Monday, 14 December 2020

Essential Logic ‎– Beat Rhythm News - Waddle Ya Play ? (1979)

Style: New Wave, Post-Punk
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Rough Arletty, Rough Trade

A1.   Quality Crayon Wax OK
A2.   The Order Form
A3.   Shabby Abbott
A4.   World Friction
B1.   Wake Up
B2.   Albert
B3.   Alkaline Loaf In The Area
B4.   Collecting Dust
B5.   Popcorn Boy (Waddle Ya Do?)

Drums – Rich Tea
Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals – Mark Turner 
Guitar, Backing Vocals – Ashley Buff
Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Lead Vocals – Lora Logic
Tenor Saxophone, Backing Vocals, Cowbell – Dave Wright
Written-By – Lora Logic
Arranged By – Essential Logic
Producer – Hugh Jones, Lora Logic

Never released in America, this is a stunning record that remains a benchmark of the punk era. From the bubbling, herky-jerky rhythms of "Quality Crayon Wax OK" to the gleeful honking of "Wake Up," this is the sound of five young English musicians disassembling rock & roll and remaking it in an entirely new way. It's more than just a different way of playing music; it, like the best punk rock, fills you with the feeling of being able to change the world. An underrated record of its time, it remains criminally overlooked by critics even today (with such notable exceptions as Greil Marcus and Jon Savage), as the history of punk is finally being written.
John Dougan / AllMusic

John Foxx ‎– The Garden (1981)

Style: New Wave, Synth-pop
Format: CD. Vinyl
Label: Metal Beat, Virgin, Edsel Records 

1-01.   Europe After The Rain
1-02.   Systems Of Romance
1-03.   When I Was A Man And You Were A Woman
1-04.   Dancing Like A Gun
1-05.   Pater Noster
1-06.   Night Suit
1-07.   You Were There
1-08.   Fusion/Fission
1-09.   Walk Away
1-10.   The Garden
2-01.   Swimmer 2
2-02.   This Jungle
2-03.   Miles Away
2-04.   A Long Time
2-05.   Swimmer 1
2-06.   Fog
2-07.   Swimmer 3
2-08.   Swimmer 4
2-09.   Dance With Me (Early Version)
2-10.   A Woman On A Stairway (Early Version)
2-11.   Fusion/Fission (Early Version)
2-12.   Miles Away (Alternative Version)

Bass – Jake Durant, Jo Dworniak
Drums – Philip Roberts
Guitar – Robin Simon
Percussion – Gareth Jones
Bass, Bongos, Cymbal, Percussion, Piano, Synthesizer – Duncan Bridgeman
Programming, Guitar, Piano, Synthesizer – John Foxx

In 1981, John Foxx escaped the grey concrete of Metamatic, choosing instead towade through overgrown European gardens, drift silently through the mist of fountains and gaze at colours reflected through stained-glass windows. 
Towards the end of 1980, a new single, "Miles Away", was released – although the song did not feature on either Metamatic or The Garden, the sound and style of the track, with it's huge synths and more live parts such as drums and guitar, bridged gave an indication of the shape of things to come, bridging the gap between Foxx's first two solo albums.

The Garden is a complete contrast to Foxx's stark debut, Metamatic, offering a fuller, more organic sound. The return of Robin Simon on guitar heralded a distinctive style for this album, making it somewhat comparable to Systems of Romance – no coincidence, since The Garden features "Systems of Romance", a song originally written for the last Ultravox album, but never completed. For The Garden, Foxx settled comfortably back into the sound and style that he had forged back in 1978.

Foxx had become again obsessed with the overgrown jungles and abandoned cities of author JG Ballard's The Drowned World, and following a walking tour of England, and a time spent living in Italy, a more European flavour began to run through his music. By 1981, with new romanticism in full flow, John Foxx knew he wanted to produce a more natural and textured album – even taking it to the extreme of recording outdoors. In addition to guitar, more real bass and piano were played on The Garden, adding depth and warmth.

Architecture, fountains, swimming, overgrown gardens and churches are recurrent themes in many of the lyrics on The Garden, although tracks such as “When I Was A Man and You Were A Woman” lyrically reflect the city setting of Metamatic. The album's opening track, “Europe After the Rain” takes its name from the Max Ernst painting of the same name; an image featuring a strange organic, overgrown landscape, which nicely ties-in with the Ballard influence.

Foxx's childhood experience of singing in a church choir come into play on the vocorder-treated “Pater Noster”, and the synth-funk of “Blue Light” from Systems of Romance, is revisited for “Night Suit”, which also revisits the familiar “Quiet Men” territory. Vocally Foxx sounds liberated, with a sharper, warmer performance. A real passion is felt on tracks such as "Walk Away", "Europe After the Rain" and the haunting title track, which closes the album. Echoes of birdsong open “The Garden”, which stands out not only as the finest piece on the album, but also one of John Foxx's most emotive songs to date.

“The Garden” fades out to birdsong, which is, in retrospect, a stylistic nod in the direction of Foxx's long-running Cathedral Oceans project, which he started around the same time – although the first Cathedral Oceans album would not see the light of day until 1997.

The Garden was released in 1981, and followed the footsteps of Metamatic in the UK album and singles charts. A number of original vinyl issues of the album came with an illustrated LP-sized book called The Church. It is very a different album to its predecessor – almost like a second debut, yet musically The Garden remains equally as unique, interesting and addictive.

The 2008 remaster of The Garden comes with a mini reproduction of the Church booklet and a second disc containing a selection of tracks, many of which were previously unavailable. This includes early versions of some album tracks as well as the instrumentals “Fog” and “Swimmer 3” and “Swimmer 4” - these two pieces had previously appears on the 1983 Touch Meridians compilation album, entitled “The Quiet Man” 3 and 4 respectively. These tracks give a particularly interesting insight into the unreleased instrumental music Foxx was experimenting with at the time, some of which clearly influenced his Cathedral Oceans work.

XTC ‎– Oranges & Lemons (1989)

Style: New Wave, Pop Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Geffen Records, Virgin

01.   Garden Of Earthly Delights
02.   The Mayor Of Simpleton
03.   King For A Day
04.   Here Comes President Kill Again
05.   The Loving
06.   Poor Skeleton Steps Out
07.   One Of The Millions
08.   Scarecrow People
09.   Merely A Man
10.   Cynical Days
11.   Across This Antheap
12.   Hold Me My Daddy
13.   Pink Thing
14.   Miniature Sun
15.   Chalkhills And Children

Mastered By – Stephen Marcussen
Performer – Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, Dave Gregory
Written-By – Partridge, Moulding
Producer – Paul Fox

"I don't know how to write a big hit song", Andy Partridge sings on this album, and if there's one way to sum up the frustration that XTC must have felt throughout their whole career, that's got to be it. Frustration that neither their managers nor their producers seemed to understand what they were aiming for. Frustration that their record company went from being uninterested in them to really uninterested in them once Partridge's stage fright got the best of him. Frustration as they watched other New Wavers such as Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, The Jam, and U2 become household names while they languished in relative obscurity. The irony is that the song the line appears on, 'Mayor Of Simpleton', is about as pure a shot of Grade-A pop as you can find, a slam-dunk smash hit if there ever was one - it peaked at #46 in the UK.

Of course, they brought a lot of it on themselves. Obviously their refusal to tour was a big factor, as was their tendency to ignore any passing fads; while their first four records all fit in well with the post-punk movement, from English Settlement on they've felt like a band out of time. The band had previously been big on being able to reproduce their albums live, but now that they were no longer playing live, all sorts of crazy things were allowed to happen. In the years prior to Oranges & Lemons, the band found themselves trying hard to replicate the bands they grew up admiring - both under their assumed names as the Dukes of Stratosphear, and with the Todd Rundgren-produced Skylarking. All this ranks among the best work Moulding and Partridge ever did; maybe all they really needed was to be born 15 years earlier. It wound up breathing some life into the band financially, too - while Mummer and The Big Express tanked, Skylarking wound up being one of the most successful albums of the band's career. Partially because it spawned their most well-known song ('Dear God', originally a B-side), and partially because it's a really damn good album. But it was not really a great time for Partridge; he was going through turmoil both personally and professionally, as both his marriage and career seemed to be going down the tubes.

Oranges & Lemons is an attempt for the band to loosen themselves up; as the cover implies, they were going to be gaudish and colorful and nobody was going to stop them. After butting egos with the notoriously headstrong Todd Rundgren, the band hired Paul Fox to produce - a fan with no prior production experience. Where Skylarking was painstakingly edited and arranged, Oranges & Lemons lets everything hang out, and wound up as a double album that flies all over the map. The sort of outlandish tunes that previously wouldn't have made it past the demo stage were showcased front and center here. Needless to say, many of the fans weren't really into it; nowadays you generally hear it spoken of in terms of "Well, I like it, but..."   That's a big "but". Indeed, Oranges & Lemons is the first XTC album that gives us a lot to complain about. If only it weren't so long - sure, English Settlement is longer, but the songs there had a lot more substance. Here, they're like candy bars; the first few are enjoyable, but fifteen in a row can make you sick to your stomach. If only the production was better - Paul Fox gives everything a shiny, in-your-face gloss that gives the album too much zip, the sort of thing Rundgren would've nipped out right away. Nearly every instrument is mixed to the forefront; it's too well-arranged to be cacophonous, but there's a degree of sensory overload, especially given the band's newfound tendency to blast synthesizers in our faces. In only there weren't so many instruments. And so on.   It didn't have to be this way - there really is a great album buried somewhere in here, if you're willing to find it. Hell, if you're the kind of person who loves 'Shake You Donkey Up', this may be your favorite XTC album already. Partridge and Moulding come from a long history of overstepping their vocal boundaries, and writing lyrics to match ("I want to take you out and show you to the girls", Partridge sings on a song that is definitely about his penis) - and as 'Wounded Horse' on Wasp Star shows, they'd do this till the bitter end. But their songwriting instincts generally keep their heads above water. Indeed, the songs on Oranges & Lemons may press down hard on the irritating button, but there are good ideas lurking on most tracks. Some of this is hard to redeem - 'Here Comes President Kill Again' is a dull marching tune, Moulding sleepwalks through 'Cynical Days', and 'Miniature Sun' attempts to imitate jazz by overloading the listener with loud honking noises. But otherwise, ideas that should fail wind up working, through rich arrangements ('Garden of Earthly Delights') or undeniably hooky melodies ('Poor Skeleton Steps Out').

  So ultimately whether or not this album holds up for you depends on how much you like the band's boisterous side. While Partridge has matured a lot from the guy who barked all over 'All Along the Watchtower' on White Music, something seems to have brought those instincts back - perhaps having kids, which much of this album is a testament to lyrically. Only now he's got a horn section to play with, and a producer who doesn't seem able to tell him "no". But it's not just Partridge - Moulding gets his goofball moment on the third song, with 'King For A Day', a chirpy single with more than a passing resemblance to 'Everybody Wants To Rule the World'; exactly the sort of thing Rundgren might have a conniption about, but Fox lets it slide. As gimmicky as this album can be, there's no denying that the fun factor is through the roof. Still, Oranges & Lemons is one of those albums that works better in pieces than as a whole. It does boast some of the band's best songs; the aforementioned 'Mayor Of Simpleton' is about as good as pop music can get, and the closing 'Chalkhills And Children' realizes Partridge's lifelong dream of writing a timeless 'Good Vibrations'-type song of his own. Even if the rest of the album provokes an allergic reaction in you, it's worth keeping for 'Chalkhills' alone. I'd also rank 'One Of The Millions' as one of Moulding's best; it's jangly, has great harmonies, and is instrumentally rich - basically everything he does well at once.   Alas, Oranges & Lemons signalled the beginning of the end for the band. Even though 'Mayor Of Simpleton' made a minor dent, the other two singles ('King for a Day' and 'The Loving') didn't, and soon both Moulding and Dave Gregory found themselves working at a car rental spot to sustain themselves between royalty checks while recording their next album, 1992's Nonsuch. Nonsuch was XTC in their full-blown adult phase; recorded with veteran producer Gus Dudgeon, it's refreshingly more restrained than Oranges & Lemons was, and holds up a lot better today. Listening to it today, it feels like XTC realizing that it may be their last chance, and therefore putting everything they've got into making something timeless. But the result was business as usual for the band; heaps of critical acclaim, a few minor singles, and hardly a dent on the charts. From there they'd split with Virgin; we'd hear from them one last time with the double Apple Venus/Wasp Star which was released over a two year period, but as of now it seems doubtful that either member will want to get involved with writing new music again.

On one hand, this is a real shame; today, Apple Venus feels a hell of a lot more relevant and skillful than the sort of albums XTC’s contemporaries were making 20 years into their careers. On the other, their lack of success made it a lot easier for them to walk away once they ran out of ideas, and as it stands now, XTC’s discography is one towering, absolutely essential beast, from start to finish. For even when they massively stacked the deck against themselves on Oranges & Lemons, they still managed to create something that still endears in its own way 25 years later.
Nick Reed / The Quietus