April 25, 2002
Buyer's Guide

The 10 Essential Songs About Superheroes

By Brian Mansfield
CDNOW Senior Editor

"Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can!" The web-slinger's near and dear to our hearts, but he's hardly the only comic-book character whose exploits have been chronicled in song. Superman, Batman, Captain America, Aquaman, and even Supergirl have all made the jump from pop culture to pop song. Here's one top 10 list that's more powerful than a locomotive. And while Superman could get a list of his own, we tried to adhere to a strict "one song per hero" rule (though Clark Kent does make a cameo in "Captain America" by Moe). 'Nuff said.

1. "Spiderman" - The Ramones
The Ramones, the closest thing punk rock ever had to cartoon superheroes, recorded the theme from the '60s Spider-Man animated series for the 1995 collection Saturday Morning Cartoon's Greatest Hits, which also features rocked-up TV themes from such crime fighters as Jonny Quest and Hong Kong Phooey.
2. "Superman (It's Not Easy)" -- Five for Fighting
Dozens of acts, from Laurie Anderson to R.E.M. to 3 Doors Down, have used Superman as the inspiration for songs. But John Ondrasik's 2001 hit for Five for Fighting looks at the tender side of the Man of Steel. "I'm only a man in a silly red sheet," Superman sings as he yearns for understanding from those he's vowed to protect, "digging for kryptonite on this one-way street."
3. "Magneto and Titanium Man" -- Paul McCartney & Wings
What a former Beatle is doing hanging out with the X-Men's arch enemy and a Communist super-villain that often battled Iron Man is never quite clear (maybe he's been watching too many episodes of The Power-Puff Girls). Somehow, though, they convince McCartney that his girlfriend is involved in the staging of a robbery "that was due to happen at a quarter till three." Guess they were going to be stealing Gary U.S. Bonds records.
4. "Batdance" -- Prince
Prince recorded an entire album's worth of tunes for director Tim Burton's 1989 Batman film. The six-minute dance mix that ends the disc incorporates parts of the other songs, references to Neal Hefti's theme for the '60s TV show, plus samples of film stars Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, and, best of all, Jack Nicholson.
5. "Ghost Rider" -- Suicide
Art-punk duo Suicide released this ominously pulsating ode to Marvel Comics' fiery, motorcycle-riding vengeance demon in 1977. Ghost Rider -- a.k.a. Johnny Blaze -- dispensed justice by making evildoers experience the pain caused by their sins. The villain here is an entire nation, and Suicide's hook -- "America is killing its youth" -- resonated with scores of young rockers, including Henry Rollins and R.E.M., both of which have covered the song.
6. "Captain America" -- Moe
Northeastern jam band Moe gets funky on this tight little tune that features turntable scratching, a cool electric-piano sound, and three-part harmonies. First verse has Cap as an authoritarian figure; Clark Kent runs for president in the second, but Moe seems to be having none of it -- "May be right / May be wrong / I'm in the middle anyway," they sing.
7. "Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me)" -- XTC
Fossil Fuel Sgt. Rock was the most popular of the latter-day comic-book war heroes: a rugged World War II soldier introduced in Our Army at War in 1959. In this 1980 song, those wimpy rockers in XTC seek to enlist his help in their romantic struggles: "If I could only be tough like him, then I could win my own small battle of the sexes."
8. "That's Really Super, Supergirl" -- XTC
Obviously, XTC's Andy Partridge is a DC Comics fan. This sarcastic ode to an ex-girlfriend ("You're changing all the world's weather / But you couldn't put us back together") came out in 1987 -- two years after DC killed off the Supergirl character. (Another Partridge song -- "Brainiac's Daughter," from a Dukes of the Stratosphear side project -- also alluded to characters from the Superman universe.) Partridge's devotion to DC paid off -- he got a cameo in a 1990 Legion of Superheroes title.
9. "The Mighty Heroes" -- Sloppy Seconds
This killer punk-pop song takes its name from a Ralph Bakshi-created animated superhero-team show that aired on CBS during the 1966-67 season. The Heroes -- which included such characters as Strong Man, Diaper Man, and Cuckoo Man -- aren't actually mentioned in the song (it's more about such cult action-movie figures as Cleopatra Jones and Buford Pusser), though a clip from the show is sampled at the beginning. Key line: "I learned the world ain't how it looks when you learned it all from comic books."
10. "One Week" -- Barenaked Ladies
OK, so it's not really about superheroes, but, honestly, how could we omit this ubiquitous 1998 smash, considering that it namechecks Aquaman, Sailor Moon, and her "boom anime babes"?

[Thanks to Don Leibold]

April 8, 2002

If you thought XTC's quirky pop was perplexing and enigmatic, wait until you see how their first career retrospective dizzyingly spins through their golden years (1979 through 1989) without any regard to convention or order. Looking for a simple collection of greatest hits or career highlight clips? This four-disc box set is not going to give them to you so easily.

In all, two-thirds of the material -- 41 of the 60 songs here -- has never seen the light of day; they're demos, alternate versions, and lo-fi home recordings, and that goes for their minor hits, "Dear God" and "Mayor of Simpleton," too.

But fans of Andy Partridge's warped genius will think they've discovered buried treasure here: There's an almost endless string of wickedly smart pop music spread across the four hours, from disc one's preference towards early studio outtakes to the home demos on disc four that would shape 1986's grand Skylarking. Diehards will especially love the inclusion of 8 live tracks, including devastating versions of "Spinning Top" and "Traffic Light Rock," extreme rarities, considering XTC hasn't played live in twenty years.

Brad Cawn
CDNOW Contributing Writer

October 3, 2001

Drums and Wires

The 1979 LP Drums and Wires initiated XTC Mark II, with the departure of keyboardist Barry Andrews and the arrival of guitarist Dave Gregory drastically changing the group's sound. The album also took the band to a higher level of recognition in the United States, thanks to the alternative radio popularity of the single "Making Plans for Nigel."

Drums and Wires showed the revamped quartet moving away from its tenuous connection to punk. Steve Lillywhite was chosen as producer based on the drum sound of the first Siouxsie and the Banshees album, which he'd produced. His first work with the band was the Moulding-penned single "Life at the Hop," which -- proclaiming a love for old dance records -- heralded the band's more melodic and poppy sound. (Released before the album was made, it reached No. 54 on the U.K. charts, and wasn't on the original British LP, as usual in those days.) Also instrumental in the new sound was engineer Hugh Padgham (who took that big-drum sound to subsequent sessions by Phil Collins and the Police).

The album's title even reflected the new sound, with drummer Terry Chambers' unusual rhythm patterns emphasized more (with "Making Plans for Nigel" a prime example), and with two guitarists (the wires being electric guitar strings) now in the band. XTC's trademark hyper-energy and quirkiness remained, and that was largely due to Andy Partridge's eccentric songwriting. "Helicopter" was inspired by an old Lego ad and featured a mutant disco beat. "When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty" is one of the best songs ever about the nervousness inspired by a schoolboy crush. Partridge said of "Roads Girdle the Globe," "The guitars sound like someone cutting the string on a bale of barbed wire." "Real by Reel" is an expression of paranoia. "Outside World" dissects the modern world in nursery-rhyme fashion.

In later years, after Partridge had a nervous breakdown due to stage fright and the band stopped touring, the group's sound became much calmer. But Drums and Wires and XTC's following album, Black Sea, found the group at its peak combination of tunefulness and energy.

Steve Holtje
CDNOW Senior Editor

May 30, 2000
Buyer's Guide


XTC: Back to Drums and Wires

By Barney Hoskyns
CDNOW Senior Editor, London

Hailing from unglamorous Swindon, seventy miles west of London, the members of XTC were clever-clever new-wavers who quickly outgrew the late-'70s punk scene and matured into purveyors of skewed, Beatlesque pop-rock. Such hits as "Making Plans For Nigel" (1989) and "Senses Working Overtime" (1982) consolidated their reputation in the U.K., while 1986's Todd Rundgren-produced "Dear God" became a college-radio staple in America.

With frontman Andy Partridge suffering from stage fright, XTC became primarily a studio entity, making albums dripping with English history and mythology. Eventually, after spending most of the '90s at war with Virgin, its record label, XTC was reduced to Partridge and bassist Colin Moulding. Against all odds, the duo returned last year with the wondrous Apple Venus, Volume I, a feast of pastoral acoustic pop with typical Partridge themes, including harvest festivals and fertility symbols, packed with melodies that could have been by a dream team of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney.

Now XTC present the flipside of Volume 1's coin, the more streamlined and more rocking Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2). Once again, the majority of the songs are by Partridge, once again complemented by a sprinkling of Moulding gems. Partridge tells CDNOW the story.

CDNOW: It must have been very cheering to get the acclaim you did for Apple Venus Volume 1. Did you worry that the world had forgotten about you?

Andy Partridge: No, because the world never knew about us, largely. I think the people who liked the band -- fans, for want of a better word -- would never go away. They're a faithful lot. But as far as the rest of the world goes, in England we can't get arrested so it doesn't matter. Most people in England think we went away in 1981. In America, things have been growing over the years over there. With the size of the place, it's like a massive vat of treacle, and if you're gonna make any impression, you've got to start rocking it violently at one end, and then 10 years later the ripples might start to show.

Volume 1 was very well received in America. How did it sell?

It got great reviews, but it didn't get any radio play, because it's obviously not the sort of thing that radio programmers want to hear on their shows. It didn't sell very many, but it keeps the wolf at bay, and we do have decent record deals and might make ourselves a bit of money on that one.

Is Wasp Star in theory more radio-friendly?

Oh yeah, I think the whole record's much more instantaneous. You know, that's the other side of the sort of thing that we like. We can get very baroque and very fancy -- like icing chefs -- but we can also be basic. There's a bit more cake on the Volume 2 side.

Will there be a single or a lead track for radio?

In America I think it's a toss-up between "Stupidly Happy" and "The Man Who Murdered Love." I prefer "Stupidly Happy," but the Americans have erred on the side of caution ...

With a song that sounds like an older XTC ...

And it actually is. "The Man Who Murdered Love" was written in 1991 for the Nonsuch album, but the producer, Gus Dudgeon -- bless his Lurex socks -- couldn't hear any more songs so we never got to record it. Which was a shame, because I quite liked it.

"In England, we're considered to be exceptionally uncool, and for people who like the band, it's like the love that dare not speak its name. It's like sex with chickens -- you only sort of whisper it when you've had a few drinks."

How often are you "stupidly happy" these days?

I was when I wrote that song. I was right in the throes of being in love. I'd been through a lot of shit, what with not being able to work with Virgin -- storing up a mass of songs but unable legally to do anything with them -- and being dumped by my ex-wife, which at the time was exceedingly painful but which I'm really grateful for now. And just when things seemed to be at their blackest, I found myself falling in love again, and I just felt really silly and daft. And I think that song sums it up -- the one-chord repetitiveness of it and the very optimistic sentiment was exactly me at the time.

How many of the songs for the two Apple Venus albums were finished before you actually began recording Volume 1?

They were all written because I originally wanted to make it a double-disc set. It should all have been Apple Venus but broken down into the two sides, the two faces of XTC. The whole Apple Venus project, as far as I see it, was all the material written while we legally couldn't work. And the best of the first batch of that would have been what constituted Volume 1, and then the best of the second batch would have constituted Volume 2.

Now we started recording all of that in one hit originally, but we didn't get very far because Dave Gregory was throwing too many wobblers, and so he was off. Haydn Bendall was very thorough and very pleasant to work with but a little too slow. And so we found ourselves having run out of time and money, and all we had was half of one volume finished. And so we said, Let's concentrate on finishing up Volume 1 -- the string/acoustic stuff -- and we'll do the noisier stuff later. So it just came out that way. Now I'd like people to imagine they'd bought Volume 1 and spent a year with it before discovering that the tray lifted up, and there was another disc stuck underneath.

Clearly, there are songs on Volume 2 -- Colin's "Boarded Up" and "In Another Life," in particular -- that could have been on Volume 2. What determined the selection?

If a song looked like it was going to be more electric, then we put it in that direction. But generally they did seem to divide up neatly: In other words, the earlier batch became Volume 1, and the later batch mostly became Wasp Star.

If Volume 1 resembled Skylarking, as some admirers thought, to which previous XTC album is Wasp Star closest?

It's connected to much earlier albums, stuff like Black Sea or Drums and Wires, where the sound is more stripped-down and more immediate. With Skylarking, Todd Rundgren leant on the gentler material that we gave him, and also that was really the first time we'd dug into working with strings. Which is probably why Volume 1 sounds a bit like it. But we do like different kinds of things. Colin likes more thoughtful and introspective music, whereas as the years go on, I seem to really get off on repetitive things.

Is Colin ever hurt that you get the lion's share of the songwriting?

Well, we record roughly -- approximately -- the same proportion of songs as we write. If I write 20 songs, and we record 10, Colin writes six songs, and we do three. He writes less songs; that's all there is to it. It filters down roughly to about the same proportion of what we bring along.

Talk about the studio in Colin's garden.

Because we ran out of time and money on Volume 1, we had to finish up the album in Colin's living room -- all of the vocals and the acoustic guitar and the bass and the trumpet -- we sort of turned to ourselves and said, "Look, this sounds just the same as if we'd spent a thousand pounds a day in a studio. So doesn't this give us a big lesson -- the fact that you can record at home, and it sounds the same?"

Having agreed on that, I pointed out to Colin that he had a big double garage that he didn't use, plus an old coal shed next door. So the garage became the studio, and the coal shed became the control room. And it looks dead swish in there, but we've put a fraction of the money that we would have spent on Volume 2 into building it. Say that Volume 1 cost us £200,000 to make, we spent a fraction of that building and equipping a whole studio. We can't mix in there, because we haven't got enough toys, but for recording it's lovely. It's crazy chucking a thousand quid a day at a studio when you might as well chuck a fraction of that at yourself and own the place where you're recording.

You signed your notorious Virgin deal in August 1977. How at odds with punk did you feel at that point?

The only way I related to punk was through the energy and the DIY aspect of it all, which I thought was the best bit about it. England desperately needed energy at that point. It was one of the few times in English history where anybody could do this. Grab a guitar, nick a guitar, make a guitar. Get up and make a noise. That was American positivism -- colonial revolutionary positivism -- and the English don't usually do that.

Where did it come from? Normally, it's like, "I wouldn't bother to do that, mate; you're just a working-class tosser." And suddenly it became the thing to be a working-class tosser, but a working-class tosser who was doing something. For five minutes I thought this is fantastic. But it rapidly turned into those up above waking up and realizing they could make money out of this. We wanted to make a noise too, but we wanted it to be our noise, what we thought was our own variety of noise.

Have the kudos accorded you by some of the brighter Brit pop contenders been any kind of consolation for what you went through with Virgin?

What, you mean Blur? It's only Blur, isn't it? The others are too hung about it to admit any influence. In England, we're considered to be exceptionally uncool, and for people who like the band, it's like the love that dare not speak its name. It's like sex with chickens -- you only sort of whisper it when you've had a few drinks. I think it's all about the English culture of resentment. That permeates everything we do in this country.

We're not brain boxes by any means -- I left school at 15; we all have council-house backgrounds -- but we're proud of what we've done with our brains, and we absolutely will not pretend to be more stupid than we are for anyone. We've fought the whole of our lives to get out of the background that so many people resent you for getting out of. And because we won't play stupid, and because we seem to have got up a lot of people's noses when we first hit the scene, we've never been forgiven for it.

We're just old art punks, and that's all there is to it. The funny thing about a band like Oasis is that they idolise bright people like the Beatles -- a band who were relaxed and funny, and they read books -- and yet they're always thinking down. We did get up people's terms, because we wouldn't play that stupid game. We wanted to do it on our terms.

By the same token, do you think XTC is perceived by American fans as something exotically English, what with all the references to maypoles and Green Men, and so forth?

The age group of people that like us in America is about 10 years or 15 years younger than the average age group of people who like us in England or Europe. It's more college kids or university kids. That's how a lot of it's trickled down. And because of their age, they don't have a background with us. They don't see us as White Music or "Making Plans For Nigel." Their idea of "Making Plans For Nigel" is the cover version by Primus. I mean, I get 17-year-old Texan kids writing to me, and we've been making records for 24 years. And there isn't a culture of resentment in America. It's completely the opposite; you're encouraged to do the best you can, whereas in England you're encouraged not to step out of your box, or else you'll get it, sonny.

"When I stopped being addicted to Valium, I sort of went, 'Ooh, I'm not happy with the world; I don't know what's going on.' And I went, 'Wait, I've just read my record contract properly for the first time, and I'm in prison for perpetuity.'"

Where do you currently stand on the stage-fright issue? Are you ever likely to perform the Apple Venus material onstage?

I don't know. I don't think so, but I'm undergoing hypnotherapy and that sort of stuff. Unfortunately I haven't had the time to do it before we start off on all this world promotional stuff. I want to go and see behaviourial therapists and all this, because I realise that my life has been full of fears, and I've had them drilled into me as a kid, and I haven't shaken them off. And the only reason that I could function when we first started was that I was addicted to Valium and didn't really realise it. And that although I was still Mr. Hyper, I was obviously internally functioning in a more relaxed way.

When I stopped being addicted to Valium, I sort of went, "Ooh, I'm not happy with the world; I don't know what's going on." And I went, "Wait, I've just read my record contract properly for the first time, and I'm in prison for perpetuity." And it all sort of crowds in on you. Plus we had done five years of touring, and it did seem to be slower in terms of acceptance and progress than I, in my little Hard Day's Night head, thought it might be. I thought it was going to be a bit more like the Monkees, whereas you're living with those bastards in one house, and you do actually want to kill them slowly with a rusty drill bit.

Could you see XTC as a proper band again?

No, because I think a lot of the joy of being in a band is a gang thing. It's late teens, 20s, and it's you and your guitars against the world. You're going to drink the world dry; you're going to do everyone's daughters; and you're going to deafen dad. And then as life goes on, you think, "I don't want to be in a gang; I want to be an individual." And with some bands of our age or older, I can see this horrible fake camaraderie, and I think if they force it, it will permeate their work as well as their social lives. From 1982, I've thought of us as being a record-making unit. I love the idea of being a record maker. To me that's the art.

May 22, 2000

Wasp Star (Apple Venus Vol. 2)

May 22, 2000

During a lengthy recording hiatus that lasted most of the '90s, Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding of veteran Brit-pop band XTC continued to write songs that mirrored the tumultuousness of their lives. The more melancholic songs ended up on the band's orchestral experiment, Apple Venus Vol. 1. The uber-poppy ones have found their way onto the group's latest release, Wasp Star (Apple Venus Vol. 2).

Dense with upbeat, guitar-based songs, Wasp Star brings to mind the best of mid-'60s pop (think the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Kinks). The collection opens with a song called "Playground," a back-to-school pop trip that features a kids-can-be-cruel message and bombastic drumming. Next up is "Stupidly Happy," a jovial concoction whose singular, repetitive guitar riff could beat even the glummest frown into a submissive smile. "In Another Life" is a sweet and dreamy Divine Comedy-like depiction of the everyday realities of love and devotion.

The band's trademark wit is intact on the cynical, clever "I'm the Man Who Murdered Love," which tells the story of the mercy killing of a cupid-like figure (saving us all from grief and heartache -- Amen) against a melody that will undoubtedly inspire sing-alongs everywhere. The most notable downshift on Wasp Star is the bluesy, "Wounded Horse" in which Partridge airs cheatin' heart grievances with the delivery of a country and western barroom crooner.

If Wasp Star is any indication, one can only hope that good fortune continues to befall Partridge and Moulding so they can parlay those positive vibrations into even more perfect pop songs.

Michelle Kleinsak
CDNOW Editorial Assistant

April 25, 2000

It doesn't have the sparkling verve of White Music or the unabashed pop elegance of Skylarking, but XTC's 1982 album English Settlement represents a perfect middle point in the development of the vibrant Wiltshire rock band.

While its early albums were marked by dissonance and spontaneous idiosyncrasy, and its later work by calculated craft, the aptly titled English Settlement does indeed find XTC settled for the moment in a cozy creative knoll. The yin and yang of songwriting team Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding merged evenly, with Moulding offering up the more melodic romance of the band's sound and Partridge his normally skittish, always edgy rock.

Songs like "Senses Working Overtime" and "Jason and the Argonauts" blend their artistic sensibilities seamlessly, while Partridge goes full bore on the -- OK, I'll say it, quirky! -- "It's Nearly Africa" and the anthemic "No Thugs in Our House."

XTC went on to make fantastic albums like Mummer and The Big Express (but just try to get a consensus from XTC fanatics on which album is tops), yet the group essentially left its intensely random qualities, one aspect that made it so darn charming, behind it after recording English Settlement.

A lawsuit in the early '90s embittered Partridge and Moulding to the point where you knew you would never see the wonderfully carefree foolishness that characterized XTC's early years. Since settling the lawsuit, the band has returned to its excellent craftsmanship with the new Apple Venus Vol. 1. But for this listener it was the overlooked English Settlement that hit all the right notes.

Bob Gulla

Apple Venus Volume 1
January 4, 2000

With their first release in seven years, XTC have returned to the quirky, post-mod English pop sound that is the true focus of their music. Andy Partridge & Co. deliver an album of irreverent and lyrically flowing tunes, such as "I'd Like That" and the eerily Lennon-esque ditty "Knights in Shining Karma."
Best Alternative/Indie Release of 1999

October 29, 1999



With XTC in absentia from 1992 until earlier this year, certain fans appeased their ache for new songs from Messrs. Partridge and Moulding by staging backroom swaps of the material that was to eventually wind up on Apple Venus Vol. 1. People stopped wondering about how this stuff leaks into the public domain decades ago, but today's technology makes damage control impossible. Add to that fact that at least one of the principal authors (Partridge) has always had a kind of laissez-faire attitude about bootlegs, and it's not surprising that a hefty portion of the target audience for this collection of demos probably had most of these versions tucked away in their MP3 hope chests eons ago.

But for the less-rabid devotee, this peek behind the wizard's curtain may be quite a treat. In truth, the enclosed works are not that terribly different from the finished versions, but there are a few exceptions: the one-minute sketchbook version of the single that never was ("I'd Like That"), the naked charm of Moulding's "Fruit Nut," and the repressed, psychedelic undertow that got tossed from "Harvest Festival" in another early scratch version.

And if there are no real surprises here, the blow-by-blow liner notes are good insight into the birthing process. Apparently there's also a semi-comprehensive career retrospective demo set on the way done up as a multi-disc extravaganza. Too academic? Who can blame them? The Beatles Anthology, which was essentially the same move, only in reverse, proves that the market exists for minutiae of all shapes and sizes.

In XTC's case, Homespun will tidily fill the gap until Apple Venus Vol. 2 hits the racks. Unless of course you're like me and you already have those demos as well.

Joe Silva

[Thanks to Joe Silva]

April 2, 1999

Rock/Pop The CDnow Interview

XTC's Out-of-This-World Return

By Scott Wilson

XTC is one of a mere handful of bands that transcends pop music trends. It has scaled incredible heights in its 25 years and has laid claim to its place amongst the all-time greats, according to a rabid group of fans, who are arguably as devoted to their heroes as the legendary "Deadheads" were.

Andy Partridge, the mad genius at XTC's helm, has now assembled a four-disc collection of unreleased material from the BBC Radio vaults, called Transistor Blast (from a line in the song "This Is Pop").

XTC's following is sure to be thrilled with the recent set. Along with the liner notes, penned by Partridge and bassist Colin Moulding, it affords the listener more insight into a musical legacy many say follows directly from the Beatles and builds from there.

The band, which is renowned for its battles with the record industry, has managed to extract itself from its old contracts worldwide and, after an extended absence, has just released the new Vol. 1 -- Apple Venus, its first all-new album in seven years.

Last year, as a gift to its fans for being patient, XTC issued the BBC boxed set, reminding us of the roads the band has already traveled. I recently spoke with the very charming and very funny Partridge about Transistor Blast and what's ahead for the group.

CDnow: Are you looking forward to getting back out there?

Andy Partridge: Things have been in the fridge for a long time, but there's a thaw a-comin'. One takes one's wares into the arena with trepidation because you just don't know who's going to stomp and smash all your tomatoes. I guess it's relief more than anything to be getting out some stuff. Now that we're unfettered from our contract with Virgin we can get some stuff like this BBC stuff out.

"The early stuff was more about loading up your scatter-gun with a lot great words or phrases that excited you and firing them off. So the early songs meant nothing much more than modern electrical buckshot."

This new collection should make your fans happy, with two discs of unreleased BBC sessions. Any favorites among the bunch?

I'm so proud of "Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her." That was the first song I ever wrote on keyboard. I played it with three fingers on one hand and the left hand moving to make the melody. It's really primitive. I originally made cardboard hands in the right shapes so I wouldn't forget the chords.

I'm really proud of the stuff I wrote on keyboards because I don't know how the hell I do it. I know what I'm doing on guitar, sort of, but I haven't got the faintest clue when I sit at a piano or whatever. So anything that comes out is delightfully terrible.

You even included live material.

One of the sessions the BBC sent to us was so fiery and so fucking new I can't describe it. It really shocked me. It was from '78 at the Paris Theater in London. I laughed myself stupid when I listened to it, because I hadn't heard it since then. I just sat in the kitchen laughing uproariously at the very thought of these youngsters doing this stuff.

It must have been strange to have the opportunity to listen with a new perspective.

It was a revelation because I think when you're the creator of something, in 20 years time you've gotten so far away from it you think that anything you'd done was so naive and clumsy and naked babies photos ... So I put this tape on thinking I wasn't going to like it, and I really thoroughly enjoyed it. It was like friendly violence. It was like action painting with electricity, and we just happened to have musical instruments in our hands.

It kind of exorcised for me a lot of unsureness about our past. We took a lot of flack back then for being smart-asses, which we probably were. I mean we never dumbed-down on command. They didn't know where to put us because it was fast and noisy like punk, but we could obviously play a bit.

"There are many more things that I'd like to try. For instance, I hate opera, therefore I wish to murder opera at my own hands by writing one."

... And you had something to say.

Well, maybe a bit, although I don't think the songs actually meant much until a few albums down the line, until we gave ourselves permission to dig inside a little bit more. The early stuff was more about loading up your scatter-gun with a lot great words or phrases that excited you and firing them off. So the early songs meant nothing much more than modern electrical buckshot. We'd throw all kinds of things in together that was such a mess that came out too spiky and ugly and too sweet.

... Like living at the center of contradiction.

Yeah, and it pissed people off because they wanted us to be one thing or the other. That's pointless because the diamond has a million facets. Why does it just have to have one? It wouldn't be a diamond if it didn't have lots of faces.

What about the other live disc?

That was just a damned good gig at the Hammersmith in 1980. That was a real gig with a real paying audience. It was really nighttime; they really were drunk; it really was that loud.

Do you feel weird at all about putting live music out, especially considering your well-documented stage fright?

No. We made it, so you folks eat it. It's thrilling on a most basic kind of level. I almost feel ashamed about the basic level it thrills me on, because it's something I've grown away from, but it was some good stuff at the time.

Would that make it easier to play again?

No, I've been through that. It works because it's a snapshot of being young and sweaty and noisy and the group was at its height of being a touring machine. At the point of the Hammersmith gig we'd had three years solid on the road, so we were obviously well oiled and the gears were very smooth at that point.

I feel that side of me has been well satisfied, so why would I want to keep doing it for the rest of my life? There are many more things that I'd like to try. For instance, I hate opera, therefore I wish to murder opera at my own hands by writing one. Same with country. Because you detest this stuff you want to defeat it yourself by being better than it. Music is far too precious.

When you're young it's incredibly precious. You think you've been allowed into this world-saving secret that only you and the band know about.

[Thanks to Gary McBride]

February 26, 1999
Genre Pages: Rock / Pop

Class and Cleverness

By Dave Thompson

Apple Venus Volume One

Seven years seems a long time away, even if you are universally known as the last living bastion of rampant English eccentricity. Yet the moment this disc hits the CD player, you realize seven years is a longtime for mere mortals to wait, but for XTC, it was barely enough time to tune up.

At least, that's the impression given by the opening "River Of Orchids," a haunting duet for bass and plucking sounds, into which first a trumpet, then a strangely Sting-like vocal gradually wander. And no matter how hard you try to listen to it, which sound you decide to follow, the rest refuse to fall in behind it, and it takes a good few plays before the song makes sense.

But what sense it becomes. "I'd Like That" is classic XTC pop, slightly psychedelic, wittily whimsical and as curiously wordy as you could hope. "Easter Theatre" appears to be a song about breasts, rearranged for symphony orchestra and rock guitar heroes, and "Frivolous Tonight" sounds so close to the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields," that for a moment it could be the Electric Light Orchestra.

And so it goes on, no shocks or surprises, but so much class and cleverness that it really doesn't matter. From "Greenman," with its Mid-East moodiness and mantric melody, to Colin Moulding's utterly wacked, but compulsively quirky "Fruit Nut," Apple Venus is XTC acting less self-conscious than they have for several albums and sounding better than they've managed in years ... at least seven, and maybe even more.

[Thanks to Kurt Muehlner and Jeff Langr]

December 1, 1998

XTC --Transistor Blast (TVT)

Challenged only by My Bloody Valentine as the decade's most frustratingly inactive band, XTC has released just one album (Nonsuch) during the '90s. During subsequent years, the group lost its record deal and longtime guitarist, but armed with fresh contracts, remaining members Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding are finally ready to go public again. Anticipating two new albums scheduled for next year, this four-disc set of BBC recordings serves both as a gift for fanatical collectors and as an overview for the uninitiated.

Transistor Blast is cleanly divided: the first two discs collect studio sessions recorded between 1977 and 1989, the third combines two early concerts from 1978 and 1979, while the fourth is a 1980 show. Since the studio tracks merely sound like underproduced demos, these are the least interesting. Highlights are the same as on the source albums -- gems like "Life Begins at the Hop," "Garden of Earthly Delights," "No Thugs in Our House" (sounding especially ferocious here) and "The Meeting Place."

The live recordings are the greater curiosity, given the band's 1982 retirement from touring. While the later concert includes the best songwriting -- particularly Black Sea masterpieces such as "Love at First Sight," "Respectable Street," and "Towers of London" -- the performances are undercut by Partridge's sloppy singing and a few awkward attempts to stretch instrumentally.

The 1978-79 gigs are a marvel, however. While XTC's nascent material is their weakest, the group's onstage energy is astounding, as early anthems like "Radios in Motion," "Science Friction" and "This Is Pop" are sped up and bounced through with frantic zeal.

XTC's acclaim has faded during their silence, but these 51 tracks are a powerful reminder of the band's greatness.

Eric Broome

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