|When a band returns from a lengthy hiatus with an abbreviated
lineup and the remaining members loaded down with a few years'
worth of emotional baggage, you can almost see the warning sign
flashing: Caution: Cynical, Half-Hearted Cash-In Effort Ahead.
There are undoubtedly those who expect such lows from Apple
Venus, Volume I, but that's not what you'll find there. From
the first minutes of "River of Orchids", brimming with horns and
plucked strings, you realize this is an album that moves at its own
pace, exploring its textured, orchestral sounds in a leisurely, intimate
fashion. Andy Partridge mines his life (specifically his relatively recent
divorce) for material, finding a measure of catharsis in the subtly
caustic "Your Dictionary", and ruminating on the intangibility of love,
both blossoming and waning, in "I Can't Own Her". Apple Venus
is far from depressing, though -- the sumptuous strings of "Easter Theatre"
and the quintessential pop of "Frivolous Tonight" should keep
listeners' spirits high. On the whole, this is a relatively
contemplative disc; it will be best received by those XTC fans who've
aged with the band, and upon whose lives the last seven years have
wrought their own set of changes. Just as album-closer "The Last
Balloon" views the promises and pitfalls of childhood from an
adult perpsective, Apple Venus Volume 1 looks forward
while also looking back.