Written by 4:05 am Audiophile Music

Steven Wilson’s New Remix Warms Up Late-80s XTC Masterworks

Mark Smotroff basks in the bright light of an 80s British pop classic warmed by the California sun’s ambiance

When it comes to combining terms like “classic” and “80s rock,” there are not that many albums to which both of those phrases apply. XTC’s 1989 smash hit Oranges and Lemons is arguably one of those recordings of classic 80s rock. This sweet sunshine soaked pop gem has just been reissued after getting the super deluxe spa treatment from the great remix producer Steven Wilson.

AR-XTCOranges&LemonsSurround225.jpgInterestingly, the biggest difference I first heard when playing this new version is just how much warmer and fuller it sounds (both on CD and the Blu-ray Disc) than the original 80s releases. Reading the liner notes, apparently that overly-bright sound was one of the issues even some of the band members had with that original mix.

So, that is the first thing I’m happy to report about in this review of the new reissue. Comparing this to both an original Virgin Records CD — manufactured in Germany, which I kept and preferred over the original US Geffen and Mobile Fidelity CD editions — and an original Geffen LP pressing, the new Blu-ray version does great justice to this fine album. The new mixes are presented in 24-bit, 96 kHz resolution.

Recorded at the legendary Ocean Way Studios in Los Angeles — a site once known in the 1950’s and ’60’s as United Western Recorders, the home of many equally legendary recordings by the likes of The Beach Boys and Phil Spector — Oranges and Lemons always indeed sounded a bit overly bright to my ear. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that the album may have been recorded analogue yet possibly employing external digital effects and processors that were becoming the norm at that period in time (ultimately impacting the final sound). So, while the original album came out sounding pretty great, sparkling then like a well-polished metallic-painted late-60s Firebird muscle car, Oranges and Lemons today sounds more grandiose, glowing with the power of the vintage Rolls Royce engine that was lurking under the hood all along.

AR-O&Loriginalmixscreen225.jpgMore to the manner to which the English band was accustomed, perhaps, the sound on XTC’s new reissue sounds decidedly more full fidelity than the radio-ready sheen of the 1989 mix. Perhaps to appease those of you who prefer the original mix, it is presented here in a flat transfer in 24-bit, 192 kHz resolution (at least that is what it says on screen … ) which helps to warm it a tad, but its still not as nice as Mr. Wilson’s remix…

The 5.1 mix, of course is the other big star here and Steven Wilson once again wins props from the peanut gallery of XTC fanatics — like me! — who will revel in his tasteful but fun, gently immersive surround sound experience. In it, the band is mostly kept front and center, but the surrounds are used for much more than ambiance, as effects and select overdubbed details percolate around the listener. From shimmering guitars and cascading bells to heavenly harmonies, the surround sound mix Wilson has created here is both sympathetic to the music while retaining that buoyant sensibility that made the original album such a great end-to-end listen.

But wait, there’s more!

XTC fans: be prepared to get wonderfully over indulged with all manner of bonus goodies tucked away on this box-set-on-a-disc — the extra tracks here are just as remarkable as the gems included on prior deluxe XTC editions for Nonsuch and Drums & Wires, possibly even more so!

You get extensive soundboard quality rehearsal tapes recorded in scnenic Los Angeles!

There are album demos and EXTRA demos including “Blue Beret,” a song which the band played on its acoustic proto-unplugged radio station promotional tour in 1989!

Operators are standing by…

You’ll get stimulating 12-inch remixes…

AR-O&LKingClockShot225.jpgYou’ll also receive the entire album in scintillating instrumental form so you can sing-along the lyrics to your favorite Oranges and Lemons songs (which you’ve no doubt memorized by now!).

And wait folks… yes, there is more! On this super deluxe Blu-ray Disc reissue you’ll get to see multiple fab-fun frolic-filled promotional films for “Mayor of Simpleton” and “King for a Day!”

Don’t delay, order one today…

Thus far my favorite bonus item is the intentionally low budget promotional puppet show the band put together to introduce themselves to Geffen Records (which had signed them for US distribution at the time) called “The Road To Oranges & Lemons.” Its quite a sarcastic, humorous and cynical little gem with numerous premonitions hinting at future problems for the band with its parent label, Virgin Records. Still, it is hilarious at times, such as when Andy Partridge’s potato character declares he no longer wants to be a touring potato, only to reappear as a lovely stuffed raggedy Andy type doll.

Thrill to the transformational career reinvention happening right before your very eyes!

Good-golly-gee-whiz, Helium Kids! I keep on finding more goodies on this set!

AR-HiddenTrack!225.jpgFor example, I read online that there was a ‘hidden track” on the Oranges and Lemons set. Poking around and pushing buttons on my remote, I found the track and its an Easter Egg of the highest order: XTC live in the studio doing the Beatle-flavored “My Train Is Coming” — versions of which appeared on fan club cassette releases and Andy’s Fuzzy Warbles CD series — with the great Mike Keneally on lead guitar, fresh from his tour-of-duty with none other than Frank Zappa! So here we discover the genesis of the friendship that 20-plus years later resulted in the tremendous collaboration between Mike and Andy called Winged Beat Fantastic!.

Ok, well I’m a bit wiped out having just listened to all three 12-inch dance remixes of “King For A Day” in rapid succession, so — as much as I’d like to babble on and on and on about this album — I think I’ll wind things up here.

You can order the deluxe CD plus Blu-ray Disc package of Oranges and Lemons direct from XTC via BurningShed.com.

Get this one folks. This deluxe edition of Oranges and Lemons on Blu-ray Disc is like a great big roll of fruit flavored Lifesavers for your home entertainment system.

Oh so tasty and oh so much fun!

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