Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this middle-aged man as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. CDs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no downloads. And just as CD technology (and the album format itself) becomes obsolete. I'm no music critic, just a music junkie with too much time on my hands.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

XTC - Oranges & Lemons (1989)

"IT'S NEW TO ME" WEEK (OCTOBER 20-26, 2013)

Note: the CD I listened to was the 2001 Virgin UK reissue.

When I was in high school, my buddy Jim had this group's Drums And Wires LP and I dug the song Making Plans For Nigel, but didn't think much about XTC beyond that. When I heard Dear God a few years later, I wrote off the group entirely.  Then, in the very early days of Facebook, a "friend" posted a YouTube video of this album's final track, Chalkhills And Children.  Normally I would pass right over such things, but for some reason I clicked on the link. What a beautiful song.  After listening to that one song only a few times, this CD went on my wishlist.  In this post from March 2012, I wrote the following: "The band's 1989 album Oranges & Lemons has been on my wishlist for a few years. I should go ahead and pull the trigger on that."  And, according to the disturbingly "big brother" record keeping of Amazon, I finally purchased this album on April 18, 2012.

The songwriting is quirky and the production is as psychedelic as the cover art.  At the time, critics often used the word "Beatleseque" with Rolling Stone magazine going so far as to mention this album in the same sentence as The Beatles' White Album in its review.  Andy Partridge is no McCartney but, much like The White Album, when Oranges & Lemons is good, it's fantastic pop music.  Listening today, two questions arise in my mind: "Why didn't I hear about this one in 1989?" and "Why haven't I gone out and listened to more of this group's music?"  It reminds me a lot of some Squeeze music in that it requires multiple listenings before you begin to appreciate the wonderfully odd chord progressions.  That fact, the orchestration, and the multi-layered production make each listening a unique experience.  I'm thankful the group went with a real drummer instead of the synthdrums of the day.  Good choice.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #44

Tracks:  In addition to the aforementioned Chalkhills And Children, my other top tracks are Mayor Of Simpleton (the band's only single to crack the Billboard Hot 100 at #72), King For A Day, and One Of The Millions.  I'll usually skip Across The Antheap and Cynical Days (while I dig the muted trumpet solo, the song is sorely out of place on this disc).  To be honest, by the time I'm about 9 tracks in, I get in a hurry to hear Chalkhills, so I'll just skip straight to it.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: see above


  1. When I heard Dear God a few years later, I wrote off the group entirely.
    If it is not too painful, more details please. As a big fan of XTC and their music, I'm wondering what the offense was. The song certainly has a polarizing effect on listeners.

    1. The song didn't offend me. I simply didn't think it was a good song and it certainly didn't prompt me to buy any XTC albums at the time ('87? '88?). I would submit that every song on this album is better crafted than Dear God.

    2. My mistake. When you said you wrote the group off entirely which to me implied a capital offense of some sort had occured.

      Don't know that I've ever written off any recording entity entirely - I've had knee-jerk bad reactions but I'm all about second and third chances. (Skylarking took a few listens to get into. "Dear God" was tacked onto the end as it wasn't part of the original release.)

      I admire the fact that you like what you like and you can clearly state why you like it. Most of the stuff I like, I just like and am dumbfounded to explain why: It just sounds good to me.

      Regarding XTC's catalog, it is definitely worth a deeper look. I've stated a few times that I associate XTC's music with that of Squeeze and knowing what a big fan of Squeeze you are, I'd imagine you'd be able to find more to like within the realm of XTC recordings.

      As much as you like Oranges & Lemons (it is a super solid listen in my book, too), the fact that it ranks among the least acclaimed XTC albums could be construed as a sign of great things to come as you explore their discography.
      (rank among 3000 all-time most acclaimed albums, album title)

      2384 Oranges & Lemons
      2228 Black Sea
      1668 Apple Venus Vol. 1
      0942 English Settlement
      0879 Drums & Wires
      0471 Skylarking

      Perhaps an ideal starting point would be the Compact XTC compilation from 1986, highlighting the group's output before Skylarking which was released later that same year.

      For a wider career overview, go with Fossil Fuel: The XTC Singles Collection 1977-1992. The band has only released two studio albums since that collection.

      There's a box set of rarities if you wanna go that far as well.

      My favorite XTC song is "Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead". It just sounds good to me.