A lot of people got a slightly skewed impression of XTC from the band's last and most popular album, Skylarking. Including the minor hits "Earn Enough for Us," and "Dear God," the 1987 album made this British trio sound like a basic pop band. Those who have followed XTC's 12-year career know better. Though the group members always wrote good mainstream pop songs, they typically offset every conventional note with a strange one. Oranges & Lemons brings XTC back to that old sweet and tart ratio. "The Mayor of Simpleton," a chirpy love song about passion exceeding intellect, has all the marks of a standard pop hit. The rest of the double album can be just as appealing. For one thing, it's never predictable. One minute XTC is playing in a style that replicates the Beatles from the White Album era. The next minute the band switches to a weirder mode for a song like "Poor Skeleton Steps Out," a danse macabre complete with synthesized xylophone sounds. Almost every song contains at least one catchy pop riff or chorus. Then those bright tunes abruptly shift into minor keys or unusual rhythms and harmonies.
Lead singer Andy Partridge, who often sounds as if his voice is being filtered through an echo machine or played at slightly the wrong speed, fills his lyrics with as many unexpected jags as the music. Some songs overflow with sincerity as they project a message that celebrates human eccentricities. "Hold Me, My Daddy" makes a touching plea for reconciliation between a father and a son. Unable to hold that mood for long though, Partridge makes a jolting shift in tone for "Pink Thing." This self-love ode, reminiscent of Jackson Browne's 1973 tune "Redneck Friend," evokes a man paying tribute to a favorite part of his anatomy—no, it's not his gall bladder. Some people may find it tough to follow XTC through such wild fluctuations. Those who have the patience will reap the rewards of a band that pushes lightweight pop to its outer, most engaging limits. (Geffen)