The Dukes Of The Stratosphear – 25 O’Clock and Psonic Psunspot (Ape House Records)

The Dukes Of The Stratosphear was an alter-ego XTC used for this album and EP from the mid-1980s. The Dukes were a large departure from the typical XTC sound (thus the different name), doing away with the jerky post-punk rhythms Andy Partridge and co. normally employed, for a pastiche of UK psychedelia from 1966-1967. Sure, artistically speaking, it’s little more than a dopey genre exercise with tongue-in-cheek affectations – sitars, oh-so-British pop-psych song-titles like “You’re A Good Man Albert Brown,” a truck-load of studio effects (backwards tapes, flanging…etc) – but the songs are good so it’s hard to complain. The main influences are Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd (“Bike Ride To The Moon,” “Have You Seen Jackie?”) and of course The Beatles, whose Revolver-through-Magical Mystery Tour-era sound is pillaged wholesale on “What In The World,” “The Mole From The Ministry,” “Shiny Cage,” and “Collideascope.” They also pay tribute to The Hollies and The Yardbirds, coming up with two of their best songs in the process (“Vanishing Girl” and the crushing “My Love Explodes”, respectively). This material had all been previously compiled on the single-disc compilation Chips From The Chocolate Fireball, but for this latest reissue – on Andy Partridge’s own Ape House label – they’re on separate discs (start with Psonic Psunspot, the more interesting of the two), with remastered sound, extensive liner notes written by the band, copious bonus tracks and even a CD-Rom video. If you like XTC, mid-period Beatles, or the Nuggets II box-set then The Dukes are worth your time.