Nonsuch (1992) **1/2
In which XTC's march to bland sissy-pop mediocrity continues unabated. Like Pears & Dragonfruit, it's over an hour's worth of music, but unlike Kiwis & Strawberries, there is precious little sonic variety. Instead, it's merely one tastefully arranged, acoustic guitar or piano based mid-tempo "rocker" or ballad after the other, reaching for the thematic consistency of a formerly quirky New Wave band aiming for bland alternative rock for aging menopausal 30something ex-hipsters. The music is fundamentally uninteresting. There aren't any overblown arrangements or production excesses or wild failed experiments and Andy & Colin even sing somewhat better than before (I said somewhat). It's just a collection of songs. 17 songs, in fact, and all falling into roughly the same style, I find myself....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz........
Where was I? Oh, yes, this is certainly the dullest album XTC have ever recorded. It's not as if some of it isn't alright, it's just that there's too much of it, and it's all DULL DULL DULL. Did I mention that this album was dull? Let's break it down track by track:
1) The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead - When the strongest cut on the album is entitled The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead, you're in trouble. Oh, that wacky Andy and his totally NON-OBVIOUS metaphors! IT'S NOT LIKE HE'S HITTING YOU OVER THE HEAD WITH THE SECRET SUBTEXT OF THIS SONG! Hint: it's about JESUS!
2) My Bird Performs - Colin obviously would have had no way of knowing that in Chinese, "my bird," is slang for "my penis". Nevertheless, this song has me in stitches because of that. That's the only redeeming feature of this song.
3) Dear Madam Barnum - This song is boring adult contemporary crap and you know what, screw it, it's only track #3 and I realize that no way am I going to get through analyzing all 17 of these songs one by one. That would be almost as tedious and boring for me and my dear readers as actually listening to all of these 17 songs would be. "Smartest Monkeys," is yet another PAINFULLY NON-OBVIOUS slice of social criticism performed 1,000x better when Ray Davies wrote it under the title "Apeman". "Crocodile," is another animal song and it's good. "War Dance," sadly, is not a Killing Joke cover. "Omnibus," sadly, is not a Move cover. "Bungalow," has some appealingly creepy melodics to it, at the very least, but is sadly, not a W. Somerset Maugham cover. "Books Are Burning" - who the hell does Andy Partridge think he is, Sting? Ray Bradbury? Burning books is wrong. Is that the message he's trying to get across? Hmmm, I don't know if I agree, Mr. Partridge. I'm all for book burning if it's the wrong kind of books. Like, for instance, all copies of the inside booklet containing the lyrics of this CD.
P.S. I forgot to mention "The Disappointed". That's a lovely little tune. There are actually five-ish or so decent songs on this release, in fact. But whether it's worth the bother to dig them out from underneath the other dozen, that's a good question. Are you an XTC fanatic? Yes! Are you merely a casual fan? Fuck that shit! We're drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon!