Oranges & Lemons is a 1989 double album by the band XTC. It was produced by Goldmine Records and distributed by Geffen Records. It totals sixty minutes and fifty-one seconds in length, and contains fifteen largely excellent pop songs.
This album was the follow-up to XTC's hugely successful 1986 album Skylarking, which included the international hit singles Dear God and Grass (which were actually the same single in many countries). But to really understand the significance of and the inspiration for Oranges and Lemons, one must go back a bit further.
XTC's first major success was their 1980 album Black Sea, which contained the seminal track Respectable Street. XTC followed up this success with a successful double album, English Settlement, in 1982 and on a smaller scale, a successful 1983 album, Mummer. But by 1984, their momentum had slowed and their album of that year, The Big Express, was much less than a rousing success.
So what does XTC do in the face of falling album sales and decreased popularity? They assume an alter ego, of course. Donning the name The Dukes of Stratosphear, the group released a successful EP and a successful album. The Dukes, though, were a bit different than the Britpop that XTC was known for; instead, The Dukes focused on 1960s style psychedelic pop-rock, especially influenced by groups like The Electric Prunes and the Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys. It was a surprising direction, but it renewed XTC's vigor, and when they released their next album, the hugely successful Skylarking, they seemed back on top of their game.
But they were back in the same trap as before. How would Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, and company follow up a hit album this time? It proved difficult for them to follow it up the last time.
So, after a two and a half year hiatus, XTC released Oranges & Lemons. One look at the psychedelic-style cover tells it all: this album is a mix of their Dukes-style psychedelic rock and the old clever Britpop XTC.
And they manage to pull it off quite well.
The album opens with Garden of Earthly Delights (5:02), which sounds exactly like what the cover promised: a mix of psychedelic rock and clever 1980s-style British pop. It's a swirling, musically loaded, fast-paced album opener that kind of catches you off guard if you're expecting more of the melancholic Dear God sound from their previous album. The lyrics to this song were written by Andy Partridge.
The second song, Mayor of Simpleton (3:58), was released as a single and the video for it received some mid-1989 play on MTV. Compared to the first track, this sounds more like the traditional XTC; it's a mellow pop song with some clever lyrics. The lyrics to this song were written by Andy Partridge.
King for a Day (3:35) was also a single, and like the preceding track, the video received some MTV attention in the middle of 1989. This sounds like an attempt at a late 1970s pop-rock sound, further demonstrating the variety that can be found on this album. It has a very hummable bass line and a wonderful "get stuck in your head" hook. This song was written by Colin Moulding.
Here Comes President Kill Again (3:33) is perhaps as political as XTC has ever been. This is almost assuredly a slam on former U.S. president Ronald Reagan, his policy of military buildup, and his various military actions (Grenada and Libya come to mind) as a snap response to anyone who dare oppose him. It's kind of insulting to America, too, as it makes fun of the fact that after Grenada, Americans still elected Ronald Reagan in a landslide in 1984 over Walter Mondale. It's also a rip of sorts on the tenth straight year of Tory government that Great Britain was being governed by in 1989 (Margaret Thatcher, to be more specific). This song was written by Andy Partridge.
The fifth track, The Loving (4:11), was also released as a single, although I don't believe a video was made for it. It's a love song about how important love really is to everyone and everything. It has a pretty standard pop-friendly XTC song, which is a nice change of pace from the spartan military-industrial-esque sound of Here Comes President Kill Again. The lyrics were again written by Andy Partridge.
Poor Skeleton Steps Out (3:27) features a very tribal-like sound, much like some of the songs from the Disney adaptation of Tarzan. Even with the interesting perspective, it does somewhat pale compared to some of the great earlier songs and some of the ones yet to come on the album. The lyrics to this song were written by Andy Partridge.
One of the Millions (4:42), to me, sounds like a long lost Peter Gabriel song. It's a melancholic song about not taking a stand, and in this makes the point that one should take a stand. It's a pleasant little song, written by Colin Moulding.
Scarecrow People (4:12) is a snappy little environmental and social anthem. It's pretty straightforward, but still catchy, and an example of the above average lyricism of Andy Partridge.
Merely A Man (3:26) is probably the most like 1960s psychedelic rock in terms of strictly the lyrics (Garden of Earthly Delights probably fits best in the genre). Lots of disconnected references, love, raised consciousness, and helping the human race as a whole. Although not psychedelic, it does sound like Penny Lane-era Beatles in terms of the instrumentation, at least, with liberal use of horns. The lyrics for this song were written by Andy Partridge.
Cynical Days (3:17) is a very melancholic song about cynicism that almost sounds out of place surrounded by upbeat pop/psychedelic rock fusion. Not particularly strong, but not a particularly weak track either; it's just there. It's written by Colin Moulding.
Across This Antheap (4:49) is standard XTC fare: a direct look at the role of humankind in the universe, and whether or not we're doing the right thing as a species from that perspective. As you can probably guess, the song insinuates that we are not. This track features solid harmonization and some very nice guitar hooks. The lyrics of this song were written by Andy Partridge.
Hold Me My Daddy (3:47) revisits another of XTC's favorite themes, opposition to war. It's an oddly told tale about how war can destroy families, oddly reminiscent of some of the tales of the Civil War here in the United States. This song was written by Andy Partridge.
Pink Thing (3:48) is a Andy Partridge-penned song about a man and his penis at the onset of puberty, at least as far as I can tell. It's extremely metaphorical, but that is the way I interpret the song. It is written tastefully, though, so that it could also be interpreted to be a pet or a stuffed animal, which are two other interpretations that I have heard. Read the lyrical writeup and judge for yourself.
Miniature Sun (3:49) comes near the end of the album, just after the orgasmic rush of Pink Thing and before the wonderful closer, Chalkhills and Children. It's a simple song about the emotional extremes of being alive and in love. This song was written by Andy Partridge.
Chalkhills and Children (4:59) is one of the best album closers I've ever hear. A bit psychedelic rock, a bit pop, and a fantastically well-written song that just sums up the album in one audio rush. It was released as a radio single in 1989 and had some deserved popularity; it's a fantastic song and a great way to close things out. This song was written by Andy Partridge.
Most of the XTC catalog is shockingly being sold by Geffen Records as bargain bin fodder for some reason; this fantastic hour-long album can be had for as little as $6 new, which is an impressive deal. Pick this one up if you like well-written pop and 1960s psychedelic rock.
Other records worth investigating if you enjoyed this one include Chips From The Chocolate Fireball by The Dukes of Stratosphear, The I Had Too Much to Dream by The Electric Prunes, any other album in the XTC catalog (especially Black Sea), and Psychedelic Lollipop by The Blues Magoos.