Sunday, June 19, 2016

Oranges and Lemons Say the Bells of St. Clements

"Welcome to the garden of earthly delights,/ Welcome to a billion Arabian nights." This indeed is Oranges and Lemons: Oriental tales told in a psychedelic occidental way. Bright, upbeat melodies adorned by splendid saxophone honking and disjointed instrumentation spark a different kind of XTC LP (particularly on "Cynical Days", a sad song about growing old: "My faith in human nature's getting pretty thin./ Help me get through these cynical days,/ Help me get through my cynical ways./ You say it's just a passing phase"). There are angry political pamphlets: "Here comes president Kill again/ Surrounded by all of his killing men/ Telling us who, why, where and when/ President Kill wants killing again," and of course (it's XTC after all), there is the loving ("All around the world every boy and every girl need the loving./ The humble and the great even those we think we hate need the loving"). That's right, there should indeed be more lovers than politicians.

Taking the title from the opening line of Skylarking's "Ballet for a Rainy Day" (and of course from the British Nursery Rhyme), Oranges and Lemons combines XTC's power-pop with their psychedelic alter egos, The Dukes of Stratosphear (don’t walk, btw, rush to get Chips From the Chocolate Fireball, the best psychedelic compilation since The Rolling Stones' Flowers), clearly evident from the opener with its Indian raga motif, and follow-up "The Mayor of Simpleton," a clever re-write of Sam Cooke’s "Wonderful World." 

Of course, the best tracks on Oranges and Lemons deal with social issues.  Andy's "Poor Skeleton Steps Out" and "Scarecrow People" are pointed barbs aimed at the insensitive. Colin Moulding's "King for a Day" and "One of the Millions" are ear-candy melodies wrapped in lyrics that lament selfishness and the mob mentality. That's not to say that the boys don't take time out for fun and games. "The Loving," about how wonderful this green Earth would be if there was enough love to go around, is one of those songs that is just this side of being too cute for its own good, yet it works in an innocent way. "Pink Thing" is either a song about Partridge's newborn (as he claims) or about his penis (as every one else believes). Yet despite the puerile lyrics, it works in a demented way.  Maybe it's best to think of the track as the Mayor of Simpleton singing about his junk. Indeed, "Pink Thing" is what it is, a piece of bubblegum pop with absolutely no pretensions beyond that. It's a one joke pony, incredibly juvenile, but it's gloriously daft, never once takes itself seriously.

The album closes with two tracks from Andy. "Miniature Sun" reminds one of past abstract, melodically jarring songs like "Me And The Wind" and "You're The Wish You Are I Had," and shows the poetic prowess that sets Partridge over and above the pop tune-smith and into the realm of poet in the Shelley/Byron ilk. "Chalkhills and Children" is a floaty, dreamlike song that questions the validity of fame, all with the production creativity of Brian Wilson circa Pet Sounds. (Yep, pretty high praise for Andy.) My wife abhors XTC as silly. I don't know, "Miniature Sun" silly?

Don't come too close, Ill burn your arm
I'll bleach your hair, dust bowl your farm
I'll blind your eyes, you blinded mine
I'll spin with rage, all summertime
You made a miniature sun
Just take a look up in the night sky, I'm not the only one

I'm not the same now
I'm not that vain little boy that I was
I'm all to blame now
Look out below here I come

Man crashing down like a miniature sun
Man crashing down like a miniature sun
Man crashing down like a miniature sun
Man crashing down like a miniature sun