I swear I didn’t cheat. Yesterday, I covered XTC’s Apple Venus Volume 1. After scheduling it, I went to randomly pull a new album and landed on the same one. According to my own rules, I had to go to the next nearest album, which would be Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2).
I had been told that the reason XTC called the album Wasp Star (with the Apple Venus Volume 2 in parentheses) was to distance itself a bit from the prior album. I don’t know how true that is, but it does make a lot of sense. This is a very different album. If Volume 1 was a Greek Tragedy, Volume 2 is a Romantic Comedy. The sorrowful themes and continuity from the first album (real or perceived by me) is largely disposed, the band opting instead to offer up a Whitman’s Sampler of polished pop gems, often spending time with the ghosts of XTC album past (particularly their psychedelic-pop years).
Most of the twelve songs (spaced out nicely between two records) are charming and upbeat with catchy hooks that dragged me in and kept me listening. I didn’t make much of songs like “Playground” and “Stupidly Happy” at first until I listened to them all the way through and realized they were gearing themselves up to be earworms. I wanted to sneer at the cheesiness of songs like “In Another Life”, “I’m The Man Who Murdered Love” and “Standing In For Joe”, until I realized that I’ve been smiling and toe-tapping the entire time.
The album does visit darker territory for a few tracks. “Boarded Up”, a song describing the end of a music venue, is all just angsty accoustic guitar and echoing footsteps on an empty wood floor to fill-in for percussion. And we once again visit the theme of infidelity with “Wounded Horse”. But the difference here is that the darker songs on Volume 2 are lined with a bit of silver, particularly the closing track, “The Wheel & The Maypole” which may be XTC’s way of bowing out gracefully. (“Everything decays…And what makes me think we’re any better?”) Six years after this, their last studio album, was released, longtime contributor Colin Moulding left the band, effectively ending XTC.
It’s a pity – but at least they went out on a high note doing what they did best over the course of twenty-two years and one nervous breakdown. Is it their strongest album ever? No. And I’m still saying this isn’t the optimal ‘first album’ for new fans. But it stands quite well on it’s own and it left me smiling.
It’s just a shame Dave Gregory (who left during recording of the first album) wasn’t around. He would have liked being a part of this pleasant swan song.