Monday, March 16, 2009

The Dukes of Stratosphear - reissues

The Dukes of Stratosphear
25 O’Clock
Psonic Psunspot
Ape House

As is well documented by now, 80s psychedelic revivalists the Dukes of Stratosphear were XTC in disguise. Considering the huge influence the music explored by this side project would have on XTC opuses like Skylarking and Oranges & Lemons it’s pretty freakin’ obvious, but at the time the band denied having anything to do with the Dukes and the main band sounded little like them. Now XTC is proud to claim them, as evidenced by these remastered reissues on leader Andy Partridge’s label.

25 O’Clock borders on fetishism, with an almost ridiculous loyalty to the sounds of 1967. Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd is the overriding influence, particularly on Bike Ride to the Moon and Your Gold Dress, but the title track is an obvious rewrite of I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night. The songwriting acumen of Sir John Johns (AKA Partridge) and the Red Curtain (AKA Colin Moulding) puts this relentlessly entertaining record several steps above the folks riding the train of Nuggets-worship, but 25 O’Clock could be in the dictionary under the word “pastiche.” This edition contains demos for most of the tracks, which well illustrate the evolution undergone by the production. There are also some strong unreleased tunes, including Susan Revolving, a nice Moulding acid folk ditty, The Toy Clockwork Train and Open a Can of Human Beans, which would easily slot into Oranges & Lemons, and the deliriously and deliberately overstuffed Black Jewelled Serpent of Sound.

Psonic Psunspot, which came out between Skylarking and Oranges, worries less about the fine details and more about good songs, which makes it sound more like a contemporaneous XTC album than a 60s-besotted side project. While the band certainly indulges its flower-power fetish here, these tracks come off as more inline with the so-called Paisley Underground, updating 60s melodies and production sounds to (then) modern times. Filtered through the tunesmithing/arranging genius of the main band, the Beatles, Syd Barrett, the Byrds and the Left Banke sound like influences instead of sources. Thus great tracks like Collideascope, Braniac’s Daughter, You’re My Drug, Little Lighthouse and Vanishing Girl pay homage to the 60s without ripping them off. This also helps more deliberate tributes like You’re a Good Man Albert Brown (Curse You Red Barrel), which tips a hat to Paul McCartney’s surrealist side, and Pale and Precious, an obvious nod to Brian Wilson’s Smile-era work, sound fresh instead of microwaved. Psonic Psunspot is as good as any better-known 80s psych classic you’d care to name. This edition includes a scoop of stripped-down demos, including No One at Home, which is Vanishing Girl with different lyrics.

- Michael Toland
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