Chalkhills TVT Records Idea Records

For Immediate Release


"Maybe I'm just a frustrated architect."

Andy Partridge often compares his songs to buildings - or children, or coins, or pigs, or sheep, or whatever image happens to be dancing about in his head.

"I like songs that have hidden corners," he says, running with this latest metaphor. "I like structures that surprise. I like architecture with hidden niches and folly, buildings that try to expand and trick and delight. I think architecture and music are pretty closely related."

Colin Moulding, his steady partner in XTC for more than 20 years, doesn't spend as much time analyzing the blueprints. "I just like good melodies," he says unassumingly.

For Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2), the duo expended more energy pounding in nails than drawing up sketches, and with reliable old tools - electric guitars - that had been locked up in the XTC shed during the recording of last year's orchestral Apple Venus Volume 1. Unlike its daintier predecessor, Wasp Star buzzes about, packing the sting of crashing drums and even the occasional muscle-guitar lick.

Case in point, "Stupidly Happy," a song Partridge erected from a Keith Richards-like riff. "I luckily stumbled upon the one riff that Sir Keef hadn't found," he jokes, admitting that after being inundated with violins and flutes he did miss his first love. "It felt great to lean over and pick up that electric guitar and go, ‘Rrrr.’ "

"This is definitely an ‘up’ record," he continues, citing the joys of recording in Moulding's garage-turned-studio. "The mood was very light, and the album had the least amount of birth problems."

Before Volume 1, because of a lengthy contract dispute, XTC had not put out an album since 1992's Nonsuch. After sitting on their new crop of songs for several years and then realizing that the songs fit nicely into two categories, orchestral and electric, they decided to release their eleventh and twelfth albums as two separate, but equal, volumes.

"I don't want people to think of Wasp Star as all the tracks that weren't fit enough to go on Volume 1 - that's not the case," Partridge explains. "It's two different animals. We had pigs that we herded into one area, and we had sheep that we herded into another. But they're all four-footed farm animals with ‘XTC’ branded on them."

"It's the other side of the coin," he continues, "but it's the same value. It's the price of one XTC's worth of joy."

This time around, the sheep (or pigs, depending on how you interpret XTCisms) are up to their hooves in new love, bitter breakup, rebirth and decay.

"We're All Light," which consists of goofy pick-up lines strung together ("Don't you know we're all light/Yeah, I read that some place/So you won't mind if I kiss you now/Before indecision can bite"), finds Partridge happily partaking in a new relationship. XTC fans will take extra joy in knowing that their hero has redeemed himself, as this is the same woman who inspired 1984's paralyzing, frustrating "Seagulls Screaming, Kiss Her, Kiss Her" (whose title subsequently provided the name for a Japanese pop band). "In ‘Seagulls,’ it was a case of ‘Oh, God, why didn't I take the opportunity?’" Partridge says. "And with ‘We're All Light,’ I say, ‘I'm gonna take the opportunity.’ That song presses those happy buttons again for me."

The aforementioned "Stupidly Happy" finds Partridge in similar state of romantic elation. "I was drunk on love when I found that riff," he says. "I'd had a loving lobotomy."

But Partridge isn't the only one feeling the love (or making swine references). Moulding's "In Another Life" is a cheerful, fantastical and moving plea to his wife, whose recent bout with agoraphobia had kept her indoors: "I'll bring your milk tray from a parachute/I'll play the Hollywood hunk/You can dye your roots/I'll be your Burton if you'll be my Liz/There might be flying pigs in another life."

Like some of Moulding's past love ditties ("Ten Feet Tall," "Grass," "The Meeting Place") and unlike Partridge's numerous torturous musical love affairs, "In Another Life" and "Standing in for Joe" - in which the narrator keeps his best friend's wife, er, company - find him singing his breezy melodies as a cool, confident romantic lead.

"Colin occasionally sees himself as the working-class Casanova," Partridge says, laughing.

Moulding is embarrassed by the suggestion. "Oh, I don't know about that," he balks, but then admits, "Well, maybe in my younger days. . ."

"He's the handsome one," Partridge continues. "I'm the one who looks like a potato. I get all the brainy boys who come up and want to talk about nuclear physics; he gets all the women who want to take him home."

As for the bitter breakup songs, Andy's personal life provided ample fodder for "Wounded Horse." "For me, going through a divorce, I did feel like a wounded horse," he says. "I felt discarded, hurt and used for purposes of being ridden from point A to point B to win something for someone else."

In the loping, bluesy rant, Partridge parodies his condition by drunkenly slurring his words. "I'm trying to do the cartoon trucker crying in his beer, or something," he says. "Country songs make an entire living out of doing this. Nearly every one of them swims around in the maudlin swimming pool, so I figured I could just dip my toe in with ‘Wounded Horse.’ "

The seemingly upbeat "playground," which is reminiscent of great XTC singles like "Towers of London" and "Senses Working Overtime," also packs a sour punch, with Partridge crooning, "You may leave school but it never leaves you."

"Everything that happens in school is a template for how it's gonna be," he says. "When you're seven years old and the girl you're playing with runs off and plays with another boy, that hurts you in the same way as when you're fortysomething and somebody runs off and leaves you."

"The Wheel and the Maypole," Partridge's multi-floored celebration of life and death, is among his most elaborate constructions. "I had a song called ‘The Pot Won't Hold Our Love’ and a song called ‘Everything Decays,’ " he explains. "And I thought, ‘Why the hell don't I try putting one on top of the other - putting one of these buildings on top of the other building - one of them slightly larger so that it can form the main body of it and the other one on top as a dome or something.’ And then, as an end section, I thought we would smash the two of them together and make a further section - almost like a spire on top, made of all the essential strands of the two songs."

The song's many twists, turns and hidden stairways make for repeated explorations. Thematically, the song seems to answer questions Partridge posed in 1986's "Season Cycle" ("Don't you ever sit and ponder . . . where we're going in this verdant spiral/who's pushing the pedals on the season cycle?"). "Everything decays," he sings gleefully in "Maypole." "And what made me think we'll last forever/Was I so naïve? Of course it all unweaves."

"Wow, perhaps I have a very, very slow correspondence with myself, and the mail service takes almost fifteen years," he says, laughing. "I think you have to adore decay 'cause it's the only fuel you're gonna get. That's what's gonna make things grow. Roses won't grow until you put shit on them."

"Boarded Up," the final Moulding offering, is his view of decaying Swindon, the post-industrial English town XTC have called home since the band's birth. "No bands come to town to play anymore," he laments.

Partridge insists that there's more lying beneath the surface: "Colin has been boarded up. [Because of the contract dispute], we couldn't work, and he had problems with his wife's health. I think he honestly felt boarded up. I think the song is a great distillation of his feelings."

"It's really just about Swindon," Moulding reiterates, before allowing for the slight possibility that other elements may have seeped in on an unconscious level.

Of course, like every album since 1982's English Settlement, after which Partridge's exhaustion and subsequent stage fright pulled XTC off the road for good, XTC will not be touring behind Wasp Star. Partridge even rebukes the notion of someday doing a more-refined tour, like the one his stage fright-stricken hero Brian Wilson is about to undertake with a symphony orchestra.

"There're a million things I'd rather do than tour," he says. "I think the driving force behind the majority of touring is, ‘I'll go and show off in front of as many girls as I can, with my gang.’ Or it's, ‘We need the money.’ The former is ludicrous, and the latter is pathetic, and rather sad."

Now that all of their seven years' worth of work is seeing the light of day, Partridge and Moulding don't have any set plans. "I have nothing on the horizon, which is exciting and frightening," Partridge says. "We couldn't write another note until we knew that these two beautiful babies were crawling and running around the nursery. Because we knew they were gonna be good kids."

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Contact Jason Consoli at TVT Records for more information

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[Thanks to Todd Bernhardt]