What a cracking surprise these stalwarts have brought us! This EP is the most welcome, enjoyable four songs I have heard in a long time. It’s so good to hear Andy Partridge (from XTC - see our podcast at tinyurl.com/zubxtc) writing and playing again. He and Robyn Hitchcock began this project in 2006 (!) at Andy’s shed/recording studio in Swindon, England. The finished record was definitely, defying the cliche, worth the wait. According to the Ape Records company promo, Robyn says “Andy and I are the same age and suffer from the same record collection, especially the B’s: Barrett, Beatles, Beefheart.”
Track one, ‘Turn Me On, Deadman’ is (of course) a total Beatles pastiche, including the ‘Taxman’ bass riff, with Andy and Robyn providing heavy duty vocal harmonies. There’s a bit of mellotron and phasing, bringing us to an almost Dukes Of Stratosphear (XTC’s psychedelic alter ego) sound. This hits all the buttons, all at once. The (orchestral) harp at the end is a real mind-bender.
Second track, ‘Flight Attendants, Please Prepare For Love,’ also features Hitchcock’s lead vocal and indeed sounds like a Robyn Hitchcock and The Egyptians production. Andy keeps the whole sound bathed in effected slide guitars. It’s a great bit of fun.
Track three, “Got My... “ is a beautiful picked acoustic melody that sounds like it could have been on XTC’s Skylarking, or, more specifically, Paul McCartney’s classic solo album RAM. This track has some lead vocals by both Andy and Robyn. When they get into the “aaah’s” the song becomes a real amazement. There are ‘Fool On The Hill’ flutes/recorders and some sneaky castanets. This is a gem of a song, with perfect Beatles references and jewelbox construction.
‘Planet England,’ the fourth and last track, opens with an English rainstorm, Robyn singing a tale of eternal Britishness. The bass is everywhere on this one, perhaps Andy outdoing old bandmate bassist Colin Moulding a bit, but keeping it cool as hell. There is an undeniable melody to this one, as it rolls along like an unofficial national anthem. And it is unafraid to let the infernal English rain linger, and linger to conclude the track and the EP.
I must make mention of Andy’s production on this record. The sound is layered and complex for an amazingly thickly-woven sound. He does throw in a LOT of elements, but it’s never too much and the resulting tapestry is very, very good. I know much of XTC’s travails involved Andy not wanting to use an outside producer. On Planet England he shows how well he can do the job. He and Robyn are a match made in pop heaven. Of course fans of XTC and Robyn and his groups absolutely must grab this record ASAP and with great gusto, but newcomers will also be charmed by the lush and literate songs. Andy and Robyn’s social media contacts tell us there is further collaboration in the offing. Please let it not take another 12 years; let’s hope a full-length recording will be forthcoming, sooner will be much better than later!