It’s been seven long years since British pop meisters XTC have graced us with a dose of their sublime art. The long wait after Nonsuch was the result of the band striking against their former employers, Virgin, in an effort to extricate themselves from a less than favorable contract. Well judging by Apple Venus Volume 1, it was more than worth the wait. Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding used their time off well, lavishing extra care and attention on this set of tunes that rank among the best music they have ever produced.
Dubbed “orchustic” for the almost total reliance on orchestral and acoustic instrumentation, the record begins slow and organically with a solitary violin plucking before spiraling into a melange of syncopated horns and multi-tracked voices on “River Of Orchids.” It is similar in spirit, but not sound, to the opening of Das Rheingold. It’s not many pop bands you could liken to Wagner, but then it’s also not many pop bands that claim show music like My Fair Lady to be of equal influence on them as the Beatles.
Settling down for the McCartney-esque acoustic love song “I’d Like That,” XTC keeps the off-kilter rhythms going, while moving onto the lush, trumpet-ornamented “Easter Theatre,” that positively reeks of the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home” on the chorus. I could go on forever about Apple Venus, but the long and the short of it is that this record is a shoo-in for one of 1999’s best records, and XTC isn’t even finished this year, promising a rockier, electric Apple Venus Volume 2 later in the year.
Meanwhile, if you need a bigger XTC fix, Transistor Blast is an irresistible treat that collects 52 live tracks from 1977-1989 on four CDs. These live performances, many from the vaults of the BBC, show a band at the top of their game, before Andy Partridge’s legendary stage fright drove XTC to become the brilliant studio gods they are now.