Reviews: The Dukes of Stratosphear: Chips From The Chocolate Fireball (An Anthology)
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Universal Pop,

May 13, 2005

When The Moon Hits Your Bike

The English band XTC are already rad when they're playing with a straight face, not that a band that comes up with great lines like "She a laughing giggly whirlybird, / She got to be obscene to be obheard" is especially serious. But I just decided that what every great band really needs is to do an album under another name, with a half-hearted pretense that they're not actually the same people, consisting of perfect pastiches of '60s psychedelia. At least, that's what XTC did, and it's amazing, so I think everyone might as well do it, too. The Dukes of Stratosphear put out an EP called 25 O'Clock, after its perfect first track, and then an album called Psonic Psunspot, and then stuck them together in 1987 as Chips from the Chocolate Fireball, which is how you can get it now. Practically every song is a perfect imitation of its influences, but unlike the crappy parodies we all listened to in middle school, these songs are original themselves, instead of just renaming "My Sharona" "My Bologna." 'Cause face it, Pink Floyd is a good idea for a while, but after a while, they're not worth the effort. What the world needs is psychedelic music made by people who are at least minimally in their own heads; enough to remember that most actual, authentic psychedelia is boring sober.

Posted by dboyk at 12:56 AM

February, 2005

Expand Your Musical Horizons!

Getting the rest of the Utilikilts Co. to contribute to this newsletter is sometimes like trying to pull out the back molars of a freaked out polar bear. However, practice makes perfect, and this month, in honor of Spring, new columns are popping up all over. It is my great pleasure to introduce the music man - our web-master, George.

Chips from the Chocolate Fireball
The Dukes of Stratosphear

Once there was a band called XTC, you may have heard of them as they became quite popular on college radio in the US during the 80's and had even more wide spread success in other parts of the world. XTC's music was great, if a bit somber, and it was obvious they had selected their influences well with hints of the Beatles and the Beach Boys surfacing in many of their songs. It seems however that even the stiff upper lips of a thoroughly British band like XTC can start to quiver and with little warning be transformed into a rather unexpected grin.

This brings me to The Dukes of Stratosphear, a set of alter egos created by the members of XTC to allow them to free themselves from the rather serious constraints of their albums like Skylarking and to indulge their dreams of being part of the 60's psychedelic scene. The Dukes released two collections of music, 1985's 25 O'clock EP and the full length Psonic Psunspot released in 1987. 25 O'clock harkened back to the heavy hitting psychedelia of bands like the Electric Prunes while Psonic Psunspot was a bit lighter and even more fanciful. Neither, however, ever ventured into the realm of parody, these were albums meant to celebrate the music that inspired them, created for the sheer joy of making music that has been filtered through the fun house mirrors of radical times and radical chemical intake.

Of course musical tributes have the tendency to be rather sappy and pretentious, but The Dukes avoided this by becoming who they claimed to be. The members of XTC extracted themselves from the 80's and created their music as The Dukes of Stratosphear completely immersed in the 60's, luckily they brought the technology of the 80's back with them. This allowed them to use technologies and techniques not available to their heroes, and they used them very effectively, so in many ways The Dukes managed to surpass the musical legends they had learned so much from. This of course means that their two releases kicked some serious ass.

Luckily for all of us 25 O'clock and Psonic Psunspot were combined into the single CD Chips from the Chocolate Fireball which was released in 2002. So if you would like to relive, or possibly experience for the first time, what psychedelic music in the 60's sounded like, or possibly would have sounded like had 80's technology been available, find this album and be prepared to be taken away to a land of talking puffins and splendid queen buns.


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When I stumbled across a pristine vinyl copy of Psonic Psunspot at a neighborhood vintage furniture store, I fingered though my cranial file cabinet for the band name drawn sloppily on the cover. The Dukes Of The Stratosphear-- where had I heard that before? Oh yes, I remember. The Dukes were a secret, mysterious side project of Andy Partridge and XTC. As an on-again, off-again XTC fan, I furrowed my brow in indecisive contemplation. I decided to shell out the 7 bucks, picked up two slices of cheese pizza, and headed home all giddy and greasy-fingered. I put on the record, released back in 1987, and gave her a good, thorough listen.

A Super Mario Bros. warp zone appeared in my living room and I jumped into the third green pipe. Through kaleidoscopic tunnels of ticking clocks and warped vocals I went, spitting out into the year 1967. The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Kinks—they're all there, all at the top of their game. Cheesy late '80s production/recording engineers are barely little spermies in their daddy's nuts. Lyrics about lunar bicycle trips and good old plate reverb saturate the tape with authentic psychedelic warmth. The Dukes Of The Stratosphear hide their calculator watches up their sleeves and start to play for us. It rocks so good, baby.

And so the party went. Derivative as hell, but fun as hell. The Dukes don't scream “look at us and our ability to mimic our late sixties heroes!” Rather, they play with sonic elements and themes, working them into original, catchy compositions that fool us into believing they are the real McCoy. I, for one, don't mind being fooled in this way. How a record like this was made in the thick of mid-late '80s fluorescent Swatches and Tiffany, we may never know. Pick up the CD Chips From The Chocolate Fireball. It combines the full length Psonic Psunspot with the earlier 25 O'Clock EP and it makes for one hell of an album.
©FORT DRASTIC 1999-2004

Il Paradiso di Cassiel
December 12, 2003

 The Dukes of Stratosphear [Storia del Rock]
24/12/2003 22:04

MUSICA — Storia del Rock
The Dukes of Stratosphear
“Chips From The Chocolate Fireball” (1987)

I Dukes of Stratosphear nascono per scherzo, dietro questo nome così altisonante si nasconde la coppia più geniale della new wave britannica: Andy Partridge e Colin Moulding, ovverosia le menti degli XTC. Paragonati, non a torto, all'altra leggendaria coppia del rock inglese Lennon / McCartney. Infatti, appare presente, all'interno del disco in questione, la band più un altro elemento, il fratello di Dave Gregory, Ian, batterista. Ognuno fornito di un fantasioso pseudonimo: Partridge è "Sir John Johns", Moulding "The Red Curtain", Gregory "Lord Cornelius Plum" e suo fratello Ian "E.I.E.I. OWEN".
Dicevo, appunto, che questa operazione nasce per scherzo, puro divertissement, ma va aldilà del semplice intento parodistico, è una cosa molto seria e raffinata. L'album, che poi non è un vero e proprio album, quanto una raccolta dei due mini album: "25 O'clock" e "Psonic Psunspot", unici prodotti ufficiali dei "Dukes", si ispira chiaramente al mondo psichedelico inglese e americano degli anni sessanta e dei primissimi anni settanta. Anzi le canzoni qui contenute sono vere e proprie gemme psichedeliche e acide, filtrate dal gusto e dallo stile tipicamente XTC. Riferimenti più che espliciti a Beatles, primi Pink Floyd, Electric Prunes, Beach Boys.
Ascoltate per esempio l'inizio di "25 O'clock", con ticchettare di orologi e suonerie di sveglie, oppure i coretti acidi di "Your gold dress". Ma tutta la raccolta è un vero e proprio capolavoro da ascoltare e riascoltare più volte, omaggio alla psichedelia storica, ma con uno sguardo rivolto verso sonorità tutt'altro che sorpassate.
Episodio isolato quello dei Dukes of Stratosphear, all'interno della lunga e prolifica carriera degli XTC, offre l'ennesima dimostrazione delle capacità compositive e dell'estro musicale di questo gruppo e in maniera particolare di Partridge e Moulding.
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The Dukes of Stratosphear - „Chips from the Chocolate Fireball”
(Virgin 1987)

Was ist vermutlich das Schlimmste, was Sie von einem Artikel in einem Online-Magazin erwarten könnten? Tja, da gibt es viel, aber ich denke, wir einigen uns auf Oscar Wilde-Zitate. Doch Parodie, so scheint uns, ist tatsächlich die aufrichtigste Form der Bewunderung — zumindest, wenn Sie Andy Partridge fragen. Schließlich muss es ein großer Spaß gewesen sein, die etablierten XTC für eine EP und einen Longplayer in Brritain's Most Brritish Psychedelic Pop Minstrrels zu verwandeln. So geschehen Mitte bis Ende der achtziger Jahre und ausgestattet mit Artworks, deren Anblick selbst den Designer des Haarschnittoverkills „The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” freudig mit der pappigen Zunge schnalzen lassen würde. Leider wurden diese Bilder für die gemeinsame Neuauflage von „Psonic Psunspot” und „25 O'Clock” nicht reproduziert, aber wir schnalzen um so lauter, wenn wir uns allein auf die fabelhafte Musik konzentrieren, mit der sich Sir John Johns, The Red Curtain, Lord Cornelius Plum und E.I.E.I. Owen einen lang gehegten Jugendtraum erfüllten. »Purple, giggling, fuzztone, liquid and arriving« indeed. Den heiseren Beatles-Sound konnten sie dabei gleichermaßen brillant imitieren wie den verschrobenen Charme der frühen Syd Barrett-Kompositionen. Und waren dabei hin und wieder ein kleines bisschen besser als die Originale.

-  Kai Ginkel

Bild: Pressefoto 1986; ;

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