dissonant at times. I do like the overall cinematic quality of this song, but the only discernible hook is, “But I can’t own her and I never will.” “Harvest Festival” is a peaceful piano ballad that has a nice build leading to the ecstatic “Longing look you gave me, that longing loooook” section. The recorder(s) at the end bring to mind The Beatles’ “Fool On The Hill.” I hear Brian Wilson’s influence all over album closer “The Last Balloon,” of which Andy said: “Balloons make me think of escape, maybe from a besieged place…It’s primarily a sad song.” That melancholy feeling is enhanced by the harpsichord. There are some amazing vocals at “Climb aboard, climb aboard you menfolk/you women/you children.” This is almost as good as “Chalkhills And Children” from Oranges & Lemons, and the addition of flugelhorn gives it a slight Burt Bacharach quality. All in all, Apple Venus Volume 1 is a gorgeous album that stands proudly among the best of their discography, even though it often comes across as an orchestral Andy Partridge solo album as opposed to a group effort. The Homespun collection of demos is a fun listen but would only be worthwhile for devoted fans. I think I can put myself in that category, now more than ever.
It’s ironic, and a little sad, that Dave Gregory was no longer a member of XTC when they recorded their next (and, to date, final) album, Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2) (2000), since these are the types of typical XTC songs that he could have elevated with his diverse musicality. The corresponding CD of demos, Homegrown (2001), is equally as interesting as its predecessor, occasionally including more than one early version of certain songs. “Playground” jumps out with its fuzzy guitar tone & stomping drums, yet still has a lightness of touch. The theme of this song is summarized in its final line, “You may leave school but it never leaves you,” as Andy explains how adulthood is similar in many ways to childhood. I love Colin’s singing at “It’s a playground/every day ground” and Andy’s soaring voice at “Rehearsing for the big square wooooorld.” Andy described “Stupidly Happy” as “a song about me being happy to be in love.” Although he compared it to The Rolling Stones when he said, “I’d hit on the ultimate (Keith Richards) riff that he’d never found,” to me it sounds more like Third Eye Blind’s “Never Let You Go.” While I’m not a fan of that band, it’s a very catchy song and indicates that XTC had a potential hit on their hands, had radio been more open-minded. The demo version is fairly complete but a bit rougher around the edges. “My Brown Guitar,” originally known in demo form as “Some Lovely,” features John Lennon-esque guitar work as well as a number of melodic vocal hooks (“You want some lovely, I’ve got some lovely…in my heart/in my head”). I like the way it opens up at “We can play, every day, we can play at being lovers.” This is one of a handful of songs that has slowly been burrowing its way into my head, even a couple of days since I last played it. “I’m The Man Who Murdered Love” is a super catchy power-pop song with fun/silly lyrics about how, by killing “love,” he’s freed people from the related “mess.” If they were still a touring band this would be a great sing-along. The demos of this tune are most revealing, with a Joni Mitchell inspired take that’s a drastically different song, a swinging Motown version and then a fairly complete run-through.
The highlight of this album, and probably my favorite track on the two Apple Venus releases, is “We’re All Light.” Moving along on a repetitive, bouncy, mildly psychedelic groove, and featuring “don’t you know?…” as a recurring motif, this track would easily fit among the best of Oranges & Lemons. It has an interesting arrangement, with a Theremin-like synth line, lovely harmonies and a tight-but-loose rhythm (with a great snappy snare drum sound). The addition of what sounds like a Hammond organ near the outro was a perfect embellishment. Colin delivered three songs here. The first, “In Another Life,” is his low-key celebration of matrimony, and the harmonica melody is probably the catchiest thing about it. His next contribution, “Boarded Up,” is something different for him. I love the slow footstep rhythm, sparse guitar work, raggedy percussion & Colin’s hushed vocals, as he evokes the feeling of a deserted town. With a few tweaks this could be a Tom Waits song. “Standing In For Joe” immediately had a familiar sounding melody, which I attributed to having heard the song before, but then it was pointed out how the verses have nearly the same vocal line as Steely Dan’s “Barrytown.” The music, especially the steady 4/4 groove, is completely different than that song, but I agree about the strong resemblance between the two, yet I don’t see it as a negative. I like the “lounge version” demo with hummed vocals, as well as the fuller demo with some Beatle-isms thrown in.
Of the four remaining tracks, all written by Andy, two are very strong: “You And The Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful” and “Church Of Women.” The former has a slinky rhythm track and a very clever guitar solo. The verses are a little too crowded with lyrics, but the line “But no matter what the weather” leading up to the song title makes this a winner for me. The latter has a programmed reggae vibe with decent half-spoken verses, powerful choruses (“Let me worship at the church…of women”) and some nasty guitar work from Andy. My only complaint is that it’s unnecessarily long at 5+ minutes. The other two songs have elements I enjoy but don’t work for me as complete works. “Wounded Horse” has a bluesy feel that I don’t think I’ve ever heard from them, recalling The Beatles’ “Happiness Is A Warm Gun.” Album closer “The Wheel And The Maypole” attempts to stitch together two separate demos, “The Pot Won’t Hold Our Love” and “Everything Decays,” both of which work as brief melodies but don’t form a cohesive whole, and at just under 6 minutes it definitely overstays its welcome. Of the two Apple Venus releases, Wasp Star is probably the one that casual fans & XTC newbies would gravitate toward, but even though it’s packed with tons of great pop melodies it’s not quite in the same league as their best work. Apple Venus Volume 1 takes a little more time to fully embrace, but one of the things that has drawn me to the XTC catalog over the years is the diversity they display between & within each album, and Vol. 1 has its own personality.
That brings me to the end of the XTC catalog. I entered as a big fan with a lot of blind spots throughout their discography, and now I have an even bigger appreciation for this one-of-a-kind band. Becoming familiar with those lesser-known songs & albums has been the highlight of this series. Andy has continued releasing new recordings since XTC split up (or is it just an indefinite hiatus?), issuing various CDs in his Fuzzy Warbles series. Perhaps at some point in the future I’ll revisit them, but for now I’m happy to leave with a better knowledge of the nearly 25-year recording career of XTC. As I’ve pointed out in each of these posts, the excellent Chalkhills.org website has been an invaluable resource, and I can’t thank them enough for the work they’ve done to keep the music of XTC alive. Please bookmark that page & visit them anytime you need an XTC fix. I’m also pleased to finally finish the Song Stories book that I initially mentioned in my first post. If you ever find yourself working your way through their catalog, I can’t recommend this book highly enough as a worthwhile companion. Thanks to everyone who’s visited my blog during this series, and especially to all you wonderful people who have shared your thoughts & insights in the Comments section. I look forward to reading your opinions on these final(?) two XTC albums. Please stay tuned for my next artist series…still to be determined.
Rich I love how you go into these series and for parts of them, it truly is “parts unknown”. You get to experience all this stuff and bring us along. So thanks for that. Next series still to be determined eh? Are you willing to give away any contenders?
Thanks, Mike. That’s the fun of covering artists who aren’t my all-time favorites. I get to learn even as I rediscover songs I already love. I’m glad you’ve picked up on that.
My list of contenders is really long and I’m a little wiped out from the time I spent with XTC, so I need to clear my head for at least a few days before deciding whose work I want to dive into next. I’ll also be away for nearly a week soon, so I may do an interim post (like a “Compilation Or Catalog?” entry) first and then start my next extended series when I’m back.
I wish you happy recharge time! I know it doesn’t look like it from my daily output but I take frequent long breaks! It’s just that I have built up this huge back catalogue of writings, so it gives you the illusion of steadily going at it. I just finished up a week long break as a matter of fact and have had a fun productive weekend of pleasure-listening and writing-listening!
I wish you all the best “pleasure-listening” while on your vay-cay, if you choose to rock, then I salute you.
Thanks Mike. I’ve always been impressed by the steady stream of posts that you write, but mostly because of the consistent quality of the writing & the passion you convey in everything you cover. Much as I enjoy the process of getting to know the artists I’ve revisiting, it’s also very time-consuming & you obviously understand how exhausting it can be. Making time for “pleasure listening” is part of the process, and I’ve got various things lined up this week (including my just-acquired “Elvis Presley At Stax” box set).
Glad you’ve had a nice weekend. Hope it continues that way throughout Sunday. Now that this post is complete, I have a list of things I want (and need) to do. I might relax this evening.
Cheers to you!
I was having a conversation with a friend recently who questioned, is it possible to write a truly original song? My thought is that with a group like XTC, they can combine all kinds of influences (as you mentioned with Apple Venus, Beatles, Beach Boys, ELO, Queen) to create a new, distinctive sound.
Another solid series – and please don’t delete any of your old series! Your blog is a great resource for me, often only an album or two will be a part of the 1001 list but I’m always quite interested in hearing your take on how it fits into an artist’s discography as a whole.
Geoff, I definitely agree with your assessment that anything truly original is most likely going to involve a unique combination of influences, and perhaps a distinctive voice as well.
I’m glad you enjoyed this series, and I appreciate you checking it out & sharing your kind words. I have no plans on removing any of my old series, since they’re all part of the archive and the ongoing discussion with fellow music fanatics like you. I will continue to look forward to your posts as well, since I’ve really been enjoying the diversity of styles you’ve been covering. Always an enjoyable read.
Well, of course everyone who writes music is influenced, at least subconsciously, by stuff he has heard. But nevertheless there is a difference between a pastiche and writing something original.
Two of my favourite groups are The Beatles and Jethro Tull. In both cases, the influences are rather obvious. However, any of their songs is immediately recognizable as one of their songs, so despite the influences there is that extra something which makes them unique.
To other favourite groups are Pink Floyd and Rush. While various influences can be heard on the earlier albums, by the time of, say, Wish You Were Here or Moving Pictures, I think it is fair to say that they sounded like no one else.
Phillip, you made a great point about the difference between making something original out of your influences and merely doing a pastiche. And the examples you gave are right on the money (no pun intended as far as Pink Floyd is concerned). When it comes to Rush, I think their style was already becoming original by 2112, but there’s no doubt that by the time of Permanent Waves & Moving Pictures they sounded only like themselves.
Wasp Star to me stands among XTC best albums, “You and the clouds will still be beautiful”, “Standing in for Joe” and “Stupidly happy” are just great songs that take clever lyrics and a bouncy melody that hide one devious twisted mind. Andy did release the 4 CD Fuzzy Warbles set later on that had XTC outtakes and some unreleased demos that were pretty interesting providing your willing to go over the fanatical ledge. Excellent Post.
I figured there would be a lot of people who enjoy “Wasp Star” more than I do. I think “Apple Venus Vol. 1” is the more rewarding listen and keeps getting better with each spin, but that’s not to say that “Wasp Star” isn’t filled with tons of great melodies. Have you ever noticed the similarity between the verses of “Standing In For Joe” and Steely Dan’s “Barrytown”? Once it was pointed out to me it was impossible to ignore. I’m not claiming that Colin ripped it off…plenty of songs sound like other songs…but it’s something worth noting.
I have digital copies of the entire “Fuzzy Warbles” series from a friend’s CDs. Maybe one day I’ll revisit them & write about it here, but since those are merely Andy Partridge solo recordings I didn’t think it needed to be included in this series.
Thanks for your comments. I really appreciate the support.
Spot on, Rich
I had a few different views on the other albums you reviewed (only few, mostly agreed) but here you hit it (except I really love “I can’t own her” but have to agree with your pointing out it hasn’t that one big hook (or more) but I like the way the piano melody was treated, first alone and then with the verse), I remember my goose bumps when I heard 1st heard this (btw nearly the same time I finally got the song stories book!!! 1999! yeah it’s one of my “bibles” too (along with Per Nielsen’s The Vault (about Prince)))
Having mentioned Prince (and 1999 :-D), here’s a trivia: Michael Bland (known as Michael B.) the original New Power Generation Drummer was to be drumming on Wasp Star but they chose Prairie PRINCE 😀 (and IIRC got Michael’s name wrong in the Stories book)
Wasp Star definitely misses the elegant touches of Dave Gregory and is a bit too nervy here and there but the high points are high, really high, like a really high thing!
It’s a shame there will never be studio recordings of so many great songs (Car outta Control, Raising a family in a house full of mice and many many Partridge songs (at least he could have re-recording “living in a haunted heart” but well)
A sad end to a rather sad career/history but the albums are immortal (to me every album from Drums&Wires to WaspStar!)
’nuff said, free your mind now, well done, mate!
Hi Tom. Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad we’re closer on our opinions here. My opinions on some of these songs could change over the years. Each post just reflects my feelings after listening to each album a number of times at a particular time. I reserve the right to change my opinion whenever I feel like it. Haha.
That’s an interesting tidbit regarding Prairie Prince (a fantastic drummer for a very underrated band) and Prince’s old drummer.
I have to imagine at some point there will be enough demand for an XTC reunion that they’ll have to get back together. Maybe it’ll take a filmmaker putting together a movie about the band, which could raise their profile and maybe make them the stars they deserve to be. In our eyes they’re already legends, but it would be nice if the general public knew it as well.
I really appreciate all your input into this series. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you about the XTC catalog. I hope you’ll be interested in another artist I cover in the future so we can continue the conversation. Until then, take care!
^sorry I mixed up “Your Dictionary” and I can’t own her about the piano part, so ignore that bit 😀 (getting old, I guess… :-() You were spot on then!
Just responded to your previous comment, but your correction has been noted. Thanks for clarifying.
The phrase “worth the wait” is overused but Apple Venus was worth the wait indeed. It has a nice, organic feel that I find very inviting. The orchestral touches seem a natural part of the material, unlike all those “classical arranger shoehorns famous artist’s hits into an orchestral backing” projects that pop up these days. A list of favorite tracks would be fruitless as it would pretty much include everything on the album. Dare I say a masterpiece?
Wasp Star doesn’t quite reach masterpiece status but it’s a more than respectable effort. The songs range from good to great, with the only track I really dislike being “Wounded Horse” which seems too obvious both in music and lyrics. I do want to defend “The Wheel and The Maypole” which may be my favorite thing on the album. Sure it’s two songs grafted together but I think it works. I should also mention the interesting direction that Colin’s work was taking on these two albums, very down-to-earth and somewhat Kinks-like.
So overall, we have one great album here and one that’s damn good. If these two releases were indeed XTC’s finale, I think they went out with style.
Thanks for the feedback, Glenn. Sounds like we’re essentially on the same page regarding these (final?) XTC albums. I may not have agreed with your “masterpiece” assessment of Apple Venus Volume 1 after the first couple of listens, but each subsequent spin revealed new layers and now I absolutely agree. You made a great point about the orchestral elements sounding like “a natural part” of the music. That’s definitely not the case with most pop/rock projects that incorporate classical music into them.
I appreciate your defense of “The Wheel And The Maypole.” Last week I spoke with a friend who’s been a huge XTC fan for years, and that was his favorite song from these two albums. He couldn’t believe that I didn’t feel the same. As I said in the post, I love all the elements of the song, and it has some of the strongest melodies they’ve ever written. I just don’t think it works as a cohesive piece of music over its unnecessarily long 6 minute running time. “River Of Orchids,” on the other hand, completely justifies its length. Of course, I’m just being picky because that’s what I’m trying to do in these series. It’s not like I hate the song.
Your final statement (one great album…and one that’s damn good”) is spot-on. They definitely went out in style…but I’ll hold out hope that there’s a reunion somewhere down the line.
I’ve really appreciated all your input throughout this series, and had a great time chatting with you about a band I love more now than I ever did.
Thanks, Rich. I didn’t even mention the supplemental releases to these albums. Not only were there the two demo albums but they also released two albums of backing tracks. I couldn’t justify purchasing all of these but a buddy of mine did, and I think the only one really worth a listen is the instrumental version of Apple Venus. As for the demo albums, they just show how fully formed most of this material was before they hit the studio. No wonder Dave Gregory felt there was little for him to work on.
I’ve enjoyed this series and I’m looking forward to seeing who you do next.
I didn’t know about those instrumental albums until I started this series. I’m a fan, but that’s beyond my level of interest. It really is a shame that Dave Gregory was barely involved in Vol. 1 and not at all for Vol. 2. Of course, I’m not sure what he could’ve added to Vol. 1, but a lot of the songs on Vol. 2 are crying out for his contributions.
Thanks again. Still deciding who my next artist will be. I’ll probably post another “Compilation Or Catalog?” entry next week and then I’ll be away for several days. I hope to be recharged & ready to dive into the next series the first week of September. Hope it’s an artist you like.
Once again, thanks for your efforts in putting together this series – it’s great to be able revisit XTC from time to time with new voices and new thoughts.
I generally agree with your assessment(s) of Apple Venus, including your enthusiasm for Greenman. It’s worth noting that what we can recreate of medieval and early Renaissance music sounds more Middle Eastern than you might imagine, with dominant percussion, modal melodies, and reedy, raspy instruments like the appropriately-named rackett. For all I know, that’s a rackett playing the infectious little figure in the beginning of the song. One other observation: the song treads in some interesting areas regarding gender, positing the Greenman as masculine to the feminine in – dare I say it? – all of us. It’s a theme that crops up in odd places, including the fantasy writings of C.S. Lewis.
On Wasp Star, I join the defenders of the The Wheel and The Maypole, a quodlibet for, not tenderfeet (hello, deadheads), but the wise and well-seasoned. It’s Partridge’s lyricism at its best, drawing in images from Great Expectations and modern cosmology with equal facility. It’s the perfect farewell for the band. Everything decays, but that doesn’t obviate the fact that it was beautiful in its day, and that decay itself makes way for something new. You said in an earlier conversation “sometimes I think Andy gets a little too clever with his lyrics,” but as far as I’m concerned, he can’t be clever enough. It’s that combination of literary and musical eclecticism that defines XTC for me.
Two more comments: Church of Women points out an amazing fact about XTC, which is that they are the first, and perhaps only, all-male feminist band. I’m working on an essay embodying this observation. The song also contains lines so great that I refer to them almost daily: “performing that miracle, raising the living,” and “I’m on my knees but dancing,” to cite my favorites.
Finally, and for what it’s worth, I have but one bumper sticker on my car, and it reads “We’re All Light”. So far, nobody has recognized the source, but I live in hope.
Hi Marc. Apologies for the delayed reply. I just returned from Paris and I’m still trying to figure out what day & time it is. Thanks so much for your comment. You made some great points about “Greenman” and the connections between Middle Eastern sounds and medieval/Renaissance music. I minored in music in college and studied all kinds of styles & genres, and I can definitely hear some similarities, although there are some specific elements of medieval/Renaissance music that I don’t hear in this song. I know Andy wasn’t thinking “Middle Eastern” when writing/recording it, but that vibe is very strong (at least to my ears).
I knew my comment about Andy’s “cleverness” might not sit well with some fans, and I accept that. Most of the time I’m impressed by his clever wordplay and literary references, even when they go over my head, but there are also more than a few times where I cringe a little bit. It’s like the work of playwright/screenwriter David Mamet. Some people love every word he puts on the page, and actors adore him, but occasionally his work comes across like a collection of punchlines with a story built around them. To me, those punchlines should come naturally from the story, not the other way around. So while 80%-90% of Andy’s music blows me away, that other portion is what keeps me from being an absolute XTC fanatic. As for “The Wheel And The Maypole,” so many of the various parts found their way into my brain for weeks, so there’s a lot to love there. I still don’t think it holds together as a single song, though. Perhaps someone like Todd Rundgren could’ve helped to blend the ideas more seamlessly.
Do you agree that the two Apple Venus albums suffer a bit due to the absence of Dave Gregory, especially Part 2? His contributions often get overlooked because he didn’t write any of their songs, but so many of their songs wouldn’t be classics without him.
Very interesting point about the feminist leanings of the band. That’s a fantastic observation, and something that’s probably been overlooked about them. Keep me posted on your essay. I would be interested in reading it.
As for your bumper sticker, I might not have made the connection before this series, but there’s no doubt I would pick up on it immediately now. That’s the joy of revisiting the lesser played artists & albums in my collection. It’s all about becoming better acquainted with them.
Your feedback is really appreciated.
All the best…
Funny, for me Vol 1 is near my top favorites of the XTC canon, and Wasp Star is somewhere near the bottom. Maybe I just need to listen to it more.
Just a couple of comments on your notes: For me the charm of “I’d Like That” is that it’s a very childlike perspective, representing the way love has rejuvenated him –thus the lyric “high, really high, like a really high thing”, which is like a child trying to express himself without either the vocabulary or the experience to do his feelings justice.
Similarly, in “Easter Theatre” –which may in fact be Andy’s finest moment –the seeming flaw of the dissonant, tuneless verse is actually a necessity for the beauty of the chorus to have it’s full impact. If you go back to the 80’s, a lot of songs back then used that same technique, although none reached as gorgeous an apotheosis as this.
Hi Kitoba. Thanks so much for sharing your feelings about this era of XTC’s career. I’m not surprised to hear how highly you’ve rated Vol. 1, but I’m not sure I would rate Vol. 2 so low even though it’s not nearly as good as its predecessor. Perhaps Dave Gregory’s input would’ve elevated it. Since it appears that Vol. 2 might be the final release in the XTC catalog, it’s not a bad way to go out.
That’s a great point regarding the childlike perspective of “I’d Like That.” You can definitely feel the exuberance in his voice & the lyrics. I still find the “like a really high thing” line to be a bit stilted, but I will consider your point the next time I play it. Perhaps you’ll help me to appreciate the song even more, so thanks for that.
I completely agree with your assessment of the dissonant verses in “Easter Theatre” giving way to the gorgeous chorus. When I used the word “tuneless” in my post I didn’t mean it as a put-down, but merely a description of what I was hearing, and the song is certainly a highlight of the album (and their discography).
Your input is greatly appreciated.
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I agree with your linking of the The Last Baloon and Chalk Hills and Children althought I’d give it to the Apple Venus closing track in a split decision. The seamless blending of Andy’s voice with the sublime flugel horn solo from Guy Barker is so beautiful I’m on the verge of tears every listen. Looking forward to going back through your series Rich, especially reading what you’ve got it say about Mummer.
I agree about the beauty of the flugelhorn coupled with Andy’s vocals, but I might have to choose “Chalkills…” solely because it’s on the first XTC album I knew & fell in love with, so I’ve known it a lot longer. But as the years pass & I spend more time with “The Last Balloon,” I can only see it growing in stature.
I really appreciate you stopping by & sharing your comments. I hope you enjoy reading through my opinions on their catalog, which I wrote as each album was fresh in my mind. We may not always agree about our favorite songs or albums, but we should agree that they’re a sadly overlooked band, at least by the mainstream.
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