4 1/2 stars-- a lot of great music, but limited value to old
Michael Stack | North Chelmsford, MA USA | 07/28/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"After their seven year recording hiatus designed to get them out of their contract with Virgin Records, XTC returned with a vengeance, producing two fine and very different albums-- "Apple Venus" and "Wasp Star", originally intended to be released as a double album but split for marketing concerns. Additionally, for each album, a collection of demos ("Homespun" and "Homegrown" respectively) was released. After five years, rights to the material reverted back to the band, and they chose to re-release them together as originally intended, in a boxed set with all four releases contained within.
The albums are about as different as can be-- XTC, reduced to just principle songwriter and guitarist Andy Partridge and bassist Colin Moulding with the departure of Dave Gregory (who apparently was unhappy with the direction the group was taking), produced an album of acoustic guitars and orchestral arrangements ("Apple Venus") followed by a stripped down electric rock record ("Wasp Star"). I'll consider each briefly below (I've reviewed each of the four records in detail under their individual listings).
"Apple Venus" ends up being in my assessment the better of the two-- I tend to prefer my XTC overarranged, and what they managed was not so much a rock band plus orchestra but rather an integrated and natural feel. Listening to "Homespun", I suspect this is because the orchestra concept was around from the beginning-- opener "River of Orchids", which is nearly all orchestra, appears this way on the demo as well (albeit with synths). The album proves remarkably diverse, from the apathetic "Your Dictionary" (Partridge exorcising the ghosts of his divorce), moody and contemplative ("I Can't Own Her"), near-baroque ("Knights in Shining Karma") to quirky electric faux-orchestral (Moulding's "Fruit Nut") and ends up being one of the strongest records in the band's catalog. "Homespun", while proving to be interesting, often times sounds virtually identical to the final takes and is the kind of thing only a diehard could love (on the other hand, if you're not, why would you be looking here?).
"Wasp Star" seems to suffer mostly from the missing presence of Dave Gregory-- while it's quite an enjoyable record in its own right, you can hear in a number of places where it would really have benefitted from Gregory ("The Wheel and the Maypole"). Partridge's pieces end up being primarily riff based rock, though often quite good riff based rock (sharp pop "Stupidly Happy", fractured country blues "Wounded Horse"), whereas Moulding tends towards more experimental stuff (quirky "Standing in For Joe"), but some of the material just isn't as memorable as the others ("You and the Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful") and while it's all quite listenable, it's not all the kind of stuff you'd get excited about. "Homegrown" as a demo recording ends up being in its own way more interesting than the album-- several pieces are presented in multiple demos ("I'm the Man Who Murdered Love", "Standing in For Joe") and some are dramatically different then their final album version ("Some Lovely" which became "My Brown Guitar") and this provides a superb portrait of the band's creative process.
All of this is packaged in a white box with each disc help in its own slip case and extensive liner notes by Partridge and Moulding. But if you've already got the album, there's not much in the way of value here except for the ability to download two new tracks from XTC's website with this purchase, one from each songwriter. Partridge's "Spiral" is an exciting and explosive electric rock piece, a praise of vinyl that comes off as pure ecstacy and is among the best of his compositions. Moulding's "Say It" is a lovely crooned ballad more in the form of "Apple Venus" that in my assessment is the best piece released by him since his contributions on "Oranges & Lemons".
IF you've already got the albums in here, it's kind of hard to rationalize the purchase, but if you don't, the set is lovely and the music within (including the downloads) is fantastic. It's just a shame they didn't include the instrumental versions of the albums that were recently released."
I resent this
Mr. Mack | Palm Springs | 03/11/2006
(1 out of 5 stars)
"I am a long time XTC fan but I have to say that more than perturbed that there are 2 new songs available only if you purchase this box set. I love XTC but I will not spend $57 for 2 songs no matter who it is."
Two exceptional albums, a pair of rough draft albums plus 2
Wayne Klein | My Little Blue Window, USA | 08/22/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"First the two songs included as downloads with this set "Spiral" and "Say It" are extremely good tunes. The pair wouldn't be out of place on "Wasp Star" the second album included with this set. This collects the two albums that XTC released after their protracted strike against Virgin Records. "Apple Venus" features songs embellished with orchestration and some of Andy Partridge's most challenging material. "River of Orchids", "Easter Theatre", "The Last Balloon" and "Greenman" are among Partridge's most accomplished songs. "Your Dictionary" with its nasty post-divorce lyric adds some bite to the album. Even lesser material like "I'd Like That" is charming with a solid melody. It's one of XTC's most accomplished albums even if Colin Moulding's songs aren't quite up to his best standard.
"Wasp Star" is the guitar album that the band probably should have released first. Because they didn't work on it first Dave Gregory left the band feeling as if he had no function in the band's direction. It's just a notch below "Apple Venus" but the best bits are every bit as good. From the distorted guitar that opens "Playground" to Moulding's "Standing in for Joe" the album hardly misses.
The two albums of demos sound roughly the same as their fleshed out counterparts. A couple of the demos for "Wasp Star" actually are superior to the finished versions. The rougher "Wounded Horse" for some reason sounds...more complete than the finished more polished version. "I'm The Man Who Murdered Love" is fascinating to listen to primarily because Partridge includes bits and pieces of the song in various states and the previous version is completely different sounding when compared to the finished version. Even Moulding's "Standing in for Joe" changes substanially from the initial arrangement to the final version. Unlike the Japanese import versions this doesn't include either the bonus disc with Andy and Colin playing three songs from the album explaining their evolution nor does it include the bonus demo for "It Didn't Hurt A Bit".
It does, however, include the code to download two recent XTC songs "Spiral" and "Say It". Both are very good tunes. It's a pity the only way to get both songs is to buy this set. Overall "Apple Venus" deserves 4 1/2 stars, "Wasp Star" 4 and the demo albums 3 each. "Spiral" and "Say It" likewise deserve 4 stars although "Where Did the Ordinary People Go?" from Colin (a song written for "Nonsuch" but withheld until recently)is much better than "Say It" and probably should have been included it is only available from the itunes store at present.
The artwork is nice for the box. If you didn't purchase these separately or need to replace your pair of albums this is a well priced replacement with the added incentive of some new material."
Joseph | NSW Australia | 09/27/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Why have you ignored XTC for so long? Are you in sync with the rest of the world who plays only, at best, "Senses Working Overtime" by this great band?
Apple Venus was a long time coming for us fans. Orchestral sounds stirring he soul, then AV2 with its guitar-churned rock/pop so characteristic of the great XTC. They are indeed my favourite band still currently out-putting. I could have chosen a number of their albums to review but this one is a good package that covers the Partridge/Moulding duo's repertoire well. Too bad no more Dave Gregory as guitarist...
Colin doesn't write as many as Andy but how amazing is his "Frivolous Tonight"? On par with Pet Sounds IMHO. Just enjoy the crescendo neanderthal beat of Easter Theatre turning into bliss...so many other great songs.