Excellent! After some questionable choices from the internet random number thing-a-ma-bob, I’ve been given an album I know I will enjoy: XTC’s Apple Venus Volume 1. Let’s see how well this my eardrums can be tickled with a fresh listen.
A little history behind this album: XTC (Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, Dave Gregory) was unhappy with their Virgin Records contract and went “on strike” after their 1992 album Nonsuch. Finally being released in 1998, they began work on a double-album to be released on their own label (Idea Records). One disc would consist of acoustic and orchestral material and the second, tradition electric rock/pop songs. But budget constraints meant they had to scale back the project and release these discs one at a time. Apple Venus Volume 1 would have been “Record One”.
Sadly, this was also to be the record where long time guitarist and contributor Dave Gregory left, upset over the album focusing less on guitars (meaning less royalities for him). His input is still present on some tracks and as such he’s still credited, albeit as a session musician .
Apple Venus Volume 1 is a deceptive little album. The entire first side starts off downright joyous – from the sounds of water drops and playful strings in “River of Orchards” to the planning of the perfect day in “I’d Like That”. “Easter Theatre” is the quintessential spring day even as “Knights in Shining Karma” foretells trouble ahead over on side two. Wrapping up what I call the ‘happy side’ is “Frivolous Tonight”, a song that sounds like a polished pub ditty, invokes a care free but foolish existence.
Side 2 starts off with “Greenman”, a boombastic celebration song that sounds almost unsettling ritualistic. Almost immediately, the listener is driven head-first into “Your Dictionary”, a song born of anger, betrayal and heart-on-the-sleeve sadness (“S-H-I-T, is that how you spell ‘me’ in your dictionary?”) “Fruit Nut” would sound like an immediate recovery from that mood nose-dive if the lyrics didn’t invoke feelings of growing restlessness and insanity.
Relationship maturity, if coupled with despair and insecurity, sets in with “I Can’t Own Her” (“I may as well wish for the moon in hand”) which segues nicely into “Harvest Festival”, a song describing that uneasy wistfulness one has reconnecting with a long lost love – at her wedding. The album closes with the absolutely melancholy “The Last Balloon” (complete with the perfectly sour trumpets) describing an attempted escape from the world in a balloon hampered by heavy feelings of guilt, remorse and regret (“We’re weighed down by our evil past, Drop us all, you should drop us all.”)
Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding really let it all spill out on the table during their hiatus with this album and as such, makes it one of the least accessible albums for newcomers. Yet, for those familiar with the band’s catalog, this is a must-listen piece of art, even if it does leave you in a darker place than when you entered.