Top 10 Albums – Album 7

I’m dispensing with the lengthy explanation from the previous 5 posts. By now, it is clear that I’m revealing 10 albums in as many days that I would take with me to a deserted island. I’m bringing albums that evoke memories from different times of my life, so the order of the reveal is chronological and not by ranking. I’m also seeking to capture a range of musical styles so I don’t get too bored there…

Album 7: XTC, Apple Venus Volume 1

This one was tough. Looking at my favorite albums from the mid to late ’90s, there were several to choose from. I narrowed my list to these: Grant Lee Buffalo Mighty Joe Moon, Son Volt Trace, Counting Crows Recovering the Satellites, Radiohead OK Computer, and XTC Apple Venus Volume 1. These are some great albums, each with their own place in my heart, but I’m going with XTC. At least today.

I first learned about XTC in the late ’80s from music videos on MTV’s 120 Minutes, a non-primetime show dedicated to introducing fans to alternative music prior to the digital media streaming era. XTC had several earlier albums, but my initiation began with Oranges and Lemons. Several years later it was Nonsuch. But it was Apple Venus Volume 1 that captivated me upon its release in 1999 and so continues to this day.

The album consists mostly of keyboard and acoustic instruments from band members and orchestral arrangements from a 40-piece symphony. There is very little percussion, so this music is quite different from the others I’m choosing. Lead singer and writer, Andy Partridge, explores pagan, nature-inspired themes with an undercurrent of both longing and liberation to create songs that are both whimsical and introspective, inspiring and unsettling.

I’ve tried over the years to expose my music-loving friends to this album, but I’m not aware of any taking much interest. No one seems to hear what I hear. One of them, Tony, is a fan of XTC, but I believe he prefers more their older albums like Skylarking. The problem, I think, is sampling individual songs. Heard out of the context of the album, the songs are perhaps too subtle to grab the attention of naive listeners. But, heard start to finish, there is something beautiful and compelling about what Partridge and company created on what was to be their final studio work (a subsequent album, Wasp Star, was recorded at the same time).

I play this album frequently in my car, and I think my kids actually like it. There are some unusual, funky sounds on Apple Venus. Is that a bouncing ping-pong ball at the end of “I’d Like That”? Is that an electric guitar popped acoustically in “Green Man”? And then there is the mischievous thrill of hearing Partridge spell the F-bomb in “Your Dictionary.” Maybe the kids are just patronizing their dad. Either way, I know they’ll always think of me in the unlikely case that they hear one of these songs outside of my presence.

I can’t believe I’m leaving those other albums, particularly OK Computer, at home. I’m hoping this island isn’t too deserted and someone else brings some of them. Apple Venus Volume 1 is in the bag.

From “Easter Theater” (you’ll surely pick up on the paganism vs Christianity theme):

Odin mounts the tree
Bleeds for you and me
Splashing on the lamb
Gamboling with spring’s step
Buds will laugh and burst
Racing to be first
Turning all the soil
As the promptress’ fingers through her spinning script

Stage left
(Enter Easter and she’s dressed in yellow yolk)
Stage right
(Now the son has died, the father can be born)
Stand up
(If we’d all breathe in and blow away the smoke)
New life
(We’d applaud a new life)
Easter in her bonnet
Easter in her hair
Easter are the ribbons
She tied everywhere

 

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