XTC: Oranges & Lemons

The new wavers’ sprawling magnum opus.

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Weller, Costello, Talking Heads; by the late 80s a fair chunk of the new wavers were couching their biting political satires in the slick production of the age, jazz and world music. Swindon jerk-poppers XTC were no exception, as singer Andy Partridge’s crippling stage fright had turned them into a studio band around the time of their biggest hit Senses Working Overtime in 1982.

Come their eleventh and most celebrated album Oranges & Lemons in ’89 they’d developed a broad soundboard on which to deposit Partridge and co-writer Colin Moulding’s musings on dumb regionalism (Scarecrow People, ‘all dead from the neck up’), the endless stream of psychopathic politicians (Here Comes President Kill Again) and insect metaphors for our worker drone society (Across This Antheap).

Multi-tracked to a psychedelic degree, Oranges & Lemons was something of a sonic smorgasbord. Warped Arabian sounds blossomed in Garden Of Earthly Delights, cranky art jazz dictated the skewed directions of Miniature Sun and Across This Antheap and the final Chalkhills And Children was swathed in Pet Sounds mistiness.

The Graceland effect had struck XTC too, as both Poor Skeleton Steps Out and Hold Me My Daddy embraced African chants and Afrobeat rhythms, but the more contemporary rush of mandolin REM pop also emerged in One Of The Millions.

Over an hour this all hung together loosely and often felt disjointed; Partridge was at his focused best when adding regal brass and military beats to his political songs, or indulging in idealistic, sparkle-eyed pop romance on The Loving, The Mayor Of Simpleton and Pink Thing, which may well have been a conversation with his own penis – ‘don’t you think it’s time for you to meet some female, pink thing?Oranges & Lemons: a cultish cocktail.

Mark Beaumont

Mark Beaumont is a music journalist with almost three decades' experience writing for publications including Classic Rock, NME, The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Times, Uncut and Melody Maker. He has written major biographies on Muse, Jay-Z, The Killers, Kanye West and Bon Iver and his debut novel [6666666666] is available on Kindle.