Apple Box

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After a long recording hiatus, Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding gave XTC fans something to shout about when they unveiled Apple Venus in 1999. Certainly one of their most ambitious and sweeping projects to date, Apple Venus' painstakingly orchestrated tunes left no doubt that XTC had been working overtime behind those closed doors, and it served to reestablish the band as a prime pop repository. Where Venus was all atmosphere and strings, its follow-up, Wasp Star, was all about upfront guitar -- jangly, loopy, crunchy, and fun. The two albums complemented each other (by design) and fit so well together (musically and thematically) that one wonders what it would have been like if the two records had been packaged together (as they were originally intended) in a two-CD set. Far less exciting were the collections of demos for the two records. The "strike while the iron is hot" award was firmly in Andy Partridge's hand when the Homespun and Homegrown demo albums hit the shelves in late 1999 and early 2000 (respectively) -- too bad that neither of these releases offered anything to write home about. Where XTC were concerned, the journey from demo to finished studio take was a very short one and Homespun and Homegrown sounded too little different from their polished siblings to warrant any critical dissection. For fans who were poised for more forthcoming astonishment, these throwaway releases were a letdown. For all the good and bad that comprised the Apple saga, it's almost a relief that Andy Partridge's own Idea Records has amassed the whole thing into an exhaustive, redundant (but complete) chunk of work. Apple Box collects all four of the Apple-related releases and packages them together in a lavish box, along with a lengthy booklet. Nothing earth-shattering here, save for one tiny (but "oh so enticing") bonus. Included in the box is a card that allows the owner to download an additional EP (called Apple Bite), which just so happens to include two new XTC songs (that's right, Colin and Andy...together), "Spiral" and "Say It," making this redundant collection less redundant by two songs -- shrewd Andy, very shrewd indeed.

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