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"Singing scales that aren't inherent in the chords does something as well," he says. "It takes you to a sort of dreamlike place, or there's something that sounds out of sync, or you sound a little lost within the music."
IT MUST BE REVEALED THAT XTC ARE NO LONGER CHEEKY lads larking about with herky-jerky rhythms and nonsensical sounds-groovy words; while there's no chief concept to Apple Venus, the songs revolve around time and its passage, perhaps the relishing of life at whatever stage one finds oneself in.
"A few weeks ago," says Partridge, "Colin and I were going up to London, and we were talking in the car, and he said to me, 'Do you think we write outdoor songs or indoor songs?' And we came to the conclusion that I'm an indoor person who writes outdoor songs, and he's an outdoor person who writes indoor songs. Colin's songs take place in living rooms or sheds or kitchens or bedrooms, and my songs seem to take place on seashores and hills and fields. I think we try and make the circle complete for ourselves by writing towards the other side of the scale."
Moulding's two contributions to Apple Venus are only apparently frothy pieces that grow funnier yet more poignant with each listen. His furtive wit and shrewd observational skills are revealed in perhaps his best song ever, "Frivolous Tonight," a Mellotron- and sittingroom-piano-laced ditty concerning the joys and horrors of middle-class complacency. It is a Noel Cowardworthy gluing of yearning and contentment.
The album finds Partridge taking satisfaction in revisiting his childhood, deriving pleasure from his memories. Knowing that he has gone through a load of emotional and physical turmoil in the last few years -- divorce, a blown eardrum, financial ruin -- one should think it took enormous reserves of strength not to make an album of caustic, dark tunes. Apple Venusis a distinctly and consciously beautiful album, and a pleasing springtime companion. In stark contrast to its more florid junkets, however, is "Your Dictionary," a dirty laundry list in which he lets his ex-wife have it with a cold biliousness.
Partridge didn't want to include "Your Dictionary" on the album, but his friends talked him into it, just as they did when it came to the lavish and lovely "I Can't Own Her." "You know, you expose this soft side and people go, 'Ooh, that's nice,' and you feel tentative about it yourself, you think, Oh my god, have I lost my mind or something? Or are people gonna say, 'Ooh, he's gone all loungy, look at him'? I'm very sensitive about too much sweetness."
I'm reminded of what original XTC drummer Terry Chambers once said about Partridge: "He's as sensitive as shit. He sees a sunset and he wants to ride off into the bastard."
XTC HASN'T BEEN HEARD FROM FOR A WHILE; they went on strike against their former label, Virgin Records. "We couldn't work for them," says Partridge, "because whatever we did they'd own it, and we'd never be free, so we just had to deny our labor. We were for sale through Virgin for 19 years before we went into the black. And that's incredible."
The band has formed its own company, Idea Records, which licenses its releases on an individual basis. The arrangement has earned them a bit more clout at the bargaining table.
"In talking to record labels," says Partridge, "we found that they just gave us the same old sort of crappy deals, and then when we went back to them and said we were a record company, the deals started to get a lot more sensible. It was as if they were willing to shit on a band but not on another company. So it's a good little trick for young bands to remember: Call yourself a company and you get a lot more respectful treatment."
If you'd like to get a picture of XTC's manic power at its potent youthful best, pick up TVT's recent compilation of live and BBC-studio broadcasts called Transistor Blast. Or find a copy of the recent book XTC: Song Stories (Hyperion). Or perhaps do both.
XTC will follow up Apple Venus Vol. 1 with Vol. 2 in about six months' time. It'll be a more scaled-down and electric set, "including a couple of the most banal things I've ever written," says Partridge, "but I think they're kind of joyful, in an idiot way. We intend to orchestrate just using electric guitars. But if it gets anything like Brian May of Queen, I'm gonna start lopping hands off."