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Music Review: The Dukes Of Stratosphear – The Complete And Utter Dukes

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I had forgotten how brilliant The Dukes Of Stratosphear were. When XTC decided to do this project, they were in an odd position. After the back-to-back successes of Black Sea and English Settlement in the United States, they seemed poised to really take off. But then Andy Partridge made the decision to quit touring, which is something they never fully recovered from.

I actually bought a ticket to the scheduled Seattle show, which was to have occurred in 1982. I had friends in Ellensburg, WA at the time who were as bummed as I was. Van Connor and Mark Lanegan, who went on to form the Screaming Trees, both had tickets to the concert as well.

I was pretty disappointed, and when I heard about a “psychedelic” side project, I was not too excited at first. Then I heard 25 O’Clock by The Dukes Of Stratosphear. The record floored me. The title song alone is right up there with anything by The Seeds, Count Five, even the legendary 13th Floor Elevators.

The six-song EP was greeted so enthusiastically that the band recorded a full LP, Psonic Psunspot, shortly afterward. Just like the original garage-punks that inspired them, Psonic shows the band growing. Songs like "Little Lighthouse" and "Collideascope" are amazing Nuggets-style tunes. There is less of the mania of 25 O’Clock, although it does still exist in places. But the emphasis seems to be on writing and playing tighter songs.

Andy Partridge has assembled the ultimate Dukes Of Stratosphear collection, which has been released on his own Ape House record label. The Complete And Utter Dukes is a limited edition box set featuring literally everything the band ever recorded.

The box is covered with (what else?) purple cloth, held closed with an O-card. Inside is a treasure trove. Both 25 O’Clock and Psonic Psunspot appear in remastered CD and vinyl editions, with bonus tracks galore and the beautiful artwork intact. Also included is the “Tin Toy Clockwork” single, a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle, a T-Shirt, and even “Dukes Dollars,” which look pretty cool.

The extras include tons of demo versions of 25 O’Clock and Psonic Psunspot tunes, as well as videos from each. All in all, The Complete And Utter Dukes is an incredible package, and a must for any XTC or Dukes Of Stratosphear fan. Available from Ape House

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About Greg Barbrick

  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Thanks for the refresher course. I’m in the midst of delving into all my XTC releases – now I’m in the mood for pulling out my Dukes LPs and EPs. I can hear the colors and see the sounds already…

  • Greg Barbrick

    Gordon, Yes I had noticed you had been doing a lot of XTC material lately. The Dukes stuff sure was good, I must admit.

    Greg

  • Tom Cravens

    I’ve had my box set for a fortnight now and whereas it is generally impressive, I have noticed quite a bit of surface noise from the first time I played each record. Curiously, the discs are quiet on the grooves between the tracks. I have a quality turntable and still purchase new records regularly, but I must say despite the nice, warm sound of the music, the surface noise is a bit of a disappointment. In fact I have records that are 25-30 years old that play with less noise.

  • Tom Cravens

    Please disregard the previous complaint. I’ve since given the records a good cleaning and they sound much, much better! I recommend cleaning before your first listen. There must be some sort of residue from the pressing process. Anyway, now they sound fab!

  • Greg Barbrick

    That is great news Tom!

    -Greg

  • Andy Hauser

    One could argue that the price of the box is quite high, but at least You would get a free t-shirt…..if You get it: I have sent in my voucher for the t-shirt over 2 month ago, and no t-shirt has reached me so far..
    ….which is very very disappointing!!! :o(((