Apple Venus Volume 1
After a seven year self-imposed exile to sever their ties with Virgin, XTC returned in 1999 on a minor label. A very generous minor label: for Apple Venus Andy Partridge is given an entire orchestra to play with. As much as I enjoy Nonsuch, Apple Venus is an even more successful album of mature XTC, bringing out some of Andy Partridge’s best ever work. The closest that Apple Venus gets to sappiness is ‘I Can’t Own Her’, which is beautiful but not a love song. Along with a nasty attack on his ex-wife in ‘Your Dictionary’ (“H A T E, is that how you spell love in your dictionary?”) and a reflection on ageing in ‘The Last Balloon’, Partridge’s major preoccupation on Apple Venus is paganism. ‘Easter Theatre’ is arguably XTC’s single finest achievement, an eyewitness account of an ancient fertility rite, with seamless integration of electric guitars and orchestral instruments. ‘Greenman’ and ‘River of Orchids’ are almost as wonderful, with Partridge voicing a vision of a green England. Colin Moulding is far less interesting here and his two relatively slight songs are low points of Apple Venus – he’d stopped writing at this point, and his songs are recycled from earlier discards. While Apple Venus isn’t fully consistent, the best songs on offer are truly stupendous, taking pop music to the limits of beauty and literacy.