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Record Rack

* * * * Great Balls of Fire * * * Good Vibrations * * Maybe Baby * Running on Empty : : Dukes: Hooks, Homages

November 01, 1987|CHRIS WILLMAN

* * * THE DUKES OF STRATOSPHERE. "Psonic Psunspot" (LP, cassette). "Chips From the Chocolate Fireball" (CD). Geffen. So you appreciate XTC's sense for sonics but life-and-death-pondering ditties like "Dear God" make your brain hurt? Well, just turn off your mind, relax and float downstream with the Dukes of Stratosphere, who are basically XTC in a semi-psychedelic and pseudonymous '60s mode, sounding appropriately druggy but not quite so muddle-minded as all those trippy-dippy hits we all know and love to (willingly or unwillingly) flash back to.

Fans will be happy to know that, for all the fluorescent/cosmic cover art, wacked-out song titles and bits of nonsensical "Alice in Wonderland"-style narration, musically "Psonic Psunspot" sticks closer to the relatively lucid and extremely tight Beatles (circa "Rubber Soul" through the White Album) than it strays toward the era's more loose and free acid casualties. Classic British Invasion-style hooks are plentiful, albeit adorned with backward guitars and such, all captured with the considerable benefits of '80s technology.

Even in these hallucinogenic-free days, it's a great party record--you and your pals can play Spot the Influence. (Is "You're a Good Man Albert Brown" an intentional rip-off of "Bungalow Bill" or not?) For all its homages, the album never quite gets into obvious parody--at least until the final track, "Pale and Precious," which is a hilariously dead-on takeoff of the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds"/"Good Vibrations" era.

To answer the most vital question: Yes, most of it--especially the luscious hit "Vanishing Girl"--would still work if that decade had never existed. But thank goodness it did.

(Bargain hunters should note that the compact disc version--titled "Chips From the Chocolate Fireball"--includes not only the new album but all six tracks from an earlier, inferior Dukes EP previously available only as an import.)

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