Chips From The Chocolate Fireball
1983’s Mummer and 1984’s The Big Express were so spectacularly unsuccessful that many people assumed that the group had split up. By 1985 XTC were at a crisis point, and recorded a cute little EP in the spirit of their psychedelic sixties influences under the pseudonym The Dukes of Stratosphear to cheer themselves up. To enter into the spirit of things Andy Partridge became Sir John Johns, Moulding became The Red Curtain, Gregory became Lord Cornelius Plum, while his brother Ian drummed as E I E I Owen. Embarrassingly 25 O’ Clock outsold XTC’s previous two albums, but it also served to revitalise them. In 1987 Partridge had written several more light hearted songs that didn’t fit into the XTC mould, so the Dukes reconvened to record the album Psonic Psunspot. Psonic Psunspot was inappropriately short for the CD era, so the Dukes’ two releases were combined onto one CD as Chips From The Chocolate Fireball.
25 O’ Clock is relatively homogenous, with obvious reference points including psychedelic era Pink Floyd and Beatles, while Psonic Psunspot takes in a broader spectrum of sixties styles with homages to The Kinks, The Byrds, The Hollies and The Beach Boys. While their material is more purposefully trivial than usual, some of XTC’s best songs are to be found here: Moulding’s sweet Hollies tribute ‘Vanishing Girl’, ‘Brainiac’s Daughter’ and ‘Pale and Precious’ are among the highlights. Some of Partridge’s vocal performances are surprisingly convincing; he does a passable Lennon on ‘Mole From The Ministry’ and a McCartney on ‘Brainiac’s Daughter’. Moulding and Partridge’s harmonies intertwine convincingly to recreate The Hollies on ‘Vanishing Girl’, although they don’t have quite enough vocal presence to fully emulate The Beach Boys on the excellent ‘Pale And Precious’.
It’s easy to see why XTC enjoyed playing together as the psychedelic The Dukes of Stratosphear, and it’s some of their best work.