Album review by Eric Sandberg
Editor's note: Before I get started I would just like to allay any suspense and declare that this is the greatest tribute album to one band ever compiled.
Dozens of tribute albums are released every year. Current Yes bassist Billy Sherwood has turned the tribute album into a cottage industry for fun and profit, trotting out the usual cast of aging progsters he has on speed dial.
Mike Varney of Magna Carta Records and studio rat Bruce Kulick have also churned out countless tribute records featuring the same cast of classic rock characters as selling points. These tributes usually consist of backing tracks recorded by house musicians and later adorned with vocals or guitar or keyboard solos from name artists via the internet. The quality of these efforts range from average to misguided to shameful money grab.
Garden of Earthly Delights — An XTC Celebration is special for several reasons:
Firstly, proceeds benefit The Wild Honey Foundation, an organization that seamlessly intertwines great charitable work with great music, benefiting cutting edge Autism research and data sharing.
Secondly, this album has all the hallmarks of a Wild Honey Orchestra tribute show minus people running on and off stage, forgetting to plug in their guitars and your legs going numb in a chair for three hours [I listened to this album twice through today while curled up in a fetal position on my couch]. I confess to not being familiar with the majority of the musician's names associated with each track, though I know of Paul Meyers, The Anderson Council and Gentle Hen, whom I love like they're my nephews.
L to R: Colin Moulding, Terry Chambers, Dave Gregory, Andy Partridge of XTC
Some of the names I associate with the aforementioned Wild Honey Orchestra, and I suspect that at least a couple of the band names are merely clever conceits, masking collaborations among various combinations of members of that extended musician family. These can possibly be spotted by their lush, Brian Wilson influenced arrangements.
Thirdly, the album is, to quote Andy Partridge, "big and long and supercharged with song." It's available in a beautiful 2-CD package from Futureman Records, with artwork by Yamato Kawada, and includes a download with seventeen additional songs — or — just as a download including all forty nine uniformly excellent XTC cover versions, digital artwork and a complete track information guide.
Until now, I've never heard a tribute album that didn't have at least one misguidedly horrible take on a beloved song [anybody remember Encomium?]. Garden of Earthly Delights provides forty nine sides of joy and I don't have even one minor quibble with any of them. Many of these versions are downright thrilling.
Some highlights among the highlights include Coke Belda and El Inquieto Roque's urgent rock shuffle version of Colin Moulding's "Standing In for Joe," Tom Curless and the 46%'s "I'm the Man Who Murdered Love," and Chris Church's "Stupidly Happy", where Church comes up with many interesting variations on the song's repetitive guitar riff. You can fight me on this, but Andy and Colin sounded tired on those final two albums and these cover versions breathe new life into these three worthy songs.
Also notable are I Think Like Midnight's Acid Jazzy instrumental take on "Runaways," Randy Sly's "Books Are Burning," the aforementioned Gentle Hen's "No Thugs In Our House," Paul Meyer's "Rook" and...well, this is truly a rabbit hole I could go down because every track in this tribute is a delight.
The collection also includes songs only deep end [like me] XTC fans will appreciate as several songs from Andy Partridge's Fuzzy Warbles series and Blu-ray only songs from Steven Wilson's XTC remix project are also represented.
Sadly the digital booklet that comes with the download lists the individual production credits but does not include who was responsible for coordinating this amazing project because I would like to submit whoever it is for a Knighthood...or a Damehood, or both. Now, I'm going to curl up and listen to it again.
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.