Dukes of Stratosphear 25 O'Clock / Psonic Psunspot - XTC Album Review
This is a welcome pair of re-issues of two pseudo-psychedelic offerings from XTC when they were at a loose end trying to bridge the gap between selling their own records and being 'politely asked to leave' by an artist that lead guru Andy Partridge was about to start producing back in the mid-80s. Mary Margaret O'Hara (that very artist) did them a huge favour in the end...
To XTCs frustration, both of these great albums outsold their preceding and subsequent albums by 3 to 1. Incredibly though the band were still not tempted to return to the live circuit with such an obviously theatrical pastiche as represented on these offerings and the laughs that they all had making them. These are good-time songs and should be taken with a very large cup of sympathetically ironic salt. So don your purple glass beads, dust off your floppy flower hat and spark up a patchouli incense stick – it's time to 'dance through the mirror'.
Both albums have been repackaged with new hard-back covers, stuffed with unheard demos and rarities and accompanied with the immortal wisdom and wit of the creators. The care and attention is there for all to see – if only all reissues looked this good. So does the actual music stand up in 2009? Of course it bloody does...
"25 O'Clock" starts with one of many homages to 60's/70's psychedelia....a ticking clock a la "Time" by Pink Floyd. Then it's straight into Mellotron Avenue for the title track. The Floyd get a further dusting off on "Bike Ride To The Moon" and the Stones have their customary drum-shuffle utilized on the kaftan klub anthem, "My Love Explodes". Plagiarism? Whatever.....it's a record made for fun for Heaven's sake. Once again, bassist/song-writer Colin Moulding (oops I mean, Red Curtain) comes up trumps with a beautifully plaintive effort, "What In The World", scoring a direct hit on The Beatles, Manfred Mann and everyone else it seems although you have to remember that this is XTC having a larf. The lyrics across this album are smile-raising – "2034/Women Fight The Wars/Men Are Too Bored/They're Scrubbing Floors/What In The World?"....everything in the Dukes' world is topsy-turvy. The demos show how these songs sounded before being carted off to an age of hippies and peace logos and sound like rehearsals from the 80's but they offer up a tantalizing glimpse of the creation process. "Open A Can Of Human Beans" is an unheard song and well worth its inclusion.
Of the two, "Psonic Psunspot" probably didn't get the plaudits it deserved simply because the press assumed it was a joke too far. Thing is XTC can't stop making incredible records so why stop at just the one bundle of gags? I think this album is a better realisation of the psychedelic vision flying around the Partridge cranium and so it was back to the studio for another session but this time in the depths of Cornwall and a pile of Brian Wilson cakes to trip on along with other surfing and Woodstock-flavoured ideas. Opening pop scamp, "Vanishing Girl" sounds all Hollies and The Ivy League but the remaining songs especially "Pale And Precious" and "You're My Drug" evoke slices of US pastiche with The Beach Boys, Ravi Shankar and West Coast Pop all being given the Wiltshire wizard's nod of respect. The album is segued together with some gobbledegook speech by the daughter of the studio owners in an obvious display of respect to the Small Faces (she was paid £5 and a bag of sweets to do it – cheaper than a few grand for Derick Guyler according to the sleeve notes!) and features a few hard-to-spot samples from irksome ITV comedy "Nearest And Dearest" and lots and lots of fun. You would have to have a heart of mud not to nod your neck to "Little Lighthouse" which so should have been a single. Again the extra tracks are simple demos from the sessions although there are no new songs to speak of.
I know people who are fans of real psychedelic and art-folk from the original era who have heard these albums, bought them and rated them as the equal of their intended time-zone's usual creative suspects (Floyd, Wilson, Hollies, Chocolate Watch, Prunes etc)...Praise indeed. And to quote the Dukes themselves, 'it's Time To Drown Yourself In Soundgasm'.
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