“Psonic Psunspot” by Dukes of Stratosphere / XTC (No. 41)

Psonic Psunspot album coverPsonic Psunspot is the best collection of 60s psychedelia ever recorded in the mid-80s. The members of XTC, working under the pseudonym Dukes of Stratosphear basically channeled some of their musical influences from the 60s and delivered 10 outstanding replicas that easily stand alongside XTC’s best work.

Psunspot is actually XTC’s second venture back in time under the Dukes name, the first release was an EP called 25 O’Clock. I prefer Psunspot not just for length, but also because the lyrics are a little sharper and it has a few truly outstanding tracks.

Tongue firmly in cheek

“Vanishing Girl” is a shiny, shimmering little number that has excellent harmonies and tasty guitar. It’d be right at home on a playlist from 1965 or 1966. “Have You Seen Jackie” is a particularly trippy piece with a protagonist that “couldn’t decide if he was a girl, or if she was a boy.” This is not an album that takes itself particularly seriously,

“Little Lighthouse” is more up-tempo, melodic pop with absurdist lyrics. What I particularly like about this track is the divebomb bass that calls to mind The Rolling Stones‘ “19th Nervous Breakdown.” While I’m not a huge Stones fan, I’ve always liked that song in particular for its bassline.

The next track, “You’re A Good Man Albert Brown” is a foot-stompy, almost polka-flavored tale you’d imagine being sung in the local pub. It heavily features piano, and someone playing the spoons. Yes, the spoons. It’s very silly.

Andy Partridge channels John Lennon’s gift for evocative but nonsensical lyrics with “Collideascope,” with a tune that would have been entirely at home on Revolver.

“You’re My Drug,” and “Shiny Cage” are delightful pop songs. The guitar work on “Drug” is particularly fine.

Perhaps it’s my inner comic book nerd, but “Brainiac’s Daughter” is probably my favorite piece on Psunspot. It’s not entirely in keeping with comic references, but how many bands get into Superman references? (For those keeping score, XTC had “Really Super, Supergirl” on Skylarking, and Crash Test Dummies had “Superman’s Song” off The Ghosts that Haunt Me.) The distorted piano, a bridge that reminds me a bit of “Yellow Submarine,” and the harmonies really sell this one for me.

And the final track on the album, “Pale and Precious” calls to mind something Brian Wilson might have written in the vein of “God Only Knows.” See also XTC’s “Chalkhills and Children” off Oranges and Lemons for more evidence of Partridge exercising his inner Wilson.

Let’s play “spot the influence”

Psonic Psunspot manages to simultaneously send up and honor a wide swath of 60s tropes, without falling into parody or being derivative. There’s a lot of “spot the influence” all over the album, but it stands alone if you’re not particularly well-versed in the bands that it references. (I probably get maybe half, as my familiarity with many 60s bands is limited to one or two singles.)

Once again, I am given to sigh sadly that XTC broke up years ago, and that they were never much for touring. It would have been marvelous to see them live, but at least I’ll always have my record collection!

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