XTC – “Oranges and Lemons” (1989)

October 26, 2008 at 4:59 pm (Fran Fried, Reviews & Articles, XTC)

Written by Fran Fried for the Waterbury Republican, March 19, 1989. This is posted here due to the kind permission of Mr. Fried. He got me listening to XTC (the Skylarking album) and The Dukes of Stratosphear (their psych alter egos) through earlier reviews in my local newspaper. And this review was of their follow-up to Skylarking – the almost-as-equally-brilliant Oranges and Lemons.  
Thanks Fran – I appreciate it…
   

 

XTC’s New, Catchy Offering May End Group’s U.S. Neglect

 

Ah, such a dilemma; every music-lover should have this one.

We’re not even three months through the year and I have seven strong probabilities for my Top 10 album list already: Roy Orbison, Lou Reed, The Proclaimers, Fine Young Cannibals, The Brood, The Untamed Youth, – and now, XTC.

Finally, justice is ready to prevail in the case of this trio of Englishmen.

It is unfair that the body of their earlier work – the snappy, quirky pop such as “Respectable Street” and “Life Begins at the Hop” and “Generals and Majors” – didn’t become hits on this side of the Atlantic. It is an obscenity that their last LP, Skylarking – probably the decade’s finest album – wasn’t widely accepted as the masterpiece it is. (And if you want to stretch the point a little further, the above goes for their work under the Dukes of Stratosphear moniker as well.)

But at last, with this album’s release, and after over a decade of the band slogging and struggling away, the general American public will find out about Andy Partridge (and, of course, ask stupid questions like “Wasn’t he in the Partridge family?”) and realize that he and Colin Moulding and Dave Gregory are among the world’s premier pop musicians.

After Skylarking, I was wondering which direction they would go in. There really can’t be a comparison; Skylarking was a single concept – a whole life-death story broken into little segments – that could never be duplicated. Returning to an album in the more conventional sense, they’ve gone in just about every direction at once.

Overdue recognition is often the sweetest, and it should be delicious, since this album is a synthesis of all the neat stuff they’ve given us before: power pop, psychedelic flavorings, signature offbeat individuality, Partridge’s intense, finely-woven, whimsy-embroidered lyrics (and that unmistakable voice), and Moulding’s sharp, straightforward cynicism.

For those of you who haven’t a clue as to what I’m talking about, the first side will answer your questions more than sufficiently.

That’s where you’ll find the two singles, bound to be their first certified American successes. “The Mayor of Simpleton,” an unabashed, starry-eyed love song, is a ’60s-influenced pop tune that ranks right along with the best of their ’77-’82 period. Moulding’s “King for a Day” has the same swaying, soul-bent, infectious sound (and subject material) that made Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” such a big hit four years ago.

No, the rest of the record doesn’t match those two songs, but it comes awfully close. The opening song, the tropic “Garden of Earthly Delights,” could have been off the first side of the last Talking Heads album (and Partridge does resemble David Byrne on the high notes). “The Loving” is another catchy one, a swaying, sing-songy ditty you’ll have a hard time avoiding. “Merely a Man” is simple in statement but a little more complex in musical structure, leaving you dazed in its wake of pop, psychedelia and animal metal guitar noises.

“Cynical Days,” which falls into no set category, effectively conveys the confusing tug-of-war between dark and light that sometimes hits people. Another heart-hitting song is “Hold Me My Daddy,” bound to reach any son who ever had a hard time with his father along the line. And “Chalkhills and Children” has the fine, man-child texture of an overlooked late-’60s/early ’70s Beach Boys piece.

No, don’t let the brilliant cover fool you; this album isn’t a ’60s reissue or a prolonged Sgt. Pepper acid trip. True to XTC’s form, it’s got some of those trappings, but also true to their nature, it’s got plenty more.

Fran Fried

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