Released in January 1989 XTCs '"Oranges and Lemons" was a major alternative hit (before Nirvana made alternative mainstream) that produced the hit single "Mayor of Simpleton" and is my favorite 80s pop album. But to call it merely 'pop' is to miss the point somewhat. "Pop" by its very nature implies a sort of neutral brain setting. It's rarely controversial or thought provoking, rarely "powerful" and rarely makes a real lasting impression. It's meant to be enjoyed, today, and then replaced with new pop product tomorrow. A few musicians though have sought to swim in the deep end of the pop pool and attempt to make something more of it, to draw you in with clever hooks and appealing melodies and then mess with your head a little, or at least try and open it up to some degree.

Andy Partridge was always this kind of guy. He harnessed pop's latent power potential and wrapped his wonderful melodies around tales of racism, miltarism, fractured family relationships, longing, lust and fear of nuclear obliteration all told from the perspective of the eternal outsider. The songs on Oranges and Lemons seduce you (Chalkhills and Children), lift you up (Mayor of Simpleton), stick an accusing finger in your face (Scarecrow People) and kick your ass (Garden of Earthly Delights). The album is also beautifully paced. Like a first rate director, producer Paul Fox knows when to step on the gas and when to let up to give you a break and its this seemless quality that separates this double album from so many of its predecessors and makes repeated listenings not just imperative, but also a pleasure.

Though the album was not a favorite of the band and Fox has oten been criticized for being too much of a "yes" man in the studio the fact is that the record as a whole sounds as good today as it did when it was released in 1989 and that is a testament both to Partridge and Fox.

"Garden of Earthly Delights". Music only.