"Wasp Star (Apple Venus Vol. 2)" by XTC (2000)
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Because of a lengthy contract dispute, XTC had not put out an album since 1992's Nonesuch. After sitting on their new crop of songs for several years and then realizing that the songs fit nicely into two categories, orchestral and electric, they decided to release their eleventh and twelfth albums as two separate volumes.
Both of these volumes have much to recommend them, but while Apple Venus Vol. 1 was more somber affair, it definitely had a lot better cohesion and a stronger emotional core. It sounded like a concept album, (in the tradition of their 1986's masterpiece Skylarking) and in my opinion it's a much better record.
Wasp Star, while much more up-beat, sounds like a collection of B-sides and novelty songs by comparison. I wouldn't say it's at all disappointing, if you're a devotee of this fantastic and highly underrated band, you'll love it. Wasp Star contains a lot of stuff that would have sounded at home on their earlier side-project Dukes of the Stratosphere, maybe a few notches above Oranges and Lemons but not in the same league as Nonesuch.
The opening track "Playground," which is reminiscent of great XTC singles like "Towers of London" and "Senses Working Overtime," is a "schooldays as a microcosm for life" tune that's jangle and punch belies its darker message, "You may leave school but it never leaves you." Andy Partridge (XTC's chief creative force) takes a backseat to Colin Moulding on Wasp Star--the better songs here are Moulding's. This is a first.
If I'd gone 8 years with no XTC and they would have released Wasp Star first, I dare say I'd give it a higher rating, but up against the original Apple Venus it pales. Here the worm turns in a direction I don't love as much.
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