Album: Monstrance *****

Monstrance, APE

By Andy Gill

Published: 06 April 2007

Having recorded ambient/new-age soundscapes with Harold Budd, and psychedelic pastiche with XTC offshoot Dukes Of Stratosfear, the exploratory nature of this Andy Partridge project is no surprise - less of a surprise, probably, than his reunion with keyboardist Barry Andrews. Andrews left XTC in 1979 after just two albums, going on to form avant-rock combo Shriekback, which also supplies the third member of Monstrance, drummer Martyn Barker. Recorded with no planning or rehearsal, this double album is a series of open-ended improvisations of startling invention. Clearly, there's an almost telepathic bond between the three, of the kind that drives the best jazz improvisers: Partridge's guitar work on "Black Swan Black" and "Winterwerk" has a touch and tone akin to Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny, while Andrews' piano and Barker's drumming have the thoughtful manner of ECM chamber jazz. Elsewhere, Beefheart's Magic Band and Krautrock pioneers Can are obvious direct influences.

An exclusive preview of next month's album releases

By Andy Gill

Published: 29 March 2007

Artist: Monstrance

Title: Monstrance

Label: Ape

Monstrance marks the first recorded reunion of old XTC compadres Andy Partridge and Barry Andrews since the latter left to form Shriekback. They're joined on these improvised instrumentals by Shriekback drummer Martyn Barker, who provides a varied backdrop to their guitar and keyboards. Opener "I Lovely Cosmonaut" is typical, moving tentatively from a bricolage of electronic noises and guitar phrases to a surging, riff-based conclusion. Can are an obvious influence, with Partridge simulating Michael Karoli's guitar, and Andrews emulating Irmin Schmidt's whirling organ, on "Ur Tannoy", and Barker setting up Jaki Liebezeit-style cyclical patterns for"Winterwerk". There's an overall mood akin to ECM's chamber-jazz output throughout this absorbing and accomplished display.

An exclusive preview of next month's album releases

By Andy Gill

‘We do the out-there stuff together’

Published: 28 September 2006

Artist: Andy Partridge

Title: The Fuzzy Warbles Collectors Album

Label: Ape House

Never one for half measures, Andy Partridge here collects together all the Fuzzy Warbles compilations of XTC out-takes, demos and sundry oddments - a massive 9CD box set containing 161 tracks, many laid down in the seven-year recording hiatus when the band were in dispute with Virgin. It's ridiculously diverse, incorporating jingles, answerphone messages, noodles, doodles, ambient exercises, jazz keyboards and early versions of XTC and Dukes Of Stratosphear songs. Lyrically, the collection runs the gamut from comical and joyous, to abject melancholy, the latter tone notably evident in songs like "Everything" ("Everything you say you felt for me, is it all dust and denial, as lifeless as some lunar sea?"). All told, more music than one life deserves to be blessed with.



Interviews by Sean O'Connell & Portrait by Teena Taylor

‘We do the out-there stuff together’

Published: 28 March 2004

One of Britain's finest songwriters, Andy Partridge (left), 50, founded XTC in 1975. Best known for tracks such as ‘Making Plans for Nigel’, the band spent years on strike due to contract wrangles, but returned with ‘Apple Venus Volume 1’ in 1999. He lives in Swindon with his partner and two children.

Born in New York in 1951, Peter Blegvad is a writer, cartoonist and musician whose ‘Leviathan’ strip, about a baby called Levi, once ran in ‘The Sunday Review’. A member of numerous experimental bands, he lives in London with his wife and two children.


I was sat in Virgin's offices in 1983 and, ducking as he walked through the door, came Peter Blegvad. We were meeting because Peter needed a producer for his debut solo album and I quite fancied being one, but at the moment he walked in I felt like the character from Moby-Dick who finds out that Queequeg is sharing his cabin for the night. I'd never seen anybody that tall and thin in close proximity before. However, literally within a few minutes I was thinking, "I like this character." The way he mangled the English language was very appealing.

We started working in a studio in Bath and it wasn't all smooth going, but I think we gave way to each other in equal amounts. I'd tell Peter he could really capitalise on this Queequeg thing if he went around with a stovepipe hat. We argued for hours over whether he should carry a harpoon. I think we stopped at facial tattoos. The only other row we had was when he spent the money earmarked for a final roll of 24-track tape on vodka, claiming it was creatively important.

After the album was done we stayed in contact, getting together sporadically to write songs. And then we had a period of five years where I refused to talk to him.

I found out that Peter had failed to credit me on a couple of the tracks we had co-written. Around the same time I was going through a divorce and Virgin was refusing to release me from my record contract. I was convinced everybody was out to rip me off, from my ex-wife to lawyers. When I found out about the lack of credit I suddenly felt, "Oh my God, he's ripping me off too" - totally irrational on my part. Eventually I thought this was stupid and rang him up and apologised for my behaviour and we got back to wrestling in the studio.

Now we speak to each other every week or so. I ring him sometimes and say, "I'm really stuck for a rhyme for ‘month’ or ‘orange’," and he'll give me half a dozen. We both love language and music so we talk about that a lot. We're not social though. I never go to parties or even to the pub now. It's the only child thing: I tend to keep myself to myself.

There isn't a typical day with peter. He's not a typical person. Everything about him is a little different - from his music, poetry and artwork to his hairdo and height. I like to think that when we collaborate it's the more fantastical stuff that gets created. I find it difficult to do the "out there" stuff with almost anybody else. I feel safe in his arms. We give each other permission to frolic.


Virgin introduced me to Andy 21 years ago as a possible producer for my album. I was grilling him to see if he had what it took for this important mission when the subject of tin soldiers came up. Andy had a thing for them and I grasped on to that because my Danish father, a children's book illustrator, collected them too.

We ended up doing some demo versions of my songs and made each other laugh. Andy had enormous powers of invention: the Picasso of pop, I began to call him. I also got to see his soldier collection and not only did he have tin, lead, wood and plastic ones, but there were also these soldiers he had made himself by cutting the bristles of a hairbrush. I could clearly see he was an obsessive and I liked that too.

He worked on my King Strut album in 1990 even though the budget had run out, so there was precious little to pay him. After that we lost touch. I went back to the States and there was a misunderstanding about the credit he might have received or not received on the album. It wasn't quite a falling out because I didn't know what was going on, but I later found out it was all tied up with divorce and big change in life for him.

I regret we didn't sort it out straight away because all it took was a phone call, like Blake says: "I was angry with my friend / I told my wrath / My wrath did end". Now we connect once every couple of weeks, and it's a treat to make trips to Swindon to work in Andy's shed.

We share a kind of insularity, a protected sense that brings us together. You wouldn't catch Andy or I on safari, but we compensate for that with imaginary worlds. I suspect it's down to a sense of fear, or disappointment with what's out there. We get our revenge on reality by exercising the energy of the imagination.

It's a wonderful thing to have a creative playmate. We got into each other's dream realm and found that we could breathe in the atmosphere. This is a terrific thing: when you take your helmet off and your can breathe! That's friendship.

I also trust his taste. I show him stuff I do without him and he sends me XTC records. I got very effusive over the last XTC record and wrote a fawning fan letter about what a genius he is. I've made intimate contact with his work and felt nourished by it, subjecting it to the ultimate acid test of being alone at 3am, smoking pot and listening under headphones.

People who are conveyors or conductors of positive life energy such as imagination seem more valuable to me than more sinister characters who say, "Why don't we just draw the curtains and go to bed for a month." Andy makes me see possibilities I would never have noticed.

Album: Andy Partridge

Fuzzy Warbles 1 & 2, Ape

By Andy Gill

06 December 2002

Helplessly — or stubbornly, depending on your viewpoint — sitting out their Virgin contract with seven years of silence after the company's indifferent promotion of their Nonsuch LP, XTC presumably found time hanging heavily on their hands between 1992 and 1999, when they finally released the splendid Apple Venus and Wasp Star albums through the more small-scale and sympathetic Cooking Vinyl.

Andy Partridge certainly did, judging by Fuzzy Warbles 1 & 2, the first couple of a projected 10-album series of out-takes, demos and oddments accumulated during XTC's long and benighted history. As he relates in his droll annotations to the tracks, many a day was whiled away in his home studio as he noodled and doodled away at ideas, with no schedule and no pressure to come up with a hit single. Hence the reggae-style answerphone message, "No One Here Available", and the various avant-garde/ambient improvisations bearing acronymic titles such as "MOGO" and "EPNS", and the bluesy pastiche "Howlin' Burston", a jingle written for a local Wiltshire Radio DJ.

Hence, too, the blizzard of different styles and sounds attempted with varying degrees of seriousness, from twinkly soukous guitars to jazzy keyboard abstrusions to pastoral mellotron instrumentals, and inevitably to several psychedelic pastiches.The overwhelming impression these albums convey is of a boundless musical imagination that seeks release in whatever form comes to hand.

It's noticeable how Partridge's humorous temperament has developed a salty patina of disillusioned cynicism over the years, with "Young Marrieds" offering a gloomy prognosis of wedded bliss — "Stay at home, watch a video/ Chocolate Fingers, stir the tea", and "Obscene Procession" advising animals to watch out for treacherous humans. What depths of misanthropy are plumbed by lines such as "It's called talking/ It's how they betray their friends and more"? More painful, personal matters of the heart are dealt with openly in tracks such as "Everything" ("Everything you say you felt for me, is it all dust and denial, as lifeless as some lunar sea?"), compared to the allegorical manner in which business treacheries are covered in "I Bought Myself a Liarbird" and "Ship Trapped in the Ice", the latter a clear metaphor for his band's tenure with Virgin Records.

Partridge's main failing, ironically, is his intelligence, rarely a prized commodity in pop. He just can't play dumber than he is, a characteristic that leads him to sabotage the lumpen boogie-rocker "Merely A Man" with self-consciously clever lyricism, and that once led Cathy Dennis to decline to cover one of his songs due to its wordiness. But at this point in music history, intelligence is probably the only thing that might save pop from itself.

Pop: This Week's Album Releases

May 19, 2000, Friday

XTC | Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2) (Cooking Vinyl)

In the seven-year hiatus occasioned by their self-imposed industrial action following 1992's splendid Nonsuch, XTC's Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding stockpiled enough material for four albums, eventually opting to release two albums showcasing discrete sides of their work. The first of these, last year's widely acclaimed Apple Venus, was a touch too rococo for my taste, but Wasp Star represents a glorious affirmation of the core XTC values - winning melodies, velcro hooks, articulate lyrics, soaring harmonies and meticulously-detailed arrangements. The infectious humour has been leavened somewhat by personal travails, with Partridge in particular musing about the nature of being and attraction, the impermanence of love, the inscrutability of women and the cyclical nature of life; but this is no bad thing, actively adding to the album's depth. Moulding's songs are less personal but equally well-crafted, especially the bluesy elegy for a shutdown venue "Boarded Up", with its lovely touches of wan harmonium. Like Ween, XTC have an embarrassment of stylistic riches at their disposal, employed here with a restraint and sureness of touch that was sometimes lacking on Apple Venus. It's a superb work which, in any other week, would surely be album of the week.

How Not To Do The Nineties - by Andy Partridge


Nicholas Barber

May 14, 2000, Sunday

Andy Partridge, the lead singer and songwriter of XTC, was hired to produce the Blur album that became Modern Life Is Rubbish. He was sacked after completing three tracks. "The man from the record company, Dave Balfe, really wasn't happy," he admits. "I remember they got him stoned one night and he heard some rough mixes and of course he was floating around going, (hippy whine) 'Urr, you're George Martin and they're the Beatles! It's fantastic, man!' And then two days later when he heard the finished mixes he was like, (public school drawl) 'Well, this is really shit, Andy. The rhythm track just isn't sexy.' I said, 'Well, look, Dave's not sexy. He's a big lump of ginge who just hits his drums.' Blur were also having a lot of internal problems. Graham was drinking far too much, Damon was ... practising at being Damon. He'd come in a couple of hours late. (Yobbish Cockney) 'Uh, sorry lads, I've been shaggin'. Justine just wouldn't let me out of bed.' They were kind of confused at the time."

‘Lawyers just say “XTC's deal” and fall on the floor kicking their legs in the air like Smash Martians’

XTC weren't too sure of themselves, either. They'd released an album in 1992, but felt it had been under-promoted by their record company, Virgin. After years of labouring under a contract they considered to be one of the meanest in pop history, this was the last straw. "Lawyers just say 'XTC's deal' to each other and fall on the floor kicking their legs in the air like the Smash martians," says Partridge. The trio went on strike, refusing to record a note until Virgin agreed to drop them.

Six "incredibly frustrating" years passed. Partridge was asked to write songs for the animated movie of James And The Giant Peach - then Disney gave the job to Randy Newman instead. Dave Gregory, one third of XTC, ran out of patience and "threw himself out of the band". Partridge went through a divorce which, if the songs which came out of it are any indication, was particularly bitter.

All the while, Blur's star was rising and Britpop was blooming. It was, you may remember, a very English style of music, built on snappy, clever, observational songs - just like XTC's "Making Plans For Nigel" and "Respectable Street", in fact. The similarity hasn't escaped Partridge. "We thought, this is ironic," he says. "These bands were being lauded and it was just something we did years earlier. But I don't like musical ghettos at all. You can see it's just a bus going by. Why should we wanna jump on a bus that we built? We're busy building another one back at the depot."

To summarise: lost the Blur job, lost the Disney job, lost a spouse, lost a band member, didn't capitalise on Britpop and couldn't record his beloved pop songs. Andy Partridge had a pretty unfortunate Nineties - and that's not even counting the prostate trouble and partial deafness. As the 21st century begins, he is still living in the "real crappy town" of Swindon in the terraced house he bought in 1982 when "Senses Working Overtime" was a hit.

An intriguing house it is, too. Lloyd Grossman would have a field day in the front room, with its wooden pitch-fork and its 1950s' bagatelle game. Partridge's own animal paintings are on display between the tasteful Christmas decorations he hasn't got around to taking down. Beside the piano sits a fort of Trumptonish toy soldiers and in the brick fireplace sits a Victorian-style quoits board, also painted by Partridge. Who lives in a house like this? Surely an English pop eccentric with a taste for playfulness, history and the countryside.

Andy Partridge
New times: XTC's Andy Partridge tunes in. TOM PILSTON

Partridge, a balding, bespectacled 46-year-old, lounges in his front room on a leather couch. He wears an inside-out turquoise T-shirt and a toggled pair of tartan trousers. He drinks almond tea with soya milk; real milk is "cow phlegm". Considering the agonies of XTC, it's a relief to report what a perky, amiable fellow he is. He chatters unreservedly, digressing every 30 seconds to expound on Alexei Sayle, Paul Weller, Japanese interview technique and why Nearest And Dearest was his favourite 1970s' sitcom. He also constructs teetering metaphors worthy of his namesake, Alan Partridge. In case you've ever wondered, fans adore pop stars because "God's exocet has fired from HMS Religion, but its computer's bust and it's just looking for something to land on."

The reason for his chirpiness is that last year, having finally made their getaway from Virgin, XTC released Apple Venus, their first album since 1992. It was rapturously received - "It was like, write your own reviews," enthuses Partridge. Now the band, comprising him and Colin Moulding, have a new album ready, featuring 12 more of the songs they stockpiled during the strike. Or, to put it in Partridgese: "We've shoved that giant ball of creative earwax over the edge of the cliff, and it's about to make the second part of its splash." If there is any justice, Wasp Star will be a hit. But after all these years, would XTC actually welcome that? There is, by Partridge standards, a long pause. "You see, this is a difficult one to answer," he says. "Lack of success has been really helpful for us, damn it. We've not had the rewards of success, financially, but we've not been backed into any artistic blind alleys. We feel like we can do anything we want, because we don't have anything to live up to or any fans to feel obliged to please. We're totally fearless in musical ventures. I am a skyboarder without a parachute or a safety net! Just a big pile of hay!"

The irony is that this freedom from expectation hasn't lured XTC into jazz odysseys or concertos. For all the variety of their output, their commitment to accessible pop songs has been constant. "We love that medium," he says. "If the concerto is a canvas size 20-foot long by 10-foot high, the format we deal with is probably an A4 sheet of paper and an 'andful of crayons. But we've got really good at it. Now that's weird. Instead of getting crappier, we've actually got better." A pensive mug of almond tea hovers between the table and his mouth. "In fact, I think we're the best at what we do. How's that for being modest? I'm supposed to be Mr Modest but I'm getting a bit bored with that. It's time I came out blasting. I think Colin and I are the best pop songwriters in England."

Inspired by Brian Wilson, Ray Davies, Lennon & McCartney and Bacharach & David, Partridge sees almost nobody today who compares. He turned down the curatorship of the South Bank's Meltdown Festival last year, because he couldn't think of anyone he wanted to showcase. "They said, 'Well, make a list of 20 bands who you'd really love to see up there.' I couldn't get beyond one." His favourite music is 1920s' jazz.

You can hear these opinions from any number of out-of-touch curmudgeons, but from Partridge they're rather sweet and heartening. After 25 years in XTC, his optimism and fighting spirit are undiminished. "Just banging your head against the wall as long as we have done, I feel the wall is actually crumbling now," he says cautiously. "We may be bruised, but the wall is giving way."

Of the bands of the 1990s, only Blur are spared his scorn -"I feel a sense of 'my boys' with them" - and he doesn't rate his contemporaries any higher. "Out of our generation I think there's only Elvis Costello that's left who writes songs - when he's not dicking around with Charles Aznavour tunes. Songwriting is a Jurassic Park with three beasts in it: myself, Colin Moulding and Elvis. With Damon knocking at the door to be let in."


By Nicholas Barber

December 12, 1999, Sunday

(Cooking Vinyl)

XTC could claim to be the uncles of Britpop, but on this, their first album in seven years, they put away their Sixties costumes in favour of acoustic guitars and chamber orchestras. None the less, the record is truer to the pop precision, the exploratory spirit and the arch cleverness of the Beatles than any of the Britpop bands were. Now nibbled down to the core duo of Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, XTC retain their love of lulling melodies and lyrics about drinking stout in the countryside. Apple Venus is mature but magical, angry but heart-warming, earthy but transporting ... and just as commercially unsuccessful as usual.

Bye Bye Baby, For Now


By John Morrish

August 3, 1999, Tuesday

They were the biggest phenomenon in the history of entertainment, but in the end The Beatles fell apart over a biscuit. And in that, as in other things, they set the tone for those who followed.

History records that the band spent their last two years arguing about musical direction and management and generally failing to communicate. But Beatles obsessives insist that things really fell apart when Yoko Ono helped herself to one of George Harrison's digestives, precipitating a row between Harrison and John Lennon.

Similarly trivial "last straws" occur in the deathbed scenes of many famous bands. While it's happening, of course, squabbling artistes like to keep things vague. The Verve, for instance, finally fell apart in April. Their leader Richard Ashcroft would say only that "circumstances" had made it impossible to stay together. But whenever details emerge, it becomes clear that people walk away from high-earning, high-profile jobs - jobs they will be lucky to get again - for reasons that sometimes appear almost nugatory.

Take country-rock stadium-fillers The Eagles. They argued incessantly about doing political gigs. Then, at the start of a 1980 benefit, Glenn Frey calmly told his fellow founder-member, Don Felder, "When this show is done, I'm going to kick your ass". Engineers had to turn down his mike as he began the countdown to the thrashing: "Three more (songs), pal, get ready!" At the end, everyone fought everyone, while the roadies carried away the wreckage. The Eagles barely spoke for 14 years, until a large cheque persuaded them to start talking.

Are today's pop colossi any different? Many of the pretty boys and girls jiggling around on Top of the Pops have the artistic ambitions of a knitting-pattern. They are hired, and they are fired, and no one feels the need to give a reason. We know, for instance, that Geri Spice left her band for artistic reasons. But the fans have their own ideas. "I've heard rumours about Mel B being nasty to her," reports one US-based Spice Girls website. "I refuse to believe that one, no matter what."

It's usually human conflict that does the damage. Jah Wobble was on Public Image Limited's American tour when he decided that he'd had enough of the "gross pop-star behaviour" of John Lydon and Keith Levene. It wasn't particularly excessive, he remembers, but even so, "I remember saying to them, 'I want my fucking passport back!'"

He didn't get it, resigning instead when he got home, only for the band to announce that they'd sacked him: the usual story. Even friendly bands are overcome by mutual loathing and disgust on tour. "It's a goldfish bowl: everything gets magnified," says Wobble.

In contrast, Dave Gregory, who left XTC last year after 19 years, reached the end of his tether in the studio, where the band were finally recording after seven years of hanging about. There were painful discussions about everything: the choice of songs, the arrangements, leader Andy Partridge's new-found enthusiasm for computer sequencing, and even the tuning of Dave's guitar. And then Partridge disappeared on holiday, with the studio clock still ticking away the band's dwindling funds. When he returned, more single-minded and driven than ever, Gregory had had enough. "I thought, 'You are an arsehole, and I don't want to work with you any more'." He packed up his instruments and walked.

Wobble and Gregory were both, in their very different ways, one-band men. Their parting moments are vivid. But Steve Howe, the veteran Prog Rock guitarist, has acquired enough last straws to build a reasonable hayrick. His career took off when he joined Yes in 1970, and he stayed with them until 1981, weathering the scorn of the punks. More recently, however, he has been at the centre of a series of baffling comings and goings as the small community of bankable Prog Rock players - many of whom seem cordially to dislike one another - have tried to work with one another under a small number of bankable Prog Rock brand-names.

Thus Howe has played in numerous varieties of Yes (including one fronted by Trevor Horn of Buggles, christened "Yeggles" by traditionalists), as well as Asia, GTR, and Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe: a sort of Yes by any other name. They may no longer appeal to hip British tastes, but these old-fashioned, serious musos have legions of admirers. Yet they still let petty squabbles come between them and pay-day. People miss rehearsals, try to renegotiate their deals, throw their weight around. Often, the fragile new artistic vehicle runs out of road somewhere between collecting the advance and doing the work.

Howe is wary of naming names, no doubt because he suspects he will be back playing alongside them in the next year or two. He makes an exception, however, for Rick Wakeman. After jumping out of Yes on the release of Tales From Topographic Oceans, the four-song double album he unaccountably found boring, Wakeman has somehow managed to pop back in at intervals since. Never a diplomat, he specialised in eating takeaway chicken masala off his synthesizer rack while the vegetarians around him were symphonic-rocking the stadia of the Western world.

"He came back on the rebirth plan," says Howe, wryly, recalling one of many reunions. "It was like 'We went through hell together, but now...' " Howe has, he says, become an expert in burying the hatchet, and with everyone from the Human League to the Bay City Rollers now reformed or in the process of reforming, it's a habit old rockers are increasingly having to learn. Bitter personal animosities are rarely a match for the Inland Revenue and the bank manager.

Steve Howe, meanwhile, seems as enthusiastic as ever. The latest incarnation of Yes, with a Russian called Igor in the Wakeman role, has an album ("a good record", he says, proudly) out in September. Is there a lesson in all this? "Trust," says Howe, ruefully. "You don't have much of a band without it. But I don't know many bands with it."

The same could be said of many marriages. A band is rather like a marriage, though arguably with less sex. Dave Gregory, one of the great sidemen, makes the comparison without being asked. "I was a typical wronged wife," he complains, "kept around for the boring bits while someone else was getting all the attention and all the excitement."

Dave Gregory insists that there are never "musical differences": they are a code for personal bitterness. But sometimes the two coincide. When Paul Simon presented "Bridge Over Troubled Water", lovingly transposed to Art Garfunkel's favourite key, and announced that it was his best song yet, he expected a certain enthusiasm. But Garfunkel mused that it was "something less than his best song, but a great song" - and declined to sing it. It was a personal snub, disguised as a musical judgement.

When Mike Love of The Beach Boys halted the legendary Smile sessions, demanding to know the meaning of "Over and over, the crow cries uncover the cornfield" in "Cabinessence", he brought the partnership between Brian Wilson and lyricist Van Dyke Parks to a rapid and dispiriting end. He had a point, of a sort - but he was really complaining about everything that had happened since Brian stopped having Fun, Fun, Fun and started taking Drugs, Drugs, Drugs.

Mostly, personal spats outnumber musical controversies. In 1983, Joe Strummer and Paul Simenon decided they wanted The Clash to revert to the punk archetype. But Mick Jones was already planning his new thing, later revealed as Big Audio Dynamite. So Strummer sacked him, admitting later: "I did him wrong. I stabbed him in the back." Some saw events in less operatic terms. Pennie Smith, the photographer and a friend of the band, explained it like this: "Most of their quarrels can be traced back to their laundry." And that, it seems, is almost always the way it is.

This Week's Album Releases


Friday, March 5, 1999

Apple Venus
(Cooking Vinyl)

IT'S BEEN almost seven years since XTC went on strike after the lovely Nonsuch, and the gap has not been good for them. They've always exhibited baroque pop tendencies, and it sounds as if every moment of the hiatus has been dedicated to embellishing these 11 songs, to their detriment. The opening track "River Of Orchids" serves notice of what to expect: pizzicato strings and staccato horns tiptoe around overlapping layers of vocals, the whole song growing cyclically.

Their thematic and stylistic touchstones remain the same - there are punning rhymes aplenty, and countless moments aiming for Beatle or Beach Boy bliss. "Green Man" continues their noble record of adapting English folk imagery without lapsing into fake antiquity or dreadlocked druidism - but the addition of flamenco handclaps to the McCartneyesque whimsy of "I'd Like That" exemplifies the way virtually all these tracks are taken an idea too far.

Record Reviews: Pop

by Nicholas Barber

February 21, 1999, Sunday

XTC: Apple Venus (Cooking Vinyl)

Seven years since XTC's last album, this LP - a truly enchanting collection - has slipped out with no advance publicity at all: typical of a band who are destined to dodge success. They could claim to be the archetypal Britpop combo, but they stayed out of sight for the whole Britpop era. They rediscovered Sixties psychedelia years before anyone else, but they've now shelved it in favour of acoustic strumming and George Martin-inspired chamber orchestras. On Apple Venus, XTC have been nibbled down to the core duo of Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, but they retain their love of wordplay, lulling melodies, and lyrics about cycling to country pubs for a glass of stout. If anything, they're more bucolic than ever, with the opening track advocating the conversion of motorways into "rivers of orchids", and Partridge's high, swooping vocals recalling Sting. Apple Venus is as lovely as a sunset, if hardly likely to make XTC millionaires. Nothing's changed, then.

Pop: For completists only

By Andy Gill

Published: Friday, December 18, 1998

Christmas comes but once a year, for which we should be thankful. Not least because the festive season heralds a flood of sumptuously packaged, must-have box-sets. Doh! Andy Gill tackles the best in pop...

XTC: 'Transistor Blast'

Finally, XTC's Transistor Blast (Cooking Vinyl) collates together on four discs their in-concert and studio sessions recorded for the BBC through the late Seventies and Eighties. It's all high-quality work, presenting the Swindon combo as the clever-dick pop precursors of such as Mansun. "We didn't know what we were doing," explains Andy Partridge in the sleevenote, "but we did it loud."

Pop Music

Nick Heyward on White Music by XTC

Published: 29 December 1995

I was desperate for this album when it came out. I'd been with the punk thing from the beginning, but I don't think I was really into it musically until I saw XTC on television. Andy Partridge looked like he'd been plugged into the electricity. They didn't look dissimilar to bands around now.

They had beaten-up plimsolls, old jeans and T-shirts. Andy had a Peter Tork haircut; it was an early indie thing, really.

The bass player, Colin Moulding, had this Fender bass and just stood there looking Bill Wyman-ish. It was instant, and there was something very funny about them, though it took me a while to like the music.

The sound was really sparse; there was hardly anything there. And the other thing I liked was that few of the tracks lasted longer than two minutes.

It suited me at the time - I was young and had lots of energy and liked my pop music a bit twisted, a bit upside-down. Listening to White Music was a 100 per cent religious experience for me. I remember learning to play the harmonica because of the version of "All Along the Watchtower" that is on the album. And on the back sleeve Andy was wearing this great jumper; I searched everywhere for that jumper. I thought that if ever I did an album, I'd wear a jumper like that on the cover.

When I met the band and told them how much I was into them, they looked at me in utter disbelief, as though they were thinking, "Why would anyone be into us?" But they were the band that you would always desperately try to get your girlfriend into.

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