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Chips from the Chocolate Fireball is a compilation, but it isn't any old collection of singles - rather, it combines the 25 O'Clock EP with the Psonic Psunspot album. And The Dukes of Stratosphear are XTC, with Dave Gregory's brother Ian on drums, paying homage to the music of '66-'67.

The 25 O'Clock EP was released in 1985, twixt The Big Express and Skylarking, and as it's shorter - and predates Psonic Psunspot - it's the more focused of the two. Its highlights include the doom-laden Electric Prunes takeoff "25 O'Clock", the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd tribute "Bike Ride to the Moon", and a "Strawberry Fields Forever" / "I Am the Walrus" / "A Day in the Life" combination titled "The Mole from the Ministry". The other three songs are great too, so I'd rate the EP overall at 7 stars.

Then there's Psonic Psunspot, which is less overtly psychedelic, but still firmly grounded in a pseudo-60's atmosphere, as evidenced by the Beach Boys pastiche "Pale and Precious", the Small Faces-like pub/rocker "You're a Good Man Albert Brown", and - my personal favorite - the Hollies-styled "Vanishing Girl".

The album also features some silly psychedelic dialogue inbetween some of the songs ... The puffin sipped at his herbal tea and sighed, 'you can't get the buttons these days!' indeed.

Overall, this is one of XTC's greatest collections of songs, and it has that special something, perhaps because their overt cleverness has been reined in to fit in with the 60's vibe.

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by Reviewer: Cole Reviews

Posted: Monday 24th Jun 2019 12:03 PM
Recent album review
Without an escape hatch built into The Beach Boys' longstanding Capitol Records contract, they released 20/20, which plays like one of the band's early studio albums (what, couldn't they think of another ripoff idea like Stack-O-Tracks? What about The London Symphony Orchestra Plays the Hits of The Beach Boys! Or try playing all the instrumentals on Surfin' USA backwards!).

There's the singles "Do It Again" and "I Can Hear Music", otherwise it's leftovers from the days when the band were too stoned or busy fucking Manson Family chicks to write new songs, like the Smile-era "Cabinessence", or covers such as the Leadbelly-by-way-of-CCR "Cotton Fields", and the proto-reggae "Bluebirds Over the Mountain".

There's also a bunch of Dennis songs (including "All I Want to Do"), a Bruce Johnston tune called "The Nearest Faraway Place", and a song by brand-new dis-member Charlie Manson called "Never Learn Not to Love". Wow! One of the most legendarily sick minds of the 20th Century got one of his songs on a Beach Boys album, just before ordering his minions to cut a beautiful young actress's unborn child out of her and mutilating it! How lucky are we?

At least Manson never got any royalties for his contribution, because Dennis put his name in the credits instead - good on ya Dennis, for chalking one up for the non-homicidal psychopaths among us!

Anyway, 20/20 is just about impossible to pin down, but don't sweat it - it's actually pretty decent, and doesn't really feel all that disconnected despite itself. There's diversity here, especially since none of the band's albums since say, Summer Days (and Summer Nights), have been pretty samey, and things were getting a bit dire by Friends. But 20/20 has variety in spades, going from stupid surf/rockers to near-metal then on to soft/rock ballads.

Parts of the album are almost scarily decadent - flashy 70's Calfornia/rock that would later boil over with The Eagles - like the overblown ballad "Be With Me", that sounds damn near Neil Diamond-esque. and Dennis' big-band rocker "All I Want To Do" beginning all bitchy Stones-like, at least until the faintly recorded live fucking noises on the fade-out, which sound like a kinder, gentler Guns 'n' Roses.

God, pass the coke and tell a joke - because this is L.A. in the early-70's - let's all get blitzed and do a bunch of shit in poor taste, so let's rip off Sinatra's "My Way" with a gloppy Barry Manillow intro, via the even-more-gloppy Johnston ballad "The Nearest Faraway Place"! Is that in poor enough taste for ya?

And no one is more decadent than Charles Manson, so let's toss on one of his stupid-ass songs - "Never Learn Not to Love" sounds like the kind of melody late-90's U2 would write, but with less of a Jesus complex. I'm sure the Beach Boys added all kinds of stuff to that song, but it still sounds skeletal and wimpy.

Or how about including covers that someone else covered better just a year or two before! That's would be Jardine's awful "Cotton Fields", which sounds about as natural as a bull giving birth to chickens compared with John Fogerty's funky down-home version. Covers! ... they just scream out 'I have nothing else to say because I'm a sad dull individual in an ambiguously hip band which I have made almost no artistic contribution to! Let's all hop in my Excalibur and go down to Rodeo to shop for thick-ass gold chains, brown satin sheets, and musk perfume'.

I've mentioned pretty much everyone but Brian Wilson and Mike Love, and that's because their input to this album is barely there. The Smile out-takes at the end - the wordless vocal harmony workout "Our Prayer", which is Godly, and the multi-part "Cabinessence", which is fascinatingly complex - reveal that the band had begun mining the vaults for material with which to pad out albums, since 30 MINUTES IS JUST TOO GODDAMN LONG FOR FIVE SONGWRITERS TO FILL!

Yet somehow some people think The Beach Boys are vastly under-rated! ... the 'hits' are decent but unremarkable hook-delivery devices, written on autopilot. Mike Love, after dominating Friends with his creepy TM recruiting bullsnot, pretty much takes a break on 20/20 other than for "Do It Again", a sleepwalking, pod-person attempt at recapturing the old surf sound ... the melody is snappy, but played so slowly it sounds like they're sinking into sand. Not that I'm complainin' about the lack of Mike Love, I'm more than happy to hear Dennis' and Carl's songs over his.

In spite of it all, I don't feel ripped off by 20/20 - there's enough good material to more than balance the bad, and though it's a bumpy ride, I feel pretty good at the end. Anyway, how many times are you going to hear a band ballsie enough to include a Manson song AND fuck noises AND a song called "Our Prayer" all on the same album? It works more than it doesn't.

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by Reviewer: Capt Bonanza

Posted: Tuesday 25th Jun 2019 12:28 PM
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