Released pseudonymously by the Dukes of Stratosphear on April Fool’s Day 1985, 25 O’Clock — a six-track tribute to psychedelia’s heyday — is catchier, funnier and far more energetic than what XTC had been releasing under its own name for its last couple of albums. And although 1986′s Skylarking re-established the band as a major creative force, it was difficult to make and a hard act to follow. So the threesome and fellow Duke, Ian Gregory (guitarist Dave Gregory’s drummer brother), reunited for another paisley-fueled blowout, 1987′s Psonic Psunspot.
Chips from the Chocolate Fireball combines the two records in straightforward consecutive order, and the result ranks among the most consistent sets in the later half of XTC’s discography. From the non-sequitur lyrics to the extreme stereo separation of the era, these simulations of psychedelic pop — largely the British variety, but also the Byrds and the Beach Boys at their trippiest — are extraordinarily exacting: “25 O’Clock” starts with a thrillingly accurate recreation of the Electric Prunes’ pioneering psych-punk “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night”; “Have You Seen Jackie?” revisits the mischievous titular tranny of Pink Floyd’s very first single “Arnold Layne,” and “The Mole from the Ministry” goes whole hog for the Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus.” All that’s missing from XTC here is the LSD.