XTC – Apple Venus Volume 1 is the next to be featured in our new (hopefully) regular feature of classic album reviews. Of course, as usual, what qualifies as a classic album is a matter of opinion and typically, I will highlight albums that I have listened to quite a fair bit in order to ultimately arrive at this particular specific assessment.
I must confess I was deeply disappointed the first time I listened to XTC – Apple Venus Volume 1. Maybe it was that the height of expectation was unreasonably and unrealistically high on my part? You see, XTC (by then reduced to the duo of Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding) had gone on a strike back in the 1990s after the release of Nonsuch (1992) to free themselves from their ‘unfair’ contract with Virgin Records.
Perhaps it also had something to do with the fact that opening track – “River of Orchids” – is the weakest of the album. To these ears, it sounded like the worst faux-classical pretensions of Sting! That might have coloured my assessment of the rest of XTC – Apple Venus Volume 1. Well, naturally, I have changed my mind since!
Fact is, I believe now that XTC – Apple Venus Volume 1 contains some of Andy Partridge’s strongest songwriting ever. Four examples bear out this assertion. There is “Easter Theatre” with its complex chords and orchestral arrangements, detailing the thematic thrust of much of the album i.e. ‘pagan’ beliefs of ancient England.
Very much in this vein, we have the psychedelic wonder of “Green Man”, which musically does manage to recall Partridge at his most trippy e.g. “Garden of Earthy Delights” and “Summer’s Cauldron” to name but two. Finally, the sad paean to the mother of all marriage breakdowns, “Your Dictionary” with its memorable line,
‘F-U-C-K. Is that how you spell friend in your dictionary?’
– matched only perhaps by the chilling realisation of “I Can’t Own Her”. Genius.
Elsewhere, Moulding’s contributions are deceptively slight – both “Frivolous Tonight” and “Fruit Nut” have a charming domesticity that belie their musical ingenuity. Moulding’s melodic chops as potent as ever even as his intensity is understandably declining in latter years. While not as compelling, at least Moulding gives his best to keep up with Partridge’s wild creativity.
In the final analysis, the purpose of a classic album review is not to simply describe the music. That is pointless, you can click on the links I have provided here to listen to the music yourself. What I try to do is to convey what the album means to me and how affected me mind, heart and soul. What more can I do, XTC – Apple Venus Volume 1 is essential listening. You know what to do.
… still there’s more …