Artist: XTC as The Dukes of Stratosphear

CD: "25 O'Clock" & "Psonic Psunspot"


As the whole world (and anyone with half an ear back-in-the-day) now knows The Dukes of Stratosphear were the boys from XTC having a lark and/or showing some love to the psychedelic bands they loved in their youth. Usually when a band goes "back to their roots" the results are lackluster but that's not the case with The Dukes (as illustrated on the "deluxe" reissues of "25 O'Clock" & "Psonic Psunspot").

There's a couple of theories about the works recorded as the Dukes that I just don't buy into, though.

First there's the theory that they represent a time when XTC "recharged" their batteries and turned themselves from well-read post-punks to smarty-pants pop-stars. A brief overview of the band's work shows their exploratory/adventerous/schizophrenic nature prior to this period. Hell, the band had mastered "pastoral pop" on "Mummer", which predates the "25 O'Clock" EP by two releases. And XTC's seminal masterwork "Skylarking" is sandwiched -between- the two Dukes releases.

The other point of view I don't subscribe to (but famously championed by Pitchfork Media) is that the pieces accredited to The Dukes of Stratosphear are *better* than the songs released on the XTC albums of the era because the band was freed from the pressures of writing hit and/or serious songs. Why don't I go for this? Sit down and play these two albums in the order they were released with their XTC kin: "The Big Express" to "25 O'Clock" to "Skylarking" to "Psonic Psunspot" to "Oranges & Lemons". Yes there's some damned fine songs here, but the end results aren't on par with any thing you'd hear on "Oranges & Lemons", much less "Skylarking".

But these two releases are fun, especially if you have any interest in psychedelic music in general. Music snobs hold the whole "paisley underground" of the 80s as being the secret champions of "real" music when it had been abandoned by the mainstream and punk was (allegedly) mired in violence. There is a bit of validity to this point of view... and if you find your head nodding in agreement then you either already own The Dukes of Stratosphear recordings or you should go purchase them as soon as your local music outlet next opens its doors.

For the rest of us... why should we pick up either of these two CD reissues?

Becuase, as I said, they're fun. You can hear the band having a good time doing their best at aping bands like The Hollies, The Byrds and Syd Barrett era (the) Pink (the) Floyd. In the last decade we've been presented with a goodly number of Stoner Rock bands and a whole passel of Freak Folks... perhaps it's time to return to something from the 60s that was both fun and a bit silly.

Ape House