CD Review of 25 O’clock/Psionic Psunspot by The Dukes of Stratosphear

The Dukes of Stratosphear: 25 O’clock/Psionic Psunspot

Reviewed by Jim Washington

()

The Dukes of Stratosphear:
25 O’clock

starstarstarno starno star
Label: Ape House
Released: 2009
Buy from Amazon.com
Buy your copy from
Amazon.com
 


The Dukes of Stratosphear:
Psionic Psunspot

starstarstarstarno star
Label: Ape House
Released: 2009
Buy from Amazon.com
Buy your copy from
Amazon.com
 

T
he Dukes of Stratosphear couldn’t happen today. Secret side projects rarely stay that way, if they’re even intended to. Everyone knew the Foxboro Hot Tubs were Green Day before they’d even heard it, thanks to the Internet – but back in 1985, when an unknown band called the Dukes of Stratosphear released the EP 25 O’Clock, on April Fool’s Day no less, how was anyone to know who they really were?

Well, there may have been clues. What were the chances that a set of psychedelic pop tunes this well-crafted had just been discovered after decades gathering dust, as the band claimed at the time? Then there were the names - Sir John Johns, The Red Curtain, Lord Cornelius Plum, E.I.E.I. Owen. Those had to be made up. Yes, it was actually British pop band XTC paying homage to their forebears and exercising a true love for that somewhat goofy musical era with a trippy little EP. That same love, or perhaps the darker side of it, would inform XTC’s 1986 masterpiece Skylarking. But with the Dukes, it’s all about having fun.

Both 25 O’Clock and the full-length followup Psionic Psunspot are being re-released by Andy Partridge’s Ape House label with demo versions, new songs and videos. Everything a psychedelic fan could want is here -- the surreal imagery, the freak-out lyrics, the echoey sound effects. The songs could be considered loving parodies, if they weren’t so darn good. On 25 O’Clock the joke doesn’t get a chance to wear thin at six songs, and "My Love Explodes" and "The Mole from the Ministry" stand out as truly great.

To the band’s credit, they might have gotten away with the charade if they stopped with 25 O’Clock, since their sound was pretty well disguised. But Psunspot, released two years later, was a giant leap forward for this fake band, and coincidentally sounded a lot more like XTC. On this album they really opened up, embracing everything from sunny Beach Boys pop ("Pale and Precious") to rollicking barroom sing-alongs ("You’re a Good Man Albert Brown") to gender-bending homages to early Pink Floyd and the Who ("Have You Seen Jackie?"). "Vanishing Girl" and "Little Lighthouse" are delightful pop charmers, and stand up with pretty much anything XTC has done since.

The in-between songs bits inspired by Lewis Carroll (itself a pseudonym) are just the right amount of precious.

Those who have come to love these albums will enjoy the demo versions of the songs, and more XTC is always a good thing. Don’t be tempted to write the Dukes off as another not-so-secret side project -- if you’re a fan of the band or just enjoy an acid trip down memory lane to the days of Carnaby Street, you should absolutely own these.

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

Around the Web