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Daily Record 1/17/11: Chips from the Chocolate Fireball (An Anthology)-The Dukes of Stratosphear (1987)

In 1960s, 1980s, 1985, 1987, new wave, pop, Rich's House of Vinyl, XTC on January 17, 2011 at 6:14 pm

I came late to the XTC party. While I did have one stray XTC song–“Take This Town”–on the soundtrack to the Times Square movie, it wasn’t until 1986, when the band released their eighth album, the brilliant Skylarking, that I became a fan. At that point I began investigating their earlier work.

Meanwhile, XTC’s alter ego psychedelic band, The Dukes of Stratosphear, was cooking up Psonic Psunspot, the 1987 follow-up to  25 O’Clock, their EP from 1985. Thanks to Skylarking, I was sufficiently interested in XTC to wonder about what their “fake” band sounded like, so I eagerly picked up Chips from the Chocolate Fireball, a compilation of both the ’85 EP and the ’87 album.

In case you’re wondering, here’s “who’s who” in the Dukes of Stratosphear:

  • Andy Partridge = Sir John Johns
  • Colin Moulding = The Red Curtain
  • David Gregory = Lord Cornelius Plug
  • Ian Gregory (David’s brother and not a regular member of XTC) = E.I.E.I. Owen

Although it’s technically not absolutely complete (recent reissues of both the EP and the album contained bonus track of demos, etc.), Chips From the Chocolate Fireball is a cool collection of ’60s-influenced originals. After the relatively heavy themes that weave through Skylarking–principally romantic love, lust, disillusion and, ultimately, death–the lyrics on Chips are relatively lightweight, in keeping with the trippiness of the music.

It’s fun to play “spot the influence” with each song–so much fun that the previous owner of my CD had written the names of various bands next to each song to indicate what (and who) the songs sounded like. But “Vanishing Girl,” a shimmery, upbeat pop song (well, I’m not sure the lyrics are upbeat, but the music is) that could easily pass as a mid-’80s song by XTC itself, has emerged as my favorite in the bunch.

In a conversation I was having with my nephew Sean last night, I said that those of us who lived through the 1980s sometimes have a tendency to romanticize that decade even though, like every other decade, the ’80s offered up as much bad stuff as it did good. However, much of the great ’80s music flew under the radar, and still does, and The Dukes of Stratsophear is a great example of that. But if ’80s were ’60s, to paraphrase Hendrix, then the entire decade could have belonged to The Dukes of Stratosphear.

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