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Showing posts from June, 2010

272. The Dukes of Stratosphear: Chips from the Chocolate Fireball (1987)

In my introduction to this review-every-XTC album project, I wrote about how The Dukes of Stratosphear were responsible for my XTC fandom, even before I ever heard a note of their music. It was the idea that piqued my interest and set me on the path to obsession.

That's worth a lot, but looking at the Dukes now, I find I enjoy them for what they are, a minor sidetrack in XTC's musical career. They revel in the pure joy of music-making, but only rarely rise above homage.

The Dukes appeared in two phases, first in 1985, post-Big Express, on the 25 O'Clock EP, then again in 1987, after Skylarking, on the full length Psonic Psunspot. The two albums were subsequently packaged together as the compilation you see on the right, Chips from the Chocolate Fireball. Here I'll be sharing my thoughts on all things Dukes, along with some interesting historical tidbits dug mostly out of Neville Farmer's 1998 book XTC: Song Stories.

The Dukes of Stratosphear basically came from thr…

Rock Solid: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

"If you only own one album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best.

The declared winner will be subjected to the Thriller Test (do I need to explain the name?), a set of 4 criteria an album should meet to be considered a masterpiece. Those are 1) at least 3 hits, 2) great album tracks that sh/could have been hits, 3) no filler, and 4) memorable cover art.

An artist's entire body…

271. XTC: The Big Express (1984)

After the commercial letdown of Mummer, the boys in XTC swung for the fences on The Big Express. That album title isn't incidental. The album has a BIG sound. Mummer sounded like the work of a group bound to the studio. Though XTC's no-touring stance had not (and would not) change, The Big Express sounds like a set of songs made to be played in enormous open-air arenas.

And of course this is still XTC, so the songs, for all their bluster, are still idiosyncratic and quirky.

Colin Moulding gives us an arresting opener, the single Wake Up. Lyrically it's somewhat obtuse, with two verses about the work day, a final one about the scene of an accident (supposedly a recurring dream for Colin), and a chorus that's basically the title phrase delivered from a whisper to a shout. The guitars clang, the words come at a rapid pace, and a heavenly choir wraps things up. Colin's only other song, I Remember the Sun, is quieter and less assuming. It's a collection of hazy chil…

Rock Solid: The Rolling Stones

"If you only own one album by The Rolling Stones it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best.

The declared winner will be subjected to the Thriller Test (do I need to explain the name?), a set of 4 criteria an album should meet to be considered a masterpiece. Those are 1) at least 3 hits, 2) great album tracks that sh/could have been hits, 3) no filler, and 4) memorable cover art.

An artist's entire body of work is eligible, with on…