A rare logical occurrence for a band too clever to regularly achieve them, XTC’s 10th and most accessible album brought it closest to the American mainstream. As suggested by its title and artwork, Oranges & Lemons is bright, sweet, tart and fabulously groovy; the psychedelia of the band’s Todd Rundgren-helmed Skylarking and spoofing but sharp Dukes of Stratosphear output keeps coming, but here it’s shaped into fizzy and recognizably late-’80s pop.
The sound is particularly trebly; Rickenbacker guitars, snappy snares, tambourines, woodblocks, handclaps, sitar-like effects, and horns both synthetic and actual abound. Mr. Mister/King Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto brings syncopated swing that suggests the era’s new jack R&B, and the band maintains the fun of its Dukes records. Even if bassist Colin Moulding sings, “You’ve got to help me get through these cynical days,” the overall feeling here — like the sound mix itself — is light and unclouded. XTC once sang of burning with optimism’s flame; here they’re consistently doing it.
The vibrant opening salvo of “Garden of Earthly Delights,” “The Mayor of Simpleton” and “King for a Day” is the closest XTC ever got to pop-rock commercialism, but they do it on their own crafty terms. Promoted with a suitably Anglo-whimsical video, “Mayor” became a major modern rock radio hit, and deservedly so; it’s blatantly Beatle-esque and disarmingly guileless.