It's been a very prolific period for Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding of XTC. After many years of silence, as XTC attempted to sever their relationship with Virgin Records, suddenly with in the last 18 months ago, two albums of new material have seen the light of day (plus an album of Apple Venus demos called Homespun). The duo's latest album Wasp Star: Apple Venus Volume Two contains material written back in 1993 and recorded at the same time as 1998's Apple Venus.
As Partridge explained, "Wasp Star focuses on the pop element of XTC," rather than the lush sound associated with the first volume [of Apple Venus]."
XTC has always been surrounded by uniquely XTCian controversy. Partridge's well-publicized stage fright ended the bands stage career, in part leading to the departure of the band's original drummer, Terry Chambers, in 1982.
The band scored some major radio airplay with songs like "Making Plans For Nigel" and "Senses Working Overtime," which led to interest from Geffen to release their albums in the States. But due to the "Britishness" of their material, vocals and lyrics specifically, XTC never had any commercial success in America except for the release of the controversial "Dear God" in 1987. Even with the added heat the blasphemous song created, neither Virgin nor Geffen knew how to market a quirky, eccentric pop band with highly intelligent lyrics. It similarly foreshadowed the continued inability of the industry to successfully market anything that isn't musically and vocally aimed at the lowest common denominator (U2, Radiohead and a handful of others being the big exceptions to this rule).
With the release of Wasp Star, XTC can now count 12 full-length studio albums plus two pseudo-psychedelic Dukes Of Stratosphear albums and countless singles, greatest hits and retrospective albums, bringing the XTC discography to over 65 releases. If you've heard any of those records, you'd know Partridge and Moulding have produced an enormous collection of great songs over the past 23 years since the release of the debut, White Music.
Indeed, while most of their contemporaries are on to reunion tours, XTC just keep making great music, coming up with fresh subject matter for his material. The opening track on Wasp Star, "Playground," sheds light on his new muse, his children. The song came about after Partridge ran into bully problems at school.
"['Playground'] is not a positive look at school for me. It really reflects my kids' experiences in school," explains Partridge. "When I was a kid my parents told us to run away from bullies. I told my kids to whack the bullies and stand up for themselves."
Generally Andy Partridge has difficulties with the British school system.
"Schools are really a training ground for breeding cruel adults. The lessons you learn in school solidify the basis for developing cruel adults... When I first recorded the demo for the song, I shouted out the line, 'You may leave school, but it never leaves you.' And I realized that was the essence of the song."
The albums continues more of Partridge's observations on modern life. Partridge has always been able to write material that reflects and focuses on the minutia of his personal life, and reflects on the development of British society and the world events with equal ease. In the past songs like "Living Through Another Cuba" and "This World Over" pessimistically speculate on the end of the world. The range of Partridge's subject matter continues to cover the wide range of human emotion. "Stupidly Happy" centres on the optimism of a new relationship, while "The Man Who Murdered Love" takes a humourously twisted look at the pessimism of relationships. There is a dark side to Partridge's world illustrated by "Wounded Horse" that explicitly details the shocking revelation that your former significant other is in the arms of another man.
Partridge's continued love of the homeland arises on a couple of songs on Wasp Star, most notably "You And The Clouds Are Beautiful" where Partridge proclaims that life in England is wonderful... no matter what the weather.
When asked specifically about his songwriting inspiration, Partridge admits that as time goes by, it gets tougher to come up with new material to plunder.
"The biggest concern you have as a songwriter is to not repeat yourself," Partridge admits. "The process of songwriting is an internal battle. You reveal so much of yourself in songs. With a good song, you strip away all of the barriers of self to reveal the naked structure of your soul."
On the issue of touring in the future...
"THERE AIN'T GOING TO BE ANY SO STOP ASKING!!!!"
Partridge leaves this area to the tribute bands. There are two or three out there currently.
"I met myself... well, a fatter version of myself with a hat that wasn't quite right," he recalls. "We were doing an in-store in Boston, or was it New York last year, and this fellow came up to me and introduced himself as me. He said he played in a band called The Nigels or something. And the only thing I could think of as I spoke to him was, 'You better lose some weight if you want to play me'."