The late ’84 album, ‘The Big Express’ (UK#38/OZ#96), recovered some ground in terms of direction, and featured the delightful sea-shanty styled single ‘All You Pretty Girls’ (OZ#76), which I was very happy to eventually get hold of via the ‘Fossil Fuel’ compilation. The follow up singles, the low key ‘This World Over’, and the raucous ‘Wake Up’ failed to awaken record buyers, though the band may have missed a trick in not releasing the enchanting portion of nostalgia-pop in the form of the sprightly ‘The Everyday Story Of Smalltown’. Soon after the release of ‘The Big Express’, session drummer Pete Phippes took an express bus out of XTC, and was replaced by Ian Gregory (keyboardist Dave Gregory’s brother).
It was around this time that XTC sowed the seeds of a plan to break free of the confines of the band’s identity, and pursue greater artistic freedom, in a kind of insurgency against trying to satisfy the record labels with commercial success. The band once more hooked up with producer John Leckie to release an EP titled ‘25 O’clock’ in mid ‘85 under the alter-ego come pseudonym Dukes Of Stratosphear, in the process tapping into some fresh artistic inspiration with a more overtly psychedelic offering, harking back to some of their earlier influences, and indeed parodying them.
After two years had elapsed, XTC returned to the studio environment with a plethora of newly penned songs to record. They emerged with 32 new tracks in all, which were apparently dismissed in their entirety by the band’s British label. Unruffled, XTC remained firmly behind the songs they had recorded, and eventually negotiated the release of fifteen of them in the form of the 1992 album ‘Nonesuch’ (UK#28/ OZ#72/US#97). Produced by Gus Dudgeon, the album featured the lead out single ‘The Disappointed’ a richly crafted song telling of the collective identity of the lovelorn among us. I purchased the song on a CD-EP, and the track fared well in both Britain (#33), and Australia (#31). It was backed by an engaging medieval style promotional video. The quirkily titled ‘The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead’ was also released as a single (UK#71). ‘Nonsuch’ was a marrying of some of the band’s late 80s psychedelic trimmings, with a verdant pop sheen.
After six years had elapsed, Patridge and Moulding reappeared from seemingly nowhere with a brand new XTC album, ‘Apple Venus Volume 1’ (UK#42), featuring 11 new tracks, and in the process delighting long patient fans with an album that captured the essence of XTC at their very best. The companion piece, ‘Wasp Star (Apple Venus, Pt. 2)’, followed in 2000.
Though wider commercial success eluded XTC over the course of their journey, the band remained true to its influences and sonic vision, in the process gathering a legion of dedicated fans along the way.)))