As announced upfront by the MLK/JFK/Jesus-alluding modern rock radio hit “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead,” 1992′s Nonsuch is considerably darker than its predecessor, ’89′s Oranges & Lemons. Longtime Elton John collaborator Gus Dudgeon occupies the producer’s chair, but aside from the greater emphasis on piano, the instrument on which Andy Partridge for the first time wrote many of his songs, the results suggest that all concerned aimed not to make a typically lush Dudgeon production. (Thankfully, that apparent rule is beautifully broken on “Wrapped in Grey,” which suggests prime-era Elton backed by the Beach Boys, and “Bungalow,” which echoes the complex chords of Burt Bacharach.)
Former Fairport Convention drummer Dave Mattacks rarely syncs into a satisfying groove with bassist Colin Moulding, and although there are far fewer guitars, jarringly ordinary arena rock solos punctuate “That Wave” and “Books Are Burning.” Although Partridge and Moulding’s lyrical smarts are still in place, their melodies are sometimes substandard, and although several songs are linked with crossfades, Nonsuch lacks XTC’s usual momentum. Still, “The Disappointed” ranks among its latter-day best; it’s certainly the saddest.