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.
The album carries on with one of Andy’s most poetic lyrics ever (and that is saying a lot): Easter Theatre is a song that takes the mantle of “Season Cycle” and gives it a lush orchestral touch. It is also the one tune that has an electric guitar solo. He then offers “Knights In Shining Karma”, yet another thoughtful song about fatherhood and the responsibilities it demands, without ever denying the pleasure and the joy it brings.
Colin then offers the ho-hum “Frivolous Tonight”, a song that I partially like because it is more British than James Bond. His other song on the CD is “Fruit Nut”, a daft lyric set to a silly melody that was clearly added for comedic purposes and which backfired completely.
The remaining songs by Andy include another heavily-orchestrated piece that is an acquired taste (“Greenman”) and a vitriolic cut regarding the end of their relationship with Virgin. It is named “Your Dictionary”, and for an even better take on the subject listen to the song of his named “The Ship Trapped In Ice”.
He finishes the album with three consecutive ballads: “I Can’t Own Her”, “Harvest Festival” and “The Last Balloon”. They are all good, dealing with unattainable love, love that never dies and the promise of something better for everybody somewhere other than here. This was to be their first valedictory tune, the second one closed “Wasp Star (Apple Venus Part 2)” and it was named “The Wheel And The Maypole”. The band had tried. And tried. And tried. And every single time they had tried, they came up with something which triumphed in more senses than one. “Apple Venus Part 1” kept their credentials intact. But as they were to sing on “The Wheel And The Maypole”, if the container can not hold all the loving you dash it to the ground and build something new that can do it. During their whole career they had given us the knowledge to do that. Now, in their final two discs they were to finally give us the clay.
New life.. we’d applaud her new life…