Wasp Star: Apple Venus, Volume 2
First Appeared at The Music Box, July 2000, Volume 7, #7
Written by John Metzger
Wasp Star is only XTC's third release of new material since their 1989 gem Oranges & Lemons. After recording the mediocre Nonsuch, the band went on "strike," refusing to record any further music for Virgin Records. This might have been the end of the road for most bands, but this was not so with XTC. After all, they managed to defy logic and industry standards throughout their career, growing in stature and winning fans despite a refusal to tour.
Last year, XTC finally made their move to a new label and released Apple Venus, Volume 1, the group's first album in seven years. The battle with their label, unfortunately, resulted in one casualty — the loss of guitarist Dave Gregory. Despite this, his absence was hardly felt on the disc, which featured Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding bathing their pleasant pop melodies in majestic orchestral arrangements.
XTC's latest release Wasp Star is sub-titled as the second volume in the Apple Venus collection. Though it continues some of the lyrical themes explored in the first set — most notably those contained in Partridge's biting Dictionary — musically speaking Wasp Star harkens back to classic mid-to-late '80s XTC. Like Nonesuch and Oranges & Lemons, the band folds in a healthy dose of their alter-egos the Dukes of Stratosphear to create a modern rock blend of The Beach Boys and The Beatles.
The songs on Wasp Star follow a complete arc that explores a relationship from its beginnings to its demise and back again — no doubt following the outline of Partridge's own love life. On the opening track Playground, he introduces the overriding storyline for the album while also theorizing that relationship patterns and interactions are established early in life. Stupidly Happy glows in its simple joyous groove of newfound love; Wounded Horse chronicles the emotional pain one feels when a loved one goes astray; and The Wheel and the Maypole completes the arc as the singer comes to grips with his loss and begins the cycle once again.
Moulding's songs also seem carefully placed to keep the storyline moving down its path. Standing in for Joe — a song about a friendship betrayed — sets up Wounded Horse perfectly. Likewise Boarded Up, which actually deals with the economic demise of Moulding's home town, could also be taken as a metaphor for a breakdown in communication. As such, it makes a great lead-in to I'm the Man Who Murdered Love, on which Partridge paints himself as the martyr and salvation who saves the world from his own fate by slaying Cupid.
There's no question that Apple Venus Volume 1 was a fine album, and fans can only hope that XTC will begin exploring ways to merge their newfound orchestral and acoustic sides with their classic pop sound. However, Wasp Star finds the band returning to more familiar ground and adding yet another fine album to their outstanding catalog.
Of Further Interest...
Wasp Star: Apple Venus Volume 2 is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2000 The Music Box