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Monday, February 22, 1999 Published at 14:42 GMT

Entertainment: New Music Releases

CD Review: XTC

XTC - Apple Venus Vol 1 (Cooking Vinyl)

It's been a long time coming, but at last the waiting is over - the Partridge is back in season.

Andy Partridge, that is, who, together with co-conspirator Colin Moulding, has awoken XTC from its seven-year slumber.

During the time they've been away, thanks mainly to a five-year dispute with Virgin, the Stone Roses could have penned nearly one-and-a-half albums, while the Stereo MC's are well on the way to almost considering a follow-up to Connected.

Unlike Blondie, Led Zeppelin, Happy Mondays et al, XTC are not jumping on the reformation bandwagon - they never actually got round to splitting up in the first place.

And so, 24 years after they first got it together, 21 years after the criticially-acclaimed New Wave classic White Music, Partridge and Moulding have chosen to a show a creativity-starved nation what they are missing.

An orchestral juggernaut

Apple Venus Vol I - a second part follows later this year - is an orchestral juggernaut colliding head-on with a lorry-load of sagacious rhyming couplets and folky harmonies.

Eccentric opener River Of Orchids sets the wheels of weirdness in motion - imagine the school orchestra tuning up in your front room with Enya waving the conductor's baton and you're on the right track.

Easter Theatre, meanwhile, has an air of jolly pomposity about it and boasts a magnificent chorus which appears from nowhere and devours itself whole in anticipation of its next glorious entrance.

Off-the-wall influences

Partidge sounds more and more like a youthful Paul McCartney and the off-the-wall influences from Sgt Pepper are scattered throughout the album for all to hear.

Throw in a dash of mediaeval Eastern promise (Green Man), a pinch of Simon and Garfunkel from the wonderfully titled Knights In Shining Karma, and a couple of pub folk singers and the picture is almost complete.

Apple Venus has been described as 'Philip Glass writing pop tunes' - a fair comment, but one which fails to capture the genius of a master wordsmith at the top of his game. Not only does Partridge dare to rhyme "Harvest Festival" with "best of all", he also drily observes, "a man must have a shed to keep him sane", and: "S, H, I, that how you spell me in your dictionary?"

There may be no Senses Working Overtime, Making Plans For Nigel or Sergeant Rock here, but these days XTC are more concerned with making music for pleasure than putting a huge dent in the top 20.

The pleasure is all ours.

Chris Charles

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