(The following review appeared July 4, 2005 on the buhdge website. It appears here with only a few changes made.)
With the release in 2002 of the first few volumes of Fuzzy Warbles discs, another cottage industry–that of illicit Andy Partridge demo collecting–was crushed in its tracks. Suddenly, here were great sounding recordings straight from the man himself–everything from demos to songs offered to, and rejected by, other artists; instrumental weirdness; and other groovy musical trinkets. No more trading of ninth generation dubs necessary. Here was the real thing, and lots of it.
Six volumes in, and two more to go to complete the series, Partridge is continuing to come up with collections stuffed to the gills with pearls and diamonds and all manner of heretofore undiscovered treasure. There seems to be no end to the delights being unearthed and passed on, and we are all the better for it.
If you’re a Partridge fan (and, of course, you are), you’ll dig these discs without me having to convince you of their worth. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out a few highlights per volume, so here I go:
On Volume 5, “I Defy You Gravity” is the keeper, a hit song if ever there was one. Written for, and rejected by, as Partridge calls her, “disco lite chanteuse” Sophie Ellis-Bextor, this vaguely dance-oriented pop song has one of those XTC-ish melodies that defy classification, other than to say it’s catchy as catchy can. And it includes a lyric line that is typically inventive: “Isaac Newton’s annoyed with me.” Of course he is! A keeper of the highest order.
More Volume 5 highlights: a fine, tambourine-heavy, four-track demo of Skylarking’s “Earn Enough for Us,” the 007-meets-underwater marching chorus instrumental “Aqua Deum” from the film Ocean’s Daughter; and the majestic, previously-unheard “My Land is Burning,” a criticism of government set against a old-folkish melody.
As good as Volume 5 is, Volume 6 is even better per pound. Try on for size the sprightly song written for, but not used in, the film James and the Giant Peach. “The Stinking Rich Song” finds Partridge in fine child-esque mettle, adopting a variety of voices perfect to communicate the thoughts of those who might be…stinking rich. Very clever and fun to listen to.
Why XTC didn’t record the wonderful, seemingly-effortless pure pop delight “I Can’t Tell What Truth is Anymore” is anyone’s guess. Scribed for the band’s Nonsuch album, it would have fit well there, or on the second Dukes of Stratosphear release. You won’t be able to get this one out of your head. “Tiny Circus of Life” was used as the title for an XTC greatest hits CD in France, and, lo and behold, here it is the title of a lively, previously-unheard song sporting lots of cool changes and a typically offbeat approach.
But wait: There’s more! “In My Hand,” written by illustrator friend Mark Thomas and Martin “Woody” Wood, was recorded by Partridge at the behest of Thomas’ wife for Mark’s birthday. A song that fits snugly in what Partridge calls “masturbators corner,” comprising this and three other demos appearing side by side by side by side here (including Oranges and Lemons’ “Pink Thing”), it’s a well-written, hooky tune with an instantly memorable chorus. You’ll swear Partridge wrote it using a pseudonym. The closing song on Volume 6, “End of the Pier,” yet another orphan from the Nonsuch writing sessions, shines with dance band underpinning and some of Partridge’s best lyrics, and another wish-I’d-written-it melody for the ages.
Once again accompanied by booklets featuring Partridge’s song-by-song commentary and adorned by smartly designed, postage-stamp covers magically created by Andrew Swainson, the Fuzzy Warbles series continues to delight. Partridge says volumes 7 and 8 will put an end to the gravy train. I, for one, hope he decides to let the gravy continue to flow.
July 4, 2005