Copyright © 1999. All Rights Reserved
by FFWD Staff
Forgotten already? Probably. Then again, thats in keeping with the pattern and maybe the plan.
For those who need a reminder and in a world where the Backstreet Boys set sales records and Ricky Martin elicits Beatles comparisons, maybe we all do XTC released its 11th studio album (not including solo projects or albums under pseudonyms) several months ago after a seven-year hiatus. Apple Venus Volume One was the latest chapter in the tale of the worlds best and most under-appreciated pop act and its release was a relief to more than just the long-suffering XTC faithful.
"Imagine having a cork banged in your creative ass for seven years," says XTCs visionary Andy Partridge. "Imagine when you get in the lavatory i.e. the studio and you can let rip. Youll have a whale of a time.
"Youre also going to be trepidatious: Whats going to come out...?"
What came out was a rich orchestral pop album reminiscent of the work found on the bands earlier albums, such as 1983s Mummer and arguably their best effort, 82s English Settlement, and the critics even the hard to please and ever fickle English press ate it up.
And then, fittingly, after the initial excitement generated by the bands return died down, alls quiet on the XTC front. Even the release two weeks ago of the demo versions of all of the songs from AV 1 on a disc titled Homespun registered nary a blip on the public consciousness, save for the ranks of devoted XTC fans. That, one would assume, suits Partridge just fine.
"I dont like this kind of celebrity There he is, go touch him, go and talk to him, go and breathe on him. I dont go in for that," Partridge says.
"Im no different from anyone.... If they were to get off their lazy asses and try writing some songs, anyone could do it."
Hardly. Not just anyone could amass such a stunning repertoire of melodious masterpieces that it and not, sadly, Ricky should seriously rival Lennon and McCartneys output. In their 25 years together, Partridge and songwriting partner Colin Moulding the only two remaining members of XTC after longtime mate Dave Gregory (or as Partridge refers to him due to Gregorys endless negativity in the end, "Dr. No") was punted/quit this year have perfected the craft of guitar pop while the world has orbited around them, intent on other musical spheres.
Only on a handful of occasions has the band achieved any notable success and those were more by accident than design. There was the notoriety of Partridges ode to the man upstairs, "Dear God," which was originally a non-album B side from the sessions for the 1986 album Skylarking. Then there was the Crash Test Dummies unimaginative rendition of the Partridge-penned "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead," which became a hit when included on the Dumb and Dumber soundtrack, when, ironically, and quite fittingly, it had recently all-but failed as a single for XTC.
But for every step forward, Partridge has, consciously or sub-consciously, guided the band back two. Be it the epic clashes with producers (especially the recording of Sylarking with Todd Rundgren "One bunker, two Hitlers," says Partridge), bandmates, or XTCs record label Virgin, from which the band finally split last year, the biggest roadblock in Andy Partridges career has always been Andy Partridge.
Since a nervous breakdown real or imagined in the early 80s, the man has even refused to allow XTC fans see a once legendary live band perform.
"Why do you need to?" Partridge asks, incredulous that anyone should still care. "Why do you need to verify that we exist? Or, what: They can do it? Yeah, they can do it."
They can they just wont. Or more specifically, he wont. However, Partridge is more than willing to accommodate, on his own terms, the thirst for more XTC music. Before the more electric Apple Venus Volume 2 is delivered sometime next year, the band is hoping Virgin willing to release seven or eight volumes of unreleased and B-side demo material from their past.
"I like the people that say, Oh Im devoted to finding the demos, I think thats rather charming. And if I like somebody I like to hear their sketches.... You can see how peoples brains work towards what theyre trying to achieve," he says.
With Homespun, the guess work is virtually removed. Presumably because the songs had been gestating since the early 90s, there isnt much variation between the early sketches and the songs that were finally released as AV1. In fact, talking to Partridge, who admits to being ultimately pleased by the final project, that relief spoken of earlier was more than a little hard to come by, and the minute differences between versions is testament to that fact.
"When we went into the studio I felt so delicate about these songs, because some of them had been in existence five years prior to that. Youd have the demo and as badly recorded or as foggy in places as the demos were, youd got used to every nuance by then. And of course you want to better it, of course you want to be more passionate and broader and just paint bigger strokes, but youve got to fight that Oh my God it doesnt sound like the demo.
"You have to make that mental jump from making a model of a yacht to making a real yacht."
Lets hope when Apple Venus Volume 2 is finally released, Partridge steers for open seas and not, as the pattern has dictated in the past, straight for the nearest iceberg.
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