XTC: Stupidly Happy Ever After

Andy Partridge polishes off Apple Venus' second installment, the mostly electric, totally stress-free Wasp Star

"The liner notes would say these are the greatest hits of all the bands that recorded for the Zither label, which was a make-believe label. We had all the names -- The Four Posters, The Sopwith Caramels, Anonymous Bosh, Kit and Caboodle. The best one was The Twelve Flavors of Hercules," howls Partridge. "And all of the lyrics were heavily sexual. There was a song called "Lolly (Suck It and See),' and there was another one called "Visit to the Doctor,' which was vaguely molesting. The cleanest one was called "Cherry in Your Tree,' which we eventually got to record for an American kids' album called Out of This World With Carmen Santiago. It's the same crass song with a few cleaned-up lyrics.

"So I played Virgin the demos and they just didn't get it," he recalls, semi-ruefully. "Their jaws just hung open like that scene in The Producers when people see Springtime for Hitler the first time. There was a horrible silence for what seemed like an hour. And the project didn't get done and the songs atrophied on the back burner."

One has to mourn the loss of such randy morsels as "Candy Mine," "Cave Girl" and especially "I Am the Kaiser," which Partridge happily performed on the phone without prodding, a rock 'n' roll clicking rhythm like "Yummy Yummy Yummy" sung in a crass redneck, country-and-western voice.

The two wise mwn: XTC's Partridge (left) and Moulding follow the Wasp Star
Steve Gullick
The two wise mwn: XTC's Partridge (left) and Moulding follow the Wasp Star

Instead, fans got seven long years of silence without a new XTC album. Rather than furnish Virgin with any more recorded material it would own in perpetuity, the band went on strike. During those five years of legal wrangling, Partridge and partner Colin Moulding were stockpiling songs in their respective sheds.

"There was about 42 at the last count. The first batch of stuff seemed to come out acoustic/orchestrally with a few electric things, and that sort of petered out. As I kept writing, it got more electric. So I said if we ever get to record this stuff, let's corral the best of the more acoustic orchestral stuff to one disc and the more electric stuff to another disc and put it out as Apple Venus and it would've been two discs in one box. Rather than wait for the second record to be recorded, TVT Records opted to release them separately.

"You can always pretend it's a double set and it's a year later and you just flipped up the plastic tray and found another disc in the back," he enthuses. "And that's Wasp Star, it's really the other side of the same coin."

Although spared from having to spend the rest of their lives wearing "I'm With Stupid" tee shirts bearing Richard Branson's likeness, Apple Venus Volume 1 was not without its woes. Guitarist Dave Gregory was still in the band, unhappy with what XTC had planned. Partridge isn't coy when describing the events that led to his exit from the group.

"It just got to the point where he was negative about everything. He didn't want to make an orchestral/acoustic album, he didn't want to wait and then do the electric one next time around. He wanted to tour. I think he was jealous that Colin and I wrote the songs and he never wrote any songs. And he'd just come out of a love affair with Aimee Mann 'cause she'd thrown him. He had a brief fling with her and he was too negative for her and she told him to fuck off and get a life, I think was her closing phrase.

"One day I just said, "Why don't you take a break, I've got some vocals to do, there's nothing for you to do at the moment, take a little holiday.' And he saw that as the starting pistol. That was it. He hasn't spoken to me in two years since I said that."

The remaining twosome could only afford to book the 50-piece orchestra for one day at Abbey Road studios to do all the orchestral parts, then spent three months editing it up because it was such a rush job. By that time, Apple Venus' original producer, Haydn Bendall, ran out of time and XTC was stuck with a half-finished album.

"We had to employ another engineer/producer, Nick Davis, and buy some equipment to finish it off with because we couldn't afford a conventional studio at 1,000 pounds a day. I think it cost about 190,000 pounds where we planned on it costing 90,000. Prior to that, Oranges & Lemons cost the most, nearly a quarter of a million pounds."

With Wasp Star, the band converted Moulding's double garage into a studio and saved a small fortune and a lot of headaches.

"The whole approach to making this album was really positive, the least problems we've ever had making any album. Nobody left the band, nobody threw tantrums, nobody was ill, the producer didn't leave the project or cause continuous arguments. No nuclear weapons were detonated in the making of it."

Colin Moulding contributes an even third of Wasp Star, with the more prolific Partridge carrying the balance. "If I wrote 20 songs, we might gravitate to recording 10 of them. If Colin wrote six, we might gravitate to recording three of them," he clarifies, sounding very much like a textbook math problem. "This is the first time I've ever said this, but I think out of being nice to the fellow and not trying to elbow him out, I think pro rata we record more of what he writes than more of what I write. When people say [switching into a Monty Python housewife's voice], "Why don't you let Colin have more songs on the album?' Well, he doesn't write more."

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