Nathan (vovat) wrote,

You can't get the buttons these days

At one point in their long, illustrious careers, the members of XTC decided to come up with an EP of pastiches of the psychedelic rock they grew up listening to. For this, they transformed into the Dukes of Stratosphear, made up of Sir John Johns (Andy Partridge), The Red Curtain (Colin Moulding), Lord Cornelius Plum (Dave Gregory), and E.I.E.I. Owen (Dave's brother Ian, who played drums for this project). The initial result was the 25 O'Clock EP, which was later followed up by the Psonic Psunspot LP. Both are available on the same CD, which is sold under the title Chips from the Chocolate Fireball. And, really, the whole thing is awesome. There's quite a bit to like in psychedelic rock in general, from the overblown vocals to the dreamlike tunes to the lyrics reminiscent of nonsense verse. And the Dukes bring out the best of it in their own work.

25 O'Clock - When I read about this song in Song Stories, it referenced a band called the Electric Prunes (which sound like a good way to get electric diarrhea). Their song "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night," in addition to having an awesome title, really does sound a lot like this one. Obsession with time is common in psychedelia, and this particular song seems to be about someone telling the narrator that she wouldn't date him until "25 o'clock" (i.e., a sarcastic way of saying "never"), and the narrator took it literally. The meanings of these songs aren't always that significant, though, and it's the grand scope of this song, together with its opening clock sounds, that really make it awesome. They Might Be Giants covered this song for A Testimonial Dinner, the XTC tribute album.

Bike Ride to the Moon - When listing songs that inspired this psychedelic pastiche project, a few related to bicycles are some of the first to come up. There's Pink Floyd's "Bike," Tomorrow's "My White Bicycle," and probably some other ones I'm forgetting (and most likely haven't heard myself). This particular song mixes bikes with outer space, so how can it NOT be great? The song is really fun and cheerful all the way up until the downer ending.

My Love Explodes - Not one of my favorite Dukes songs, but pretty fun and catchy nonetheless. The voice sample at the end sounds kind of like Woody Allen, but is actually a guy who used to call into radio stations to complain. The particular song he was criticizing this time was a vulgar protest number called "Go Fuck Yourself with Your Atom Bomb." "My Love Explodes," of course, is much less obscene, although the title DOES refer to an orgasm.

What in the World? - Andy apparently sprung the idea for this project on the rest of the band after he'd already written most of the songs himself, which didn't give Colin much of a chance to contribute. So, for The Red Curtain's submission to the EP, they simply used a song Colin had already written and psychedelicized it. It worked out pretty well, if I say so myself.

Your Gold Dress - One of my favorites, utilizing a simple but catchy riff in the rock-oriented voices, and then becoming more lush and keyboard-driven for the chorus. It's been described as a fetish song, and I can't deny that I'm rather fond of metallic-colored dresses myself.

The Mole from the Ministry - Sort of a combination of some of the Beatles' more psychedelic contributions, especially "I Am the Walrus," but with a hint of "Strawberry Fields Forever" and a few other such songs. They really pulled out all the stops on this one, from the exaggerated accents in the verses to the fake-out ending, along with a fair number of samples. The horse and the Ben Franklin quote apparently came from a record related to the American Revolution, an interesting choice for a song inspired by the British Invasion. The weird bit at the very end is actually a bit of the aforementioned "Go Fuck Yourself with Your Atom Bomb" sped up and reversed.

And, well, that's it for the EP, which means it's time to continue on to Psonic Psunspot. These songs often didn't fit the psychedelic mold quite as strictly as the EP tracks, but they were still a lot of fun. And hey, variety is good, right?

Vanishing Girl - The Red Curtain starts things out with a Hollies pastiche, and they weren't really a psychedelic band (with the possible exception of "King Midas in Reverse"). Still, it's a very catchy song. At the end is one of the bits of nonsense narration scattered throughout the record, obviously heavily inspired by Lewis Carroll.

Have You Seen Jackie? - A tale of gender confusion with an addictive chorus. Incidentally, there's an interesting pun in the liner notes, with the line "shy and quiet, neither seen nor heard" given as "...neither scene nor herd," which adds an extra layer of meaning. Finally, I initially didn't even notice that slowed-down "she was a boy" at the end, so it kind of caught me by surprise once I caught it. I'm really not sure HOW I missed it, as it's pretty obvious, but maybe that just says something about my observational skills.

Little Lighthouse - Another song that wasn't originally conceived as a psychedelic number (I believe it was actually considered as a Skylarking track), but underwent the transition quite smoothly. I think I read somewhere that Andy wrote this song about his baby daughter, but that wouldn't explain why she's opening up her red dress.

You're a Good Man, Albert Brown (Curse You Red Barrel) - The Dukes' drinking song, well suited to singing along. The subject of the song is actually Andy's grandfather Albert Partridge and his wife Elsie (whose maiden name was Brown, which explains Albert's fictional surname). The title is a play on You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, with the alternate title referring to the line "curse you, Red Baron."

Collideascope - A cool song with lyrics written in the traditional surrealistic manner of reversing things, so that ships fall out of the sky and fishes drown in the sea. I've heard that Aimee Mann has occasionally covered this song live (even once getting Andy to overcome his stage fright enough to perform it with her), but I have yet to hear a recording of it.

You're My Drug - I believe this was a song that Andy wrote before he came up with the idea for the Dukes, but he didn't really feel its sound was suited to a regular XTC album. It's really not one of my favorites, but it definitely fits.

Shiny Cage - A Colin (or should I say "Red Curtain"?) song very heavily inspired by the Beatles' Revolver, especially "I'm Only Sleeping," but still a great song in its own right.

Brainiac's Daughter - Brainiac is a Superman villain, and there are several other references to the comics in the song, making sort of a sister piece to "That's Really Super, Supergirl." I've never been a follower of comic books, but I've heard that some writers were inspired by the song to actually give Brainiac a daughter. I'm not entirely sure whether Brainiac would be capable of fathering children, but he's apparently undergone a lot of different appearances over the years. As for the song itself, well, it's quite possibly the best on the album. I love everything about it, including the lyrics, Andy's falsetto, the ocarina solo accompanied by bubbles, and the splash produced by throwing a rock out the window.

The Affiliated - A story of a former barfly who found love, and somehow ended up with eight kids (unless the other people at the pub are exaggerating, which is certainly possible). It doesn't really fit the mood that well, nor is it an especially great song, but it's hardly bad either. The sample at the beginning is actually part of an announcement (on BBC Radio, possibly?) that Hitler had died. I've never been able to discern what the whispering girl is saying at the end, so I'd appreciate any help that you might have with that.

Pale and Precious - An obvious Beach Boys pastiche, which starts out slow and builds up to a full-on surf music arrangement. Good way to end the whole thing.

Next week, we'll take a look at my favorite regular XTC album (and possibly my favorite overall album by anyone), Skylarking.
Tags: albums, xtc

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