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Apple Venus Volume 1

music reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: Apple Venus Volume 1

Artist: XTC
Genre: Rock/Pop
Release Date: February 1999

Review by LarryG
2 stars out of 4

Because of record company problems, it's been seven years since Nonsuch, the last XTC record. The release of Apple Venus is good news for longtime fans. The intelligent, very English lyrics and comforting, layered music will be comforting to those familiar with the oeuvre. But unlike 1989's Orange and Lemons, with its great, accessible single Mayor of Simpleton, Apple Venus is unlikely to win XTC many new fans. Apple Venus has a great single, I'd Like That. Accompanied mostly by an acoustic guitar doing a modified Bo Diddley riff, I'd Like That has a buoyant mood. The lyrics, about wanting to share simple moments with a loved one, bicycling, getting caught in the rain and sitting by the fire jokingly comparing themselves to famous couples of the past, are similarly uplifting. In the idyllic pastoral setting, the best "really high thing" Andy Partridge can think of is a sunflower. Alas, the rest of Apple Venus doesn't have the energy of I'd Like That. Much of the record is reminiscent of XTC's best album Skylarking, their brilliant evocation of spring. But while both records are subdued and often beautiful and avoid the big electric guitars and drums of a standard rock record, Apple Venus doesn't have the inventive production Todd Rundgren brought to Skylarking or that record's sunny personality or sweeping coherence.

Apple Venus is a subdued affair. Partridge's lyrics are picturesque and evocative and the music is very soothing but it rarely grabs you. The main reason for the quiet mood is that Partridge is sad about a number of things. He focuses on a couple of themes throughout. On River of Orchids, over overly cute strings, he urges us to "push our car off the road" The idea of flowers overgrowing our over industrialized world was explored with more spirit and humor by Talking Heads on Nothing But Flowers. The record closes with the starkly beautiful, The Last Balloon, where Partridge frighteningly decideds that the world has become so violent and materialistic that it's time to depart. On the lush I Can't Own Her, Partridge sadly resigns himself to the fact that he can't have the one he loves.  Partridge is far less appealing on Your Dictionary his unrelenting account of the specific ways his lover was untrue to him. Even on that basically unlikeable song, Partridge's musical skills come through in a nice Beach Boys-like coda. Easter Theatre and Harvest Festival are nice tales of undramatic rural scenes. Like much of their work over the years, Easter Theatre brings to mind mid to late period Beatles. As on much of Apple Venus, it's a little too heavy with the strings.

The moving Harvest Festival, based around Dave Gregory's keyboards and Partridge's touching remembrance of "the longing look you gave me", is one of the best songs on Apple Venus,  building in vivid beauty. The slight but charming Greenman is reminiscent of a lot of earlier XTC like Garden of Earthly Delights. Partridge's songs are excellent if a little unexciting. The songs of his partner Colin Moulding are just plain awful. He draws attention to how insubstantial his songs are by calling a song about hanging out at the pub, Frivolous Tonight. Fruit Nut is an irritatingly perky song about the joys of tending a garden. In all, Apple Venus isn't XTC's best but fans will appreciate fine new music from Andy Partridge.

Here's what others reviewers have to say:

"...XTC sound fresh and unwired....They know that backtracking usually sounds dubious."  8 (out of 10)  Spin 4/99, pp.162-164

" effortlessly pleasurable the work is as a whole....the two of them seems to be united here as never before..." MOJO 3/99, p.86

"...The gorgeous yet vaguely unsettling arrangements are well suited to the exquisitely flawed humanism of Andy Partridge's and Colin Moulding's composititions, lending an appropriately uneasy edge to [these] bittersweet tunes..."   Rating: A Entertainment Weekly 3/5/99, pp.66-67



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