Reviews: XTC: Apple Box
Apple Box


De Morgen
Onlinekrant | Archief | 06-01-2006
Muziek / Recensies
XTC: Apple Box door Bart Steenhaut

XTC's zoveelste appeltje voor de dorst

Ironisch dat een groep die ooit jarenlang in staking ging uit protest tegen de manier waarop ze door haar toenmalige platenfirma werd behandeld nu zelf op een ongeziene manier haar fans exploiteert. XTC richtte, nadat Virgin uiteindelijk toch het contract had verbroken, een eigen labeltje op, waarop ze kort na elkaar twee uitstekende cd's uitbrachten. Nadien brachten ze van zowel Apple Venus als Wasp Star ook nog eens een cd met demoversies uit en nu zijn al die platen op hun beurt weer verzameld in een sober verpakte vierdelige cd-box, aangedikt met een boekje vol songteksten en aantekeningen. Andy Partridge en Colin Moulding recycleren intensiever dan de gemiddelde milieuactivist, maar op de songs zelf valt nog altijd weinig af te dingen. De invloeden van The Beatles en The Kinks schemeren door, de teksten van hypochonder Partridge zijn even scherp als genadeloos en vooral 'Your Dictionary', een in vitriool geschreven nummer over zijn echtscheiding, behoort tot het beste wat de groep ooit heeft opgenomen. De vraag is alleen wie deze box zal kopen: echte fans hebben alles wat erop staat en voor de modaal geïnteresseerde volstaan de twee 'moederplaten' ruimschoots. Een marketingoefening waar niet lang genoeg over nagedacht is. Trouwens, waar blijft die nieuwe cd? (Ape / Cooking Vinyl)
(Eigen berichtgeving)

Static Multimedia
"Apple Box" combines the "Apple Venus" and its follow-up "Wasp Star" releases, which presented whimsical, intelligent lyrics, sumptuous orchestral arrangements, crystalline guitars, revamping the traditional pop song structure into something approaching fine art.
In 1999, XTC returned from near-obscurity with a series of albums reminding people of just what, exactly, was missing in pop music. Apple Venus and its follow-up Wasp Star presented whimsical, intelligent lyrics, sumptuous orchestral arrangements, crystalline guitars, and a host of fascinating ideas and directions which revamped the traditional pop song structure into something approaching fine art.

For those who are unfamiliar with XTC, you might remember a late-70's new wave song called "Making Plans for Nigel," released shortly before XTC permanently ceased touring to develop their music in the recording studio. Every few years, a new album would appear, showing a band whose songwriting abilities were incredibly well-defined, yet their ambitious recording decisions only seemed to work about half of the time. All that changed in 1986 when Geffen records paired them with legendary producer Todd Rundgren, who pushed XTC to create what has since become regarded as a conceptual album masterpiece, Skylarking. Soon, the then-B-side "Dear God" was picked up by radio, and suddenly XTC was famous in America. Their next album, Oranges and Lemons boasted several hit songs (including "The Mayor of Simpleton" and "King for a Day"), and 1986 showed the arrival of Nonsuch, featuring the modest single "the Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead." Shortly thereafter, the group went into a long legal battle with their record label, went on strike by not recording anything for five years, and quietly faded from the American pop radar.

XTC Apple Box By the time Apple Venus was released, XTC had formed their own record company (Idea Records) and were now in full control of their music. Originally intended as a double-album set, Apple Venus and Wasp Star are, in fact, two separate albums with their own unique sound. The first is more orchestral, with glimmering strings, mirthful woodwinds, carnival keyboards and subdued percussion flown throughout the songs. The second album leans more towards traditional rock, yet features unconventional instruments such as a flugelhorn buried among the guitars and drums. What's truly impressive is the way Nick Davis, their current producer, is able to blend all these varied sounds without the songs degenerating into chaos. If anything, these two albums could be used in a school for recording engineers and songwriters to learn how to perfect their craft.

Lyrically, both albums deal with similar themes: growing up, learning, making mistakes, falling in love, falling out of love, falling in love again, microcosmic theory, sex, death, rebirth - all wrapped up in a humorous wink, reminding you that everything's all right if you don't take life too seriously. Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding have captured a rare place in music, one reminiscent of David Bowie's "Kooks," Nilsson's "Think About Your Troubles" and the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever." It is delightfully charming music, and I've recommended these albums to just about everyone I've met over the years.

From the very start, Apple Venus sets the tone of a beautiful summertime album, with a subtle invitation to wander around various story book worlds created by Andy and Colin. Wasp Star: Apple Venus Vol. 2 arrived the following year, featuring more electric instruments, and is a perfect soundtrack for your second childhood. Fans of XTC tend to favor one album over the other, but in essence the two records are part of a set, allowing the listener to appreciate them separately and collectively. Both recordings offer similar messages accompanied by a wide range of musical styles that would earn the respect of any serious musician or producer, for XTC are terrific at placing musical accents that bring out the messages buried in the lyrics throughout every song. "Stupidly Happy" features the lyric, "All the lights on the cars in the town form the strings of a big guitar" - punctuated with a quick jing-jang of said guitar; "Boarded Up" boasts percussion performed on various pieces of wood; "I'd Like That" has Andy singing, "I'd smile so much my face would crack in two", followed by a sharp CRACK heard among the sounds of a summer carnival. Details like these make for a very rewarding experience during repeated listening, and years later I continually find new ideas and tricks that have somehow escaped my attention during previous exposures.

However, as far as America is concerned, XTC might now be merely a curiosity, a group lost in the seas of irony. Their finest musical achievements have been heralded by critics, yet were largely ignored by the public upon their initial release. Hopefully, the recently released Apple Box will focus fresh attention on these two masterful recordings. Perhaps the public who once embraced the energy of the song "Earn Enough for Us" will notice the banners, posters and billboards while shopping for Holiday presents. In fact, the Apple Box is one serious package, containing both studio and demo releases of the albums, a digital download code for two previously unreleased songs, and a cell phone ring tone (the deluxe box set includes all of the above, along with a T-shirt, badges and "a little something extra" according to the XTC website).

XTC Apple Box Fans of XTC might be a little disappointed at the lack of bonus material included in the Apple Box - after all, there's not much here that hasn't been previously released, and the two new songs included are digital downloads - so if you don't have easy internet access, you might feel a bit slighted. Also, there's no inclusion of either of the two Japan-only instrumental albums that keep fanatics like myself scouring the imports sections (although the entertaining liner notes by Andy and Colin from those sets are included here - a treasure all by themselves). Finally, new listeners might not appreciate the demo versions (which do offer an insightful look at just how songs can change from conception to completion), preferring instead to simply purchase the individual albums. These minor packaging flaws are the only reasons why the Apple Box collection fails to get a full 4-star rating, and shouldn't be taken as a criticism of the brilliant music contained within.

Even with the lack of rarities, I know more than a few people who would love the Apple Box regardless if they're familiar with XTC. If you've never heard these recordings before, or you want to learn a masterful way of creating recorded music, then I highly recommend XTC's Apple Box for your listening pleasure.

Listen to the new XTC track "Spiral"
© Copyright 2005 Super Unleaded Design, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Neil Kull


Official Website
Spiral (new XTC track) MP3


[Thanks to Neil Kull]

December 2005


(four stars)

Apple Box IDEA

Apple Venus plus Wasp Star.
Andy Partridge calls it their “magnum hopeless”.

XTC's reclusive nature gives us a romantic notion of some decelerated, Beatles-like existence — no live shows just CDs of beautifully-crafted pop every once in a while. In fact, these two LPs were originally envisaged as a mid-'90s double CD, but after writer's block, arguments, near bankruptcy and the theft of all the original studio recordings, they were finally released separately at the end of the decade. Here they are joined by their demo counterparts — generally too similar to the final versions to be more than fan-fodder — as a 4-CD set. Apple Venus, particularly is superb. It's subtle and imaginatively arranged with horns and strings, while overall Wasp Star is a swaggering, electric guitar-driven belter. Lyrics are pithy and pictorial; the tunes sound unusually fresh for a band that has been plying its trade for so long.

Mike Barnes

[Transcribed by Paul Culnane]

//_crónicas caleidoscópicas
por Juan Carlos Ballesta
XTC - Apple Box
Diciembre 2005

Cuando en 1992 el entonces trio de Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding y Dave Gregory lanzó el magnífico disco Nonsuch, no imaginaban que sería el último capítulo de una larga y fructífera carrera de XTC con el sello Virgin, iniciada en 1978. Durante los primeros 4 años fue una de las más vitales y exitosas bandas del post punk británico, hasta que en 1982 Partridge sufrió un colapso nervioso al comienzo de la gira norteamericana y decidió retirarse de los escenarios. Lo secundaron sus compañeros, menos el baterista Terry Chambers. Con Mummer (83) y The Big Express (84) poco a poco fueron mutando hacia sonoridades cercanas a la psicodelia pop beatleliana, una etapa en la que editaron obras de alto contenido estético y melódico, especialmente Skylarking (86). Diez años sin tocar en directo cambiaron la dinámica de trabajo de XTC, así como la visión que la disquera tenía sobre el grupo, colocando cada vez menos resursos en las campañas de promoción. No tardarían en quedarse sin contrato, comenzando un dificil período de silencio discográfico que se extendió hasta finales de la pasada década. Divorcios, dependencia alcoholica, ataques de pánico, operaciones y otros problemas, agudizaron la crisis económica y existencial de estos talentosos músicos, herederos directos de The Beatles, Kinks y otros iconos del pop inglés.
A pesar de todo, durante 7 años se mantuvieron haciendo lo que saben hacer, componiendo sin parar, por lo que al momento de conseguir un contrato con la disquera TVT tenían material para ensamblar un disco doble. Pero las reglas del mercado discográfico llevaron al sello a escatimar recursos y editar primero Apple Venus (99), con una presentación bastante sencilla y un año después Wasp Star (00). Concebidos como una pareja complementaria con un disco orquestado y mínima percusión y el otro con formato de banda, ambos trabajos devolvieron la alegría a la vasta legión de seguidores alrededor del mundo y regresaron a la vida a los fundadores Partridge y Moulding, mientras Gregory tomaba su propio camino.
XTC ha vivido desde entonces un renacimiento, con una página web ( en la que venden su música y productos exclusivos. Paradojicamente, tras el éxito de esos dos albumes, la disquera Virgin decidió lanzar la lujosa cuadruple caja Coat of Many Cupboards (02), repleta de clásicos, material inédito y grabaciones en vivo, al tiempo que Andy y Colin lograban hacerse con los derechos de Apple Venus y Wasp Star, retomando entonces la idea original de editarlos en conjunto.
Apple Box (05) es el resultado de un fino trabajo artesanal que incluye la pareja de discos matrices y otros dos con los demos caseros, que en esencia resultan una delicia. Cuatro discos, un folleto de 64 páginas (firmado por los autores si se encarga directamente a su página) con todos los textos y notas, más una clave de acceso para bajar las dos nuevas canciones, “Spiral” y “Say It”. Una digna presentación para un puñado de canciones exquisitas, producto del inagotable manantial creativo de Partridge y Moulding.
La música de XTC sigue siendo fuente de vida y Apple Box un apetecible autoregalo.

[Le Machin-Truc]
giovedì, dicembre 29, 2005


Apple Box

Finalmente riuniti in un volume unico come erano stati originariamente concepiti, frutto delle stesse session, quelli che ad oggi sono gli ultimi due lavori della mitica band di Swindon, ovvero Apple Venus e Wasp Star usciti distanziati negli anni '90. Allora io li avevo lisciati (ai tempi probabilmente ascoltavo i Roxette...). Ma per fortuna oggi rimedio e mi esalto. Sicuramente la discografia passata degli XTC ci offre anche di meglio (capolavori totali e in quantità) ma la chiave moderna per entrare in contatto con cotanta classe era necessaria. Vale più un rutto di Partridge & co. che qualsiasi minchiata indie di oggi. Prorpio da Partridge prendo questa descrizione della loro musica: "Le nostre canzoni sono un mondo in miniatura racchiuso in una piccola scatola. E mi piace l'idea che aprendo il coperchio la gente vi trovi minimi oggetti insoliti: un pezzo di frutta secca, un cristallo di quarzo, un soldatino giocattolo da riparare, un disegno tracciato su un piego di carta". Ecco da dove nasce la Apple Box. A voi , adesso, sollevare il coperchio.

postato da: il_vile | 29/12/2005 13:36

Classic Rock
December 2005 issue (November 2005)

Apple Box

Fruity melodic musings on love and divorce. In a box.

XTC fans may miss the nostalgic kick of reunion tours (Andy Partridge's stage-fright put paid to gigs years ago), but at least they can benefit from the frantic energies put into this project.

Apple Box units the recent-ish Apple Venus and Wasp Star albums as originally intended, and adds two companion CDs of demos. Musically XTC have peddled the same whimsical, left-field pop since 1978, and Easter Theatre and Knights In Shining Karma ape The Beatles and The Beach Boys respectively. Still, it's worth investigating for the fabulous I Can't Own Her and Partridge's ace sleevenotes: ‘Romania is to great guitars as Adolf Hitler was to champion figure skating’. Quite.

* * * * * * * - - -
Simon Williams

[Thanks to Robert Mallows]


Nog zo'n getalenteerde songschrijver is Andy Partridge, die samen met Colin Moulding XTC vormt. In de jaren 90 heeft XTC zeven jaar lang gezwegen omwille van een groot conflict met de platenfirma. Maar in die periode werkte de groep wel aan een ambitieuze dubbelelpee, die uiteindelijk als twee aparte cd's is uitgebracht: het orkestrale Apple Venus, pt. 1 en het rockende Wasp star. Die twee schijfjes zijn nu samengebracht met nog twee andere cd's vol demo's. En samen met de uitvoerige liner notes geven die mooi aan hoe een song van XTC tot stand komt.

artiest: XTC
song: I'm the man who murdered love (3 demo versies)
cd: Apple Box
label/referentie: Idea/Bertus/CD007

Drie demoversies van I'm the man who murderd love, een lied dat uiteindelijk op Apple Venus, pt. 1 is beland. Die cd vind je nu dus in de Apple box, met verder ook Wasp star en de twee demo-cd's Homespun en Homegrown. Die vier platen zijn eerder apart verschenen én nog altijd te koop. Het nut van de box ontgaat ons dus toch een beetje. Tenzij dat XTC nu eindelijk gelukkig kan zijn dat de Siamese tweeling weer aan elkaar is genaaid. Soit, de muziek blijft natuurlijk sterk.

artiest: XTC
song: Greenman
cd: Apple Box
label/referentie: Idea/Bertus/CD007

Greenman, een van de 54 appels uit de nieuwe mand van XTC: Apple box.


Sunday, November 06, 2005

It's Nearly XTC

I've loved XTC for many years, and faithfully bought every CD without auditioning it - any music made by Messurs Partridge and Moulding was enough of a mark of quality for me. However, over the last couple of years, it seems Andy has gone a bit crazy with the releases since they've been released from Virgin.

Fuzzy Warbles, his demo collection series, is a fine idea. I enjoyed those releases, mostly because I love hearing demos, unreleased ideas, snippets, etc. I thought releasing demo collections of Apple Venus and Wasp Star was even OK. I was even OK with instrumental re-packaging of those two albums, even though I only bought one of them.

But now, Andy & Colin have released AV and WS together again, only as a special 4 CD box set (the two original albums, housed with the demo collections of each album). I could ignore this triple-dipping very easily, if it weren't for the inclusion of a download (yes, a download, not even a real CD!) of 2 new tracks. You can only get them if you buy the box.

This is the first new material we've heard from them in years, and they obviously know that true die-hard XTC fans will pony up the dough to purchase albums that they've already bought 3 times for the delight of hearing 2 measly songs. This bugs me.

I know Andy and Co. got royally screwed over the Virgin deal (and continue to be!), but that doesn't warrant this kind of fan abuse. It's not the fans fault they didn't get their financial due, so why are they treating us like we have to make up the slack? What's even more puzzling is the recent find of BOTH songs on the internet:

XTC - Spiral
XTC - Say It
from Apple Box

"Spiral" seems catchy enough, but there's something hollow about this song - it reminds me of a band trying really hard to sound like XTC. I'm not really convinced of Andy's love of his 45 collection...rhyming "vinyl" with "spinal" is a bit silly. Normally I don't mind silly lyrics, but I've been spoiled by Andy in the past. The production is also uninspiring; does he really like that fake flute patch?

One thing that's extremely noticable here is the lack of Dave Gregory's guitar work; Dave's subtle touches and consumate musicianship really gave XTC their bite. Andy is a fine guitarist, but he doesn't love the instrument the way Dave does and you can hear the difference on songs like this.

However, Colin's song "Say It" fares better, lyrically and musically steeping in his trademark deadpan British delivery. Only he can do this kind of soft-shoe pop music and get away with it.

So I'm torn, happy that I didn't have to pay to hear "Spiral", but also "Say It" restores my faith in purchasing the new CD (whenever the hell it's coming out) without hearing it first.

ETA: The link to the Toolshed download has been removed for now, because they didn't think I should link to "Spiral" and have an unfavorable opinion of it. Thanks for the friendly advice, I'll just refrain from linking to you at all.


wendy said...

Actually, the band released those tracks over the internet as part of a promotion for the box set, which is finally being released as it was intended (both records in one package). It's sad that your commentary about the song Spiral is lifted nearly verbatim from the Pitchfork slag of the song.

While I would certainly not classify it as one of their best, I think it is a song that certainly grows on you, especially the spiraling vocals in the chorus.

For the record, I work for a company called Toolshed, and we are working promoting this box set. I was thrilled because I have been an XTC fan for years. Your link to the tune comes from our servers, which is totally fine, but have a bit of respect for their escape from the majors and creating their own label. They released this tune for free for their fans and it does is disservice, in my opinion, to try to make it something it isn't.

9:28 AM
Lee said...

I am a big XTC fan and I have total respect for them escaping the majors. But as a discriminating fan, I can't see how that excuses the excessive repackaging of their indie material.

And I didn't copy the Pitchfork review, although I agree with it. Your comment reads more like promotion copy.

I am not doing XTC a disservice by reviewing the single unfavorably. But if you believe I should not link to it unless it is favorable, I will not cause you or the nice people at Toolshed any distress, and remove the link to your site.

10:17 AM

De Tijd

XTC / 'Apple Box - The Collected Apple Venus Recordings'

Idea Records/Bertus

De eerste najaarsboxen zijn een feit. Je zou kunnen zeggen dat XTC het zich gemakkelijk heeft gemaakt, maar dat zou afbreuk doen aan de strijd die Andy Partridge en Colin Moulding geleverd hebben om het zover te laten komen. Ze bundelen vier albums die het levenslicht zagen in de periode tussen 1998 en 2001, maar ontegensprekelijk met elkaar verbonden zijn. Eerst verschenen 'Apple Venus' en 'Wasp Star', later de cd's met demoversies van precies dezelfde nummers. Deze toevloed aan liedjes kwam er niet zomaar. Het album dat origineel verscheen onder de titel 'Apple Venus Volume 1' bood een overzicht van het akoestische werk dat het duo bijeenschreef toen ze door hun voormalige platenfirma 'gegijzeld' werden en staat in zijn nieuwe gedaante op een wit schijfje.

'Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2)' is elektrischer en werd op een zwarte schijf geperst. Maar het verschil tussen beide is niet zo zwart-wit. De luchtige (maar toch doordachte) popsongs van het duo blijven hoogst charmant gezelschap, ook nu vooral hun nerveuzere new wavegeluiden uit het eind van de jaren zeventig lustig door een nieuwe generatie muzikanten gekopieerd worden. Zeker wanneer Partridge zijn pen bovenhaalt, wemelt het van spinnende melodieën, weerhaken en geestigheden. Voor wie de sound op de originele versies wat te orkestraal vindt, zijn de demoversies een waardig alternatief. In eerste instantie wilde XTC overigens een dubbelalbum uitbrengen, maar dat plan moest de groep van het kleinere Cooking Vinyl-label laten varen. Op deze manier krijgen Partridge en Moulding uiteindelijk toch nog hun zin, al hadden ze deze opnames veel liever een decennium eerder uitgebracht. Bij het fraai vormgegeven doosje (een lust voor het oog) hoort een 64 pagina tellend boekje met de teksten en erg uitgebreide liner notes. TPe

13:29 - 31/10/2005
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