Andy Partridge
Fuzzy Warbles Volume 1
(Ape CD 001)

Now, it's been a long while since XTC found their way onto my hi-fi to any extent (I still think that the Dukes of Stratosphear album was their only perfect moment), but a curious whimsy has led me into deep fascination with Andy Partridge's ongoing Fuzzy Warbles series of demos, outtakes, rarities, and other assorted madness from the XTC vaults.

These CDs cater to my essential thirst for the unheard and unknown. To me, what an artist doesn't release is probably a lot more interesting (if not as good) than what they do release.

Pete Townshend is a good example: I doubt I could sit through Tommy anymore but I have many times settled down with Scoop for a couple of hours.

I have many friends who could pontificate all night speculating on the unreleased canon of Mr. Paddy McAloon. And don't get me started on my Holy Grail-esque quest to track down the elusive (and probably non-existent) song "Picasso" by Ringo Starr.

So listening to these Fuzzy Warbles discs I am reminded of many things: My complete love of the creative moment. The thrill of a musical spark, even when no flame ends up appearing. The intrigue of a misguided trip down an artistic back-alley. The unshiny birth-state of something that becomes a masterpiece. Snapshots of a great artist in the process of doing, revealing not the artistry but the human-ness.

And the joy in layering harmonies. The outstanding bliss in capitulating to that irresistible temptation to add a tambourine or an 'oooooh'. The wonderful, weak surrender to the power of pop.

I'm afflicted, I'll admit it. I may sit around listening to Grieg, but when it comes down to it, I'm still an 8-year-old pop nerd buying Beatles 8-tracks to feed my ear candy demon.

And so is Partridge. (Well, not so much about the 8-tracks … though I give him serious props if so.) These discs strip away a lot of the preciousness of XTC's studio offerings to reveal, simply, a man in love with music.

And especially his own music. The guy must have recorded every musical idea he's ever had. The Fuzzy Warbles are, so far, equally brilliant and indulgent, full of moments touched by Pop God, and peppered with intriguing misfires. I'd have it no other way. These are not statements, they are moments overheard as if by eavesdropping.

Volume One gives us the sublime – "Don't Let Us Bug Ya" (an outtake from Andy's attempt to get the gig writing the James and the Giant Peach soundtrack), "Dame Fortune," "Born Out of My Mouth" – as well as the simply odd ("Merely a Man," Andy's attempt at ZZ Top).

The only one that truly stops the party is "That Wag," a session outtake in which Partridge preens and guffaws his way through some pointed parody, recasting the song "That Wave" (from Nonsuch) as Robert Smith and Bob Dylan might do it … which is fine, except that the original song is not exactly a towering achievement to begin with, so I see no justification for the sniping. If you're gonna attack some songwriters, make damn sure they're not better than you. Plus, this three-minutes of Andy hamming it up sits at track 5.

The non-chronological presentation serves the series well, 'cause frankly, it would be no fun slogging through the first few volumes if the tracks were all from like 1979. Instead, Fuzzy Warbles is a pretty damn entertaining set of sloppy magic tricks shown to you up close by a damn fun, if sometimes belligerently drunk magician.

Review by Suzie Cant