With last year's "Apple Venus Vol. 1", XTC returned from a seven year self-imposed hiatus designed to free them from the unreasonable constraints of their recording contract and made a beautifully, orchestrally-enhanced pop record that reestablished their position as the reigning kings of English pop.
"Wasp Star", from the beginning conceptualized as the electric counterpart to the acoustic-heavy "Apple Venus" returns them to the Beatles-esque pop-rock that was their trademark in the early 90s. The opening track, "Playground", is as catchy as anything they've ever written, along with "We're All Light", a rollicking, bouncy tune that incorporates African drumming. "Stupidly Happy", another standout track, is little more than a fuzzed-out guitar riff repeated over and over, to the point of idiocybut it completely pulls you in and makes you beg for more. "You and the Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful" is a jazz-influenced love song with a lighthearted, loping beat that demonstrates another new direction that XTC can take the traditional pop song structure. "The Wheel and the Maypole", the disc's final track, is really two songs in one, a meditation on beginnings and endings, the circle of life and death. But you'll still be humming it the next day.
As usual, the strongest tracks on the album are all Andy Partridge compositions. Colin Moulding's three contributions are adequate (though not quite as strong as his songs on "Apple Venus"), but in any other band they would have been relegated to the B-side or solo album bin. The two Apple Venus volumes show a great band returning from a long layoff without missing a beat; we can only wonder how many brilliant albums we missed during their seven year absence.