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XTC: Transistor Blast (TVT- 4 CD set)

Akin only to the Talking Heads in their terrorist's commitment to pop anarchy, XTC ignite guerilla explosions throughout Transistor Blast's manic four disks.

Once upon a time, XTC live thundered a most quixotic rumble. Frantically charged with the inventive piss 'n vinegar of punk, these silly primates wrung the wry-est humor from all of the form's costume posturing; unleashing upon a volume pummeled planet such catchy madness as Making Plans For Nigel, Statue Of Liberty, Snowman, The Rhythm, This is Pop, Radios In Motion, Roads Girdle The Globe, and Life Begins At The Hop.

As a loud celebration of psycho perversity (CrossWires, Seagull's Screaming and a discordantly triumphant All Along The Watchtower) and jangled ironies (No Language In Our Lungs, Towers Of London) Transistor Blast captures an anything-is-possible XTC at the height of their live performance before Partridge's crippling anxiety and illness took the band offstage for good.

Incorporating BBC sessions from 1978-'82 as well as concert performances dating from '78-'80, Transistor Blast is a rapturous amalgam ranging from the dissonant bubblegum of the band's debut White Noise, clear through such acclaimed albums as English Settlement, The Big Express and early versions of Poor Skeleton Steps Out, One Of The Millions from the sprawling neo-classical Oranges and Lemons. For American fans who have had limited exposure to live XTC, Transistor Blast is an expansive wonder to behold.


Mike Jurkovic © rhythm & news 1999

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XTC: Apple Venus Vol. 1 (TVT)

Apple Venus Vol 1 is the new Pet Sounds. It already is the Best Record of 1999 and if AV V2 (to be released later this year) is 1/64th as great as Vol 1 it'll be the second best record of '99.

I say this 'cos I don't give a fuck who releases what for the rest of the year they ain't comin' anywhere near this one. If the water drops introducing River Of Orchids, AVV1's remarkable overture, is meant to imply some kind of Chinese water torture then call me sado-masochist numero uno. If they're meant to conjure the sweet image of raindrops rolling from an orchid's passion flower into a reflective pool of water, then Greenpeace, here I am!

AVV1 is what Mozart had in mind when he began hearing symphonies soar. For these 11 brilliant songs and their sequencing, especially the lullabye lushness of Knights In Shining Karma, Colin Moulding's Penny Lane-ish Frivolous Tonight and the pulsating raga-storm of Andy Partridge's electrifying GreenMan ('Please to bend down for the one called the GreenMan/He wants to make you his bride') are the movements of a great opus.

Fluid, challenging, rewarding; setting to celebratory song the sweeping turns of our beingness that make this place, and this one-of-a-kind recording, so passionate, glorious and mad.

How the hell Paul McCartney let I'd Like That get away from him and wind up in the madcap mitts of Andy Partridge is a three card monte move no one can ever hope to follow. On the other end of the emotional pendulum, Your Dictionary — a brutal portrayal of a less than amicable divorce — crackles with typical Lennon fire. As if to verify my claim of AVV1 as the new Pet Sounds, I Can't Have Her, Harvest Festival, and the satorial closer, The Last Balloon create an aural daydream rivaled only by it's 30 year predecessor.

Having withdrawn from the stagnant pop world in `92 for personal and business reasons, Partridge and Moulding return not to play catch up but to shame the musical empire for falling so  far behind. AVV1 is so many miles ahead of the cesspool pack you can't help but rejoice at the smiles of the faces on pioneers everywhere.


Mike Jurkovic © rhythm & news 1999

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XTC: Homespun- The Apple Venus Vol.1 Home Demos (Cooking Vinyl, Limited Edition)

Clearly designed for the XTC fan, Homespun probably isn't the best place to be introduced to the band. In fact, most fans might ask, "why bother?" The fact that bootlegs have been selling hand over fist for the last couple of years really explains why Homespun exists. I can't find fault with Andy Partridge or Colin Moulding wanting to make money off home demos that have been generating income for others over the past couple of years (particularly after the debacle with Virgin Records).

What matters, ultimately, is the music. Homespun has charm. In fact the nearest parallel I can think of is the Beatles Anthology series. Homespun suggests a road not taken by the band in many of the stripped down arrangements of the songs. Andy Partridge's Harvest Festival, Greenman and Your Dictionary all benefit from the simpler sound of these demos. Harvest Festival begins with a snippet of the acoustic demo for the song. Partridge is committing the song to tape for the first time. We then here the finished demo which, although not significantly different from the final version, is very much like looking at a rough draft of a familiar, classic painting. The demo allows the listener to appreciate the different components that make up the final piece. Greenman is one of the outstanding tracks on Apple Venus Volume One. We're allowed to hear the finished demo and appreciate the composition minus the production touches that threatened to bury this unusual song. Your Dictionary has a directness and venom missing from the final version. Your Dictionary would have fit right at home on Lennon's Plastic Ono Band or Imagine. Again, this powerful song is buried beneath a wall of production on the finished product. The demo actually sounds superior to the final version. The majority of the tracks by Partridge are essentially fleshed out versions of the demos. It's pretty obvious why Dave Gregory left the band. Partridge's songs emerge as complete pieces without much room for Gregory (the only member of the band who didn't write songs) to apply his imaginative guitar parts and string arrangements. If Gregory had remained with the band he probably would have been unhappy with his diminished role.

River of Orchids, in contrast, is considerably weaker than the final version. The orchestral samples used on this unique track diminish the power of the composition. Partridge's vocal sounds a little more hesitant as if he hasn't found the right melody. Likewise, the elegant Last Balloon sounds deflated. The horn parts on the final version add considerable power to the finished song. Additionally, Partridge's keyboard part sounds tentative compared to the final version. Perhaps this is due to the smoother playing on the final version or the production touches. Either way, the AVV1 version is superior to the demo. I'd Like That and Knights in Shining Karma don't differ significantly from the finished versions. While the final versions of these two songs on AVV1 are terrific they also could have used some of Dave Gregory's imaginative guitar work. That's not to suggest that Partridge isn't up to the task; Partridge is an imaginative and talented guitar player, but Gregory always introduced a level of complexity that always elevated even Partridge's weaker songs.

Clearly Colin Moulding's two contributions to Homespun (and Apple Venus Volume One) weren't as complete. Moulding's Fruit Nut and Frivolous Tonight both sound almost like unplugged versions of the finished songs. Both are gems and as such it's nice to have them in their "original" form. It's a pity that Moulding didn't have more songs that made the final cut for AVV1 as Partridge's songs always seem to benefit from the contrast of Moulding's simpler and more direct compositions. It's quite evident that Moulding's songs aren't really finished in the demo stage (like Partridge's), but, instead, are finished by the band during the rehearsal and recording stages.

The packaging is actually superior to AVV1 with reproductions of the original lyric sheets and commentary from Partridge and Moulding about their respective songs. It's clear that Partridge and Moulding were trying to add value to something that had, essentially, previously been released. It's also clear that AVV1 isn't for the average XTC fan, but designed for those fans that place a value on having the original demos for each album. Unlike the Japanese import, this version of Homespun doesn't have the descriptive monologues by Partridge and Moulding that explains the genesis of each song. The Japanese import features the two previous released commentaries by Partridge, as well as, a third previously unreleased one by Moulding about Frivolous Tonight. These would have added additional value to this package for the fans. Still, Homespun is a treat for most of the XTC fans that have been listening to bad bootlegs of the demos for the past couple of years. A lot of time and care was taken to remix and remaster the demos so that they would sound their best on CD.

It'll be interesting to hear Apple Venus Volume Two now that Gregory is no longer with the band. Although Gregory didn't contribute as a songwriter, his imaginative guitar playing and ideas as an arranger will be sorely missed. The band's creative core is still intact. If Partridge and Moulding can deliver the consistent level of song writing seen on their previous albums (as well as AVV1), then XTC fans are in for many years of great music.


Wayne Klein © Thin Ice Publications, Ltd.

album leaves: the BIRDpages record review
Critics Choice 1999

XTC: Apple Venus Vol. 1 (TVT)

After a protracted strike against Virgin Records, XTC returned with one of their best albums since Skylarking. Using strings to a greater and varied degree than before, Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding (the two remaining members of the band) recorded a number of songs which rank with their best compositions. Although River of Orchids sounds a little clumsy at first, closer listening reveals one of Partridge's most ambitious pieces.

Partridge's Your Dictionary with its rich melody and undercurrent of bitterness is a snapshot of the end of a relationship. The honesty of the emotions and powerful singing by Partridge creates another classic in the mold of Dear God. In contrast, I'd Like That captures the playfulness and fun inherent in a new relationship. Yes, the playful use of sexual metaphors and word play make it amusing, but it's the schoolboy glee in Partridge's voice that really brings the song home.

Colin Moulding only has two songs on AV1 but both are strong songs that rank with the best material he has written. Frivolous Tonight manages to mix Noel Coward and Ray Davies (among others) into an intoxicating cocktail. Always underrated as a songwriter (and working in the shadow of the much more prolific Partridge), Moulding creates songs that contrast well with Partridge's more emotional and direct material.

Although they don't need to prove anything any longer, Partridge and Moulding have bounced back with a refreshing album full of barbed wit and melody. Apple Venus Volume One surely ranks as one of the best albums of the year. Unlike most bands celebrating their 22-year as recording artists, XTC has lost none of its bite or wit.

Wayne Klein

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XTC: Wasp Star-Apple Venus Vol. 2 (TVT)

Andy Partridge needs to fall in love more often. Producing two of their best albums since Skylarking the duo of Partridge and Colin Moulding have produced two albums that can proudly hold their own against the band's back catalog. If not for Virgin Records we would have had these two outstanding works eight years sooner.

Listening to Wasp Star (a reference to the Inca's name for Venus) I can't but help thing that most of the songs are among the most infectious melodies Partridge and Moulding have written. Much as been made of the band's debt to the Beatles but it seems to me that both songwriters owe a greater debt to one of rock's best songwriters Ray Davies and the sound of the Kinks. The album gets off to a grand start with Playground. The pun in the title (along with Andy's analogy of the playground as a microcosm of the adult world) is as elegant as anything Ray Davies has written. Stupidly Happy shimmers with a delightful melody and a stuttering guitar riff that hooks the listener within the first few seconds. The single chord progression captures the simplicity of newfound love. Moulding has often played Dave to Andy's Ray Davies. While Moulding is less prolific his songs (like Dave Davies) are every bit the equal of Andy's best material. Moulding's bouncy In Another Life would have sounded right at home on any of the Kinks late 60's or early 70's albums. Moulding (again like the Davies brothers) glorifies those wonderful moments in ordinary life we all take for granted. My Brown guitar reminds me of George Harrison or Paul McCartney at their peak (whoops-there's that darn Beatles connection coming up yet again. Talk about contradicting yourself). I love the unusual opening of the song (it actually sounds like the end of another song collided with this tune. If it was an accident, it's a beautiful one. It reflects Partridge's usual preoccupation ("I suppose it's about sex when all is said and done") despite the impressionistic quality of the lyrics.

Moulding's Boarded Up reminds me of his best material from before Skylarking. The song has an edgy quality that has always informed some of his best work. Partridge's I'm The Man Who Murdered Love sounded extremely clumsy in the demo stage and wasn't the most promising sounding track. The Wasp Star arrangement has a slightly different tempo and the fleshed out arrangement made me realize I had underestimated this song. The lyrics are both hilarious and dark.

I don't worship Church of Women. It didn't fire up my imagination like some of the other selections on the album did. It might be one of those tunes that I'll suddenly appreciate six months from now. I'll probably smack my head and scream "now I get it" while on the road.

"I put a bullet in his sugar head/ He thanked me kindly and he laid down dead/ Phony roses blossomed where he bled/ Then all the cheering Angels shook my hand and said/ I'm the man who murdered love/ What do you think of that?"

We're All Light takes empty party chat up lines (at least according to Neville Farmer's great book Song Stories), shaken well and (with a twist of Partridge wit) turns them into a great song. Standing In For Joe reportedly was originally was intended the band's aborted bubblegum album. The fact that Standing In For Joe ended up on the album indicates that Wasp Star is really an updated version of the bubblegum. In fact, most of Wasp Star (with the exception of a few tracks) would have fit nicely on that aborted project. A pity that Virgin (the band's former label) didn't have the insight to see what a terrific album the bubblegum album would have been (Partridge had proposed that the band record a number of bubblegum pop songs under various names similar to the Dukes album)

Partridge's Wounded Horse is a blues shuffle that drones on way too long. It could have easily been cut from the album. Wounded Horse must have wandered in from the wrong neighborhood. It quickly fades from memory and doesn't do the album much damage. You and The Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful is, on the other hand, one of the best songs Partridge has ever written. This wonderful love song has tremendous radio potential (more so than We' re All Light). One of the few tracks that I didn't worship was Partridge's Church of Women. It didn't fire up my imagination like some of the other selections on the album did. It might be one of those tunes that I'll suddenly appreciate six months from now. I'll probably smack my head and scream "now I get it" while on the road. The Wheel and the Maypole ends the album on an upbeat note. It's a jaunty number that doesn't bring to mind anything the band has done before.

I can't help feeling that Wasp Star should have come out before Apple Venus Volume One. This is clearly the more commercial of the two albums and the one radio is more likely to embrace. That doesn't detract from the quality of the music contained here. Wasp Star is one of the finest pop albums the band has made and the best songs are equal to anything on Skylarking or Black Sea. It's less ambitious than the last couple of albums, but no less accomplished. Wasp Star isn't the stinging guitar album that Xtc promised and, perhaps, that's a good thing.


Wayne Klein © Thin Ice Publications

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XTC: Coat of Many Cupboards (Virgin Records, 4 CDs)

"Hi! I'm the new improved Andy Partridge. I've been spending lots of time going through my closet and looking at material that we rejected for XTC albums. This is our contractual obligation album. We've stored bits and pieces like busy little squirrels just waiting for the chance to unleash these morsels for the world to consume. Most of the stuff we rejected was great. So, I decided if The Beatles can release every belch and fart than so can we."

Perhaps if Andy Partridge had included the following disclaimer I would have been less suspicious. I had my doubts about another boxed set from Xtc. They already had one wouldn't a second one be scraping the barrel? The Beatles kind of established the benchmark for this kind of thing with their anthology series; looking at the road not taken (no matter how interesting they might be). What once was interesting now has become a sideline for record companies to fleece the pockets of fans. The big question with the latest boxed set is simple; is the material worthy of being released?

Although this Coat could use a bit of mending the answer to this question is yes. Unlike many rock bands from the same time, Partridge (with the occasional contributions of Moulding) experienced a period of unparalleled creativity during XTC's peak (1982-1989). The result was that both Partridge and, to a lesser extent, Moulding wrote far too much material for the band to release on their albums. Coat focuses on the better b sides demos (Terrorism, Find The Fox, Let's Build A Den) along with previously unissued demos (Dear God) and alternate takes/unreleased tunes from a variety of their albums.

Coat could probably have been reduced to a succinct two disc set and not suffered. Many of the outtakes (Fireball XL5) aren't essential. They've probably been released as part of this potpourri collection because they've been bootlegged and are circulating without benefiting either XTC (who didn't deserve it and should have seen some royalties) or Virgin (who ripped off the band and deserved being ripped off in turn). Coat holds up quite well given its mixed breed. If it's a mutt, it's an outstanding mutt reflecting the creativity of this fine quintessential English band.

There are still a few chinks in the armor. I have to wonder why My Paint Heroes, The Good Things and Living In A Haunted Heart aren't included as part of this set and we are offered, instead, album tracks that have previously been released (in remastered form I might add). None of the album tracks are alternative mixes or takes. The original plan was for three discs of unreleased tracks, out takes and b-sides with a single disc of favorite tracks as selected by the band. This plan was scuttled and, instead, we have a handful of album tracks scattered among gems placed out of context. Sure, they're great album tracks but they don't quite fit in with the revised theme of Coat. Perhaps Virgin just couldn't pass up the chance to charge for extra discs worth of material without providing additional value.

Despite its limitations and drawbacks, Coat manages to be the boxed set that Virgin should have released a decade ago; it features some of the finest b- sides the band released and a handful of tasteful also rans that didn't make the original albums. The inclusion of a couple of Barry Andrews compositions that were originally rejected for Go2 provide an interesting glimpse into what might have been if Andrews had stayed with the band. Then again, if that had occurred it's likely the evolution of this over looked and under rated group would have been quite different. 

Next year XTC should be eligible for induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. Let's hope the quirky critics that nominate bands for these sorts of awards recognition the importance of XTC. They've had the impact of many of their peers (Talking Heads, The Ramones, Elvis Costello & The Attractions), and have continued to grow as artists. Unlike Talking Heads, XTC have managed to transcend the punk & new wave movement (and, in fact, they never really were a part of that movement) within which they grew up. They've also managed to continue to produce meaningful and well-crafted songs that continue to find a new (albeit small) audience. Although not as trendy as Talking Heads or initially popular as Elvis Costello, XTC have managed to grow up without losing their touch.


Wayne Klein © Thin Ice Publications, Inc.

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Andy Partridge: Fuzzy Warbles Volume 5 (Ape): Fuzzy Warbles Volume 6 (Ape)

That musical polymath Andy Partridge of XTC fame returns with two more in his series of previously unreleased demos. After the first two volumes, I couldn't see how Partridge could continue with this series as the quality of Volumes 3 and 4 weren't quite as high as the first two. Imagine my surprise when I put on Volume 5 and discovered a handful of demos that represent the best album XTC never released. “Young Cleopatra” has a bounce and vitality missing from most of Partridge's contemporaries (particularly that of David Bryne who, until recently, seems to have lost his muse). “I Defy You Gravity”, “Ice Jet Kiss” and the truly stunning “My Land is Burning” round out the best tracks on the album of original previously unheard songs. There's also the usual assortment of XTC demos and instrumentals. The instrumentals prevent “Fuzzy Warbles Volume 5” from achieving a five star status as most of them are inconsequential.

Then I got to “Volume 6” and my sneaking suspicion that Partridge is milking this series for all its worth reared its ugly little head. “The Laugh Track” is a complete waste of space. What is it? Partridge laughing during the “Nonsuch” sessions. “The Stinking Rich Song” is a passable tune originally written for the film “James and the Giant Peach”. The other songs for the film (which weren't used because Disney didn't want to pay Partridge what he thought they were worth) are scattered throughout the other volumes of the series. Wouldn't it have made sense to put them all together on one CD? Yep but then fans wouldn't have had to buy 5 other volumes of demos. “I Can't Tell What Truth is Anymore” is a still born song originally written for “Nonsuch” and is as unimaginative as its title is cumbersome.  “The Tiny Circus of Life” (another “Nonsuch” escapee) just doesn't seem to gel so it's no surprise it didn't appear on that classic XTC album. “Difficult Age”, “End of the Pier” and “Prince of Orange” have more imagination and creativity packed into them than the bulk of the other originals included here.  Why weren't these three tracks combined with the best previously unreleased songs from “Volume 5”?  Clearly the decision had more to do with commerce than making a cohesive record. Hopefully now that Partridge has gotten this out of his system and has finally beat the bootlegs, he'll concentrate on new XTC music. Make no mistake the best songs on these two releases amount to a really, really good XTC album (minus Colin Moulding's crucial contributions).

Both releases will be essential for XTC fans to purchase but continuing to release this hodgepodge of “new” songs, still born instrumentals and XTC song demos seems like a disserve to both Partridge's reputation and his fans. As there are only two more volumes in this series, I'm sure that Partridge has probably picked the crème de crème of the original songs he's written. So my guess is that when the last two volumes arrive they'll consist of b-sides that didn't make the boxed set. Hopefully Andy will put them together based on the quality of the songs and not mix them in this helter skelter fashion. All six volumes are available from Andy Partridge's website at

Volume 5 ***1/2
Volume 6 **

Wayne Klein © Thin Ice Publications

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