Wasp Star (Apple Venus Part 2) (XTC) – Album Review (Part 2)

Read the introduction to this review here.

“Church Of Women” reminds me of Tears For Fears’ “Woman In Chains” lyrically, as the submissive state of the fair sex is somehow explored. In Andy’s case, though, the strong/weak roles are not just reversed but eventually coalesced as all that remains is a respect for life so profound that it is impossible to think of someone submitting himself so wholly without being incredible weak and incredibly strong at the same time. A really striking song, and the end chorus is just sublime.

“Church Of Women” would have worked excellently as an album closer, much in the same way that “Books Are Burning” closed “Nonsuch”. But…

…we have “The Wheel And The Maypole”. I have already talked a bit about the song when reviewing “Apple Venus”. Some quick facts: the song is made up of two different compositions that Andy glued together as neither was working individually. One deals with the creation of life, and the other with its finality. The first is “The Pot Won’t Hold Our Love”. The second is “Everything Decays”. I like the imagery, as a pot is something very small and fragile that isn’t really suited for holding something as valuable to begin with. I guess that is the idea, along with expressing that love can be kept everywhere, and even in places that one could create himself.   Continue reading

Wasp Star (Apple Venus Part 2) (XTC) – Album Review (Part 1)

"Wasp Star" Was Released In The Year 2000, Roughly A Year After "Apple Venus" Was Issued

"Wasp Star" Was Released In The Year 2000, Roughly A Year After "Apple Venus" Was Issued

XTC’s swan song, and a very powerful moment even when taken separately from it companion album, the critically-lauded “Apple Venus”. As I explained when reviewing it, this is the one disc that was meant to “rock” a little from the pair. Hence, fans often call it “the disc that everybody was waiting for”.

“Playground” and “Stupidly Happy” are positioned at the forefront of this “return to form” or whatever you want to call it. The truth is the previous disc was not a departure but an assertion of the sound that was manifested on songs like “Wrapped In Grey”, and which had began insinuating itself as early as “Sacrificial Bonfire” from “Skylarking”.

“Playground” is another interesting look at childhood, and one that joins “Let’s Build A Den” in its theme of the world of children mirroring the world of adults more than we care to admit. It has the memorable line “You might leave school but it never leaves you”, and Andy’s daughter Holly (yep, she from “Holly Up On Poppy”) supplies backup. “Stupidly Happy” is defined by Andy as “The great Keef Richard riff that never was”, and it was derived from the “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” riff. It is catchy like little else, with that simple but engrossing riff being gradually fortified by bass, tambourine, drums, handclaps…  Andy alliterates a lot on the lyrics, echoing the narrowness of thought he wishes to convey, and the effect when taken as a whole with the instrumentation is fabulous. Continue reading

Apple Venus Part 1 (XTC) – Album Review

XTC's Penultimate Album Surfaced In 1999. It Was Titled "Apple Venus"

XTC's Penultimate Album Surfaced In 1999. It Was Titled "Apple Venus"

After a decade-long strike against their record company, XTC were finally released from their contract with Virgin. The question was how to present the material they had stockpiled over the preceding years. This was to escalate into a rift that ended with Dave Gregory leaving the band, as he disagreed with Andy’s notion that two separate albums had to be released. He did play on the first of the two discs that were to be issued, and he was credited as a session musician. The disc was named “Apple Venus Part 1”, and  Andy has described its sound as “orchoustic” – acoustic instrumentation mixed with elaborate orchestral arrangements. This is evident the second the disc starts spinning, as “River Of Orchids” couldn’t be described using better words. A whimsical tune, a multifaceted tune, a lovable tune. An XTC tune in all its essence. Andy deals once again with his hatred of automobiles in a string-led song that takes up 6 minutes of layered vocals and a permanent crescendo where climax after climax is reached.

The song is immediately counterbalanced by “I’d Like That”, the one cut that everybody liked on the record when it was issued. Because the album had some detractors that were expecting a harder sound, and when they finally got that in the shape of “Wasp Star” the following year they were to eat humble pie and admit that the sound of Apple Venus was far more suitable to this mature stage of the band. “I’d Like That” is a very jumpy track, running through a plethora of chords in which only three strings are strummed most of the time. Only the E chord that is played after the “Sunflower” bit is played in full. Andy slaps his thighs as accompaniment, and his wordplay is delirious, dropping the names of famous couples in a tale of unrequited love that is just an inch from materializing – hence the overall optimism. Continue reading