Is Wasp Star a diminished recording from a diminished band? No.
Having explored its most English/orchestral tendencies on Apple Venus Vol.1, Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, the smoldering remains/core of XTC issued this weighty second half in early 2000. The two having once been one suffered in some ways from having been separated. Placed as one album (and you can create your own running order in your spare time), the collections offer a more rounded, exhilarating experience. That’s saying something because the halves are both enticing in their own right. Moulding achieves a full three numbers on this 12-tune platter, trumping the two he offered on the first volume. Though his songs may not have been great in the counting as Andy Partridge’s respective nine and nine, he still manages to kick mightily at the stalls.
There’s a tendency to see Wasp Star as a bummer trip, lacking in the hooks that visited Nonsuch, Oranges and Lemons and the like. Robert Christgau, Dean of American Rock Critics, issued a dismissive two star review of the LP, deeming it as “up to their old craft,” a step down from the B+ grade he extended Apple Venus. Tom Moon of Rolling Stone saw Wasp as long in the tooth, though still a good showing. It’d be hard to deem anything that XTC did as less than good, and nothing here ranks as less than literate and listenable even if “I’m The Man Who Murdered Love” and “We’re All Light” seem to float at the surface unlike the Swindon outfit’s best moments.
If these are to be viewed as lesser moments, so be it. By 2000 Partridge and friends had established themselves as amusing and adventurous and even the failures were better than what most would have considered as a success. The trouble? It still wasn’t good enough for what we’d come to expect since at least 1982. Where else could Partridge and Moulding go from here? Not far and thus handing it up may have been the best thing they could have done.
Partridge would continue to write with conviction, teaming up with ex-Zappa guitarist/bon vivant Mike Keneally for the stellar Wing Beat Fantastic and contributing to the superior Monstrance recordings. His Fuzzy Warbles offerings would deepen rather than dispel mystique. Moulding, meanwhile, retreated from the spotlight, spelling the ultimate death knell for the outfit, much to the often audible disappointment to Partridge.
Partridge and Moulding have separately taken on various projects in recent years, but there’s little to suggest that the duo will return to the spotlight anytime soon. Remixes and remasters and 5.1 mixes will have to serve to satiate fans at this point. Since XTC was not a live entity during its most visible years suggests that there won’t be any pensioner’s tours. Instead, the masters will doubtless control the legacy from behind the scenes with respect and deference to their peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Is Wasp Star a diminished recording from a diminished band? No. But it is a sign of something that could not have burned as bright as it once did. What more could we ask from this band than to give what it did when it did? Yeah, we’ll take Skylarking over this on any day but we could also take this over most of what came rolling out the gates in the year 2000.
That, then, is the ultimate legacy of this lot: A band that, in its weakest moments, could transcend and articulate truths few others could manage. Nothing more, nothing less.