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Andy Partridge

Fuzzy Warbles Collector's Album (Ape House)

Either Andy Partridge has way too much time on his hands or he's simply too prolific to be reined in by the confines of XTC, the proto-punk band-turned-Beatles/Beach Boys disciples he founded nearly three decades ago. It's likely a bit of both; after all, it has been practically 25 years since Partridge announced the group would cease playing live gigs, and a good six years that have elapsed since their last formal outing, the unusually ambitious Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2). Shortly thereafter, this reticent genius released the first of what would eventually become eight installments of his Fuzzy Warbles series — lavishly anointed compilations of outtakes, demos, and unreleased tracks from his personal archives, songs destined for XTC albums and either waylaid or retooled along the way.

So while Partridge patrons have struggled to keep up — and to dole out import-inflated prices — the task has been simplified with the release of a lavish box, Fuzzy Warbles Collector's Album, a domestic offering that boasts all eight original albums and a bonus ninth disc containing nine tracks exclusive to this collection. Those already in possession of the imports might grouse about having to duplicate their previous purchases in order to obtain this final add-on, but anyone yet to make the plunge will find the wealth of music — more than 100 tracks in all — a fascinating glimpse into Partridge that carries with it both excess and invention.

As XTC devotees well know, his is a melodic sensibility that recalls Brian Wilson, Todd Rundgren, and Jeff Lynne in his fastidious ingenuity and devotion to stunningly tuneful composition embossed with elaborate arrangements. There, too, has always been an element that is more than slightly awry about the Partridge pastiche, so it's no surprise to find examples of the absurd (among them "The Laugh Track," which, true to its title, features its mastermind simply cracking up in hysterics, and "That Wag," a studio rehearsal that finds him singing with a Dylanesque slur) colliding with more studious attempts (the persistent pop of "Dame Fortune" and "My Train Is Coming" along with insular takes on fan favorites like "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul," "Mermaid Smiled," "Dear God," and "25 O'Clock," recorded under the aegis of their psychedelic alter egos, the Dukes of Stratosphear).

And lest anyone doubt a source of his inspiration, the set also includes a remarkably faithful read of "Strawberry Fields Forever." Suffice it to say, these volumes provide a bounty of brilliance to relish and enjoy. Lee Zimmerman

 
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