"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."
Although Wasp Star is quite upbeat, there are a few miserable songs on it as well, none more so than "Boarded Up," where Colin almost sounds like he's crying in his pint about the sad state of nightlife in Swindon.
"Swindon? It's pretty awful," agrees Partridge. "It's a town that doesn't like the arts. It's rather violent. There's actually a blacklist of entertainers, comedians and bands that just refuse to come here because they never get a decent reception. It's got this kind of depressing non-aura. I'd like to escape, but I have to say that it has affected my songwriting, sort of for the positive. But it's a pretty shitty place."
Much of the press for Apple Venus 1 concerned itself with the demise of Partridge's marriage, a tale preserved for posterity on such burnt offerings as "I Can't Own Her" and especially "Your Dictionary," where he literally spells out the vitriol for you.
"People were ringing radio stations to see could we spell F-U-C-K and S-H-I-T if we don't say it -- some stations said they couldn't play it, some did. I don't know where the law stands on that. I had to be cajoled into recording it. Because I did feel upset and I did want to write a nasty song because of the situation," he says. "And finishing the demo pretty quickly got that out of my system. By the time we got to record it three years later, given a bit of hindsight, it seems a bit petulant. Like stamping your foot."
Partridge's only bitter pill on Wasp Star is "Wounded Horse," delivered in a drunken-sailor slur and about as close to the blues idiom as XTC is ever likely to get. He agonizes over lyrics, partly because he doesn't want to give too much or too little away, or come off like Kathie Lee Gifford, using her matrimonial problems as a perverse marketing strategy. Or worse, Phil Collins, whose confessional album, Face Value, Partridge wickedly dubbed Songs for Swinging Divorcees.
"Can you think of anything more boringly adult with a lower-case "a'? I hate that sort of thing. But," he adds, "it is a great topic because it hurts so much. I think good music is made from extreme joy and extreme pain. They're great stimulants for writing. It's just the way you do it. You can write about a marriage going wrong and it just sounds really fucking tacky! Or you can write about it and it sounds kind of noble and honest and perhaps a little painful to see it, too. But as long as it's not chicken-in-a-basket, cabaret-circuit sort of stuff."
Certainly, a single as joyous as "Stupidly Happy" is far removed from the thematic darkness of the material that emerged in the wake of Partridge's matrimonial woes. It rolls on open E tuning throughout like a delirious Keith Richards with his needle stuck in the groove. Like other one-chord Partridge sonatas, "Travels in Nihilon" and "River of Orchids," it's one of those songs that will either delight you no end or terribly annoy you, depending on the severity of your mood. Fans of old XTC will certainly find their pleasure in "Playground," the opening track, which rings in with "Tower of London" authority and has what sounds like Bananarama singing back-up vocals.