Oranges & Lemons (Geffen 24218)
XTC-philes that gather 'round the vigilant candle of Chalkhills, an ancient e-mailing list, are a hearty breed mix in XTC's remarkable label troubles, Andy Partridge's steadfast refusal to play live due to "stage fright" (an oft-debated condition), and the fact that comparatively little new material has materialized this decade, and you've got yourself a classic recipe for Diehards-Only Casserole.
Granted, but do these fans bring it upon themselves? Does Andy Partridge deserve THAT much adoration? Yes, he's written pieces of pop perfection, Partridge has ("Earn Enough for Us," "Love on a Farmboy's Wages," and on), and writes chord changes to die for, but there's often such an off-putting sense of arrogance that "pokes you in the ear instead of coaxing you in," to paraphrase one-time XTC producer Todd Rundgren (although he's in a glass house there "Worldwide Epiphany," anyone?). You frequently end up with more of a "Hey, look at MEEEEEE!!! I'm a clever, clever boy, you know!" instead of a "Pass the mashed potatoes, friend." (?)
Incidentally, you the reader can add 10 points to your score if you both understood that last garbled analogy, AND made it all the way through my unsolicited barkings.
Er, the review, yes. Oranges & Lemons, holds up surprisingly well for an album from the late 80s/very-early 90s a period that birthed some then-incredible albums whose slick-as-snail-snot production has not dated in a very meaty way.
"Mayor of Simpleton" remains as timeless a standout as it did back on heavy rotation of "Alternative Nation," though to hear a time-travelled performance from Paul from during the Ram sessions would be preferable.
Colin Moulding contributes one of the like five quality songs he's ever written (OK, I'm being harsh) with "King For a Day" though that's stretching the boundaries of "quality" though to Mr. Moulding's credit, he did pen "Vanishing Girl", my all-time favorite XTC-related track (I'm sure he sleeps easier hearing that, too). Hm, is it possible to play more than two sides of the fence? I seem to be playing about ten here.
Actually, Colin and Andy would benefit from real collaboration, or at least letting one contribute or even just edit the other's work. "One Songwriter Syndrome, a gripping disease that often affects a band's output by letting samey, less-than-stellar material leak through, has always lurked around the XTC campfire. Surely if Colin was there to be able to say, "Andy, for crying out loud, not ANOTHER bloody zombified Cole Porter rhyme, you toy-soldier-collecting git", then Andy could retort with "Colin, you bastard, go park my car after you've finished writing another lackluster mid-tempo bit of filler sludge" er, feel free to e-mail complaints to the Loud Bassoon, bemoaning my excessive lack of fact-checking and nearly complete paucity of content regarding Oranges & Lemons.
OK, OK, so more about the album. I've always had a soft spot for "The Loving," very neutral feelings about "Here Comes President Kill Again," and still listen closely to "Scarecrow People" whenever it might flutter by. Sure, "Scarecrow People" is another beat-you-over-the-head ecology song, but is musicially great enough to allow forgiveness.
Side 2 kicks off with "Merely a Man," a song that grows more transparent with each listen the faux-rock glaze doesn't help. Wow, Mark Isham plays trumpet on "Cynical Days" perhaps the greatest collaboration in the history of music? *Yawn*
OK, OK, now I'm getting cynical, but I really just can't get terribly excited about XTC at this point in my life. There's such a sickening preciousness to the band at times, a cloyingness that warrants an "I've had enough" announcement from the listener, which should promptly be counteracted by listening to an hour of Tilt, the JB's, and Donna Summer.
Partridge falls into the same traps, perhaps even deeper, than other great "white" celebrated songwriters of the day (Neil Finn, Elvis Costello, Paddy McAloon). At least Paddy loves Chic and George Michael, and has publicly wished he could write party tunes like these guys could.
I dunno maybe the ultra-diehard fans add to the frustration, fans that see the musician in question as infallible. Hm, or maybe I'm just jealous but let's finish up this album review before another 35 tangents launch themselves.
"Across ths Antheap": OK, interesting. "Hold Me My Daddy": fair. "Pink Thing": Patridge sings about his penis. "Miniature Sun": still like this one. "Chalkhills and Children": no opinion. There, done.
Review by Ray Davis, Cat Burglar