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XTC

Andy Partridge is a cyclical creature. Anyone who has followed the fortunes and foibles of XTC over the years will tell you that Partridge routinely follows periods of pastoral bliss with energetic rock explorations. So it is with the double-themed sword of Apple Venus (Vol. 1) and Wasp Star (Apple Venus Vol. 2). The first Apple Venus was steeped in melancholy and hushed velvet tones, a slightly odd direction to take with the band's first release in nearly eight years. But given that much of the disc's direction took its cue from Partridge's marital and professional strife during that forced sabbatical, the dreary spin on Apple Venus was appropriate and therapeutically necessary.

Wasp Star was actually intended to come out as a bookend piece a mere nine months after Apple Venus Vol. 1. That strategy was replaced by releasing the Apple Venus demos late last year, a slavish fan acquisition at best, as Partridge's demos are already finished pieces of music. For fans of propulsive and effusive XTC pop, all of this dour Apple Venus polishing was just measuring time until the release of Wasp Star. From the angular guitar phrases that jump-start "Playground" to the giddy offbeat rhythms that inhabit "Stupidly Happy" to the stratospheric "You and the Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful," it's clear that the tone of this album is determined by the beginning of Partridge's new relationship, just as Apple Venus chronicled the end of his marriage.

Some of the tracks have been around for a while. "I'm the Man Who Murdered Love" didn't make the cut on 1992's Nonsuch, and "My Brown Guitar" was originally submitted to They Might be Giants' Hello Recording Club. Veteran sidekick Colin Moulding makes a great showing here, as he gets the opportunity to kick in the stall a bit. His three compositions, the gorgeous Beatlesque "In Another Life," the quietly syncopated "Boarded Up," and the appealingly goofy "Standing in For Joe," are classic Moulding contributions, shining appropriately in Partridge's shadow. After nearly 25 years of edgy emotional pop, Partridge and Moulding show few visible signs of wear, and Wasp Star is the amazing proof of the duo's enduring creative legacy.

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