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Recent album review #1
XTC - Nonsuch (1992)

Another double album (or single CD.) Even longer than the last one. Oh lord.

Thankfully, XTC haven’t lost their songwriting touch. The question is, have they lost their ability to make coherent albums? The sessions for this one were reportedly stormy, resulting in the longest wait yet for a new XTC album, and one made up of an odd hodgepodge of styles at that.

I suppose the band were never all that coherent really, but there was a time when XTC had a strong sonic identity. On here, that identity has largely been dissolved in pop classicism and beefy modern production values (but not that modern. This is very much pre-Nevermind, in spite of the release date).

Whilst a sonic identity is nice, it’s never really been a major concern for me. What the band hasn’t lost is their very clear songwriting identity, and that’s what keeps Nonsuch from descending into the mediocrity that has claimed so many other classic acts.

“The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” may sound utterly alien to an XTC fan who'd been cryogenically frozen since 1978, it may be slightly harmed by the bizarrely overloaded drum sound, but it’s obvious that only Partridge could've written it. Ironically, it flopped in its first go-round as a single, but later became a hit in an inferior version by XTC imitators Crash Test Dummies.

But whatever your opinion of the 90’s alternative rock scene, you are contractually obligated to admit that “Rock” and “Wrapped in Grey” are beautiful, miraculous ballads that shoulda been all over the charts. The latter was slated to be the album’s third single, but it was recalled and destroyed in an act of petty violence by Virgin Records. A short time later, the band went on strike, refusing to record new material for 5 years, until they were finally dropped.

What more needs to be said about another album of XTC songs? What if The Beatles were still together, still making albums as good as Abbey Road every year? Would the public continue to care? I doubt it. Similarly, no one cared about this album, except of course XTC devotees. It’s good though, dammit.

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by Reviewer: S M Hellebore

Posted: Friday 20th Jan 2017 7:14 PM

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Recent album review #2
Gary Morris is a prolific country/pop performer who's had quite a bit of success on the Billboard Country charts, but has had little cross-over appeal.

If Plain Brown Wrapper is anything to go by, that lack of mainstream appeal doesn't surprise me. For although released in 1986, the album sounds like it could've been recorded by any one of a dime-a-dozen acoustic singer/songwriters from the early-1970's, most of whom disappeared as times changed. As a comparison, on this album Morris comes across as a sort of milder-sounding version of Arlo Guthrie.

For despite the presence of some lap-steel guitar, this music isn't recognisably country in flavour, nor does the presence of acoustic guitar make it especially folk-ish. Rather, it's just sort of bland easy-listening acoustic guitar plus vocals, with a low-key backing band on some of the more sedate numbers, and a more spirited backing on the uptempo tracks.

The tracks more-or-less alternate over the course of the album, between generic / gentle acoustic singer/songwriter numbers penned by Morris, and some livelier covers.

Of the latter, there's a chirpy take on Bob Merrill's "Honeycomb"; a hymn-like live rendition of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" that's so overwrought it sits rather awkwardly in relation to the rest of the album; plus the old standard from the 1920's "Lovesick Blues", which doesn't hold a candle to the Leon Redbone version.

I found Plain Brown Wrapper to be a rather insipid album, in large part because Morris' voice is so boringly one-dimensional and flat, lacking in character or depth - to me, he sounds like any one of a hundred whimsical hippie minstrels from the late-1960's.

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by Reviewer: bluemoon

Posted: Friday 20th Jan 2017 11:24 PM

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