Oranges & Lemons
Geffen Records, 1989
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/18/1997
The fact that certain bands bust their chops for so long and receive no attention from radio or the record-buying public is a sin. The fact that other bands, despite putting out serious work their whole careers, will always be remembered for one oddball hit, is an even bigger tragedy. Had it not been for the surprise hit of the atheist-themed "Dear God," British alterna-pop band XTC probably wouldn't have gotten a second look from many people.
Well, I, for one, am fed up at the fact that Andy Partridge and crew have been all but ignored in this country, and it's time for this to change. One listen to their 1989 album Oranges & Lemons convinced me that this was a group worth checking out further - and if you splurge and drop $6 for the bargain-priced CD, you'll discover the same thing.
Having ceased touring earlier in the decade due to a sudden case of stage fright for lead singer/guitarist Partridge, XTC has turned their attention to writing solid pop songs and executing them in the studio with pinpoint precision. The opening weirdness of "Garden Of Earthly Delights" is a welcome to their world, and a warning that you are playing by their rules now.
The second song on this album makes it worthwhile on its own. "The Mayor Of Simpleton" is a catchy bass-driven riff that has Partridge seemingly playing Forrest Gump in a song to his beloved - and showing that despite his lack of book smarts, he knows what love is. For just over three minutes, XTC grabs you by both the heart strings and the eardrums and fascinates you.
The next single, "King For A Day," is a decent enough song, but I have been spoiled by the remixes on the CD single (which was my first taste of XTC, having bought it under the false pretenses that I had found a rare item for some stupid reaspn). Compared to the single, this version loses some of its power due to its brevity. Of course, had I first bought the album, I'd probably think this was the ultimate version and the remixes were weak. To each their own.
Whether it's the jangly wonder-pop they know so well ("The Loving," "Merely A Man") or samba-like rhythms that get you grooving ("Poor Skeleton Steps Out," "Hold Me My Daddy") to even a jazz feel ("Miniature Sun"), XTC covers the musical bases and cuts through the nuances quite well. With bandmates Colin Moulding and Dave Gregory, Partridge has assembled one hell of a power-trio.
But whenever you try to cram perfection onto a double-album, there are sure to be one or two clunkers along the road. I have never been able to get into the track "Here Comes President Kill Again," and "Pink Thing" is too bizarre, even for my tastes. However, the last time I listened to this album (which was just an hour ago), I found that I was liking the second record more than I had in previous listens.
Wrapping up this whole album so neatly is the mystique of Andy Partridge. One minute he's singing about happy subjects (The Mayor Of Simpleton"), the next minute he's cursing the human race of which he is a part ("Scarecrow People"). If I were ever lucky enough to meet and interview Partridge (if anyone is reading at Geffen Records, take the hint), I would want to find out about this songwriter's duality he has.
Biased? Of course I am - the very first song I played when I started in radio in college was "The Mayor Of Simpleton" - and I damn near wore out the station's vinyl copy of Oranges & Lemons. It's not often that I become so emotionally attached to an album, but this one does hold a special place of honor in the Pierce Memorial Archives (just a short drive from Pier 86).
In a way, I'm kind of shocked that this disc is so cheap now - as is a good portion on XTC's Geffen catalog. But hey, if a lower price is going to get people interested in picking up quality work, so be it. Such is the case with Oranges & Lemons - something so good can't be ignored forever.