XTC’s Marching “River of Orchids”

For all their herky-jerky new wave, XTC’s flourishes of modern classical music have produced some of their finest work. “River of Orchids” opens Apple Venus, Pt. 1 with the orchestral cinematography of a nature documentary — violin strings pluck like the first droplets of a rainstorm, setting still leaves to bounce. One by one, the landscape fills with counterpoint salvos of trumpets, vocal groans, and sung proclamations, until they build to a rushing river, a fanfare march, a column of soldiers parading into London.

As the music is a sort of round, so are they lyrics. Singer Andy Partridge recorded the vocals in a solitary fit of creativity — locked in his garden shed, shirtless and barefoot. He had the string samples laid down, and flipped through his notebook to find a stray couplet to fit: “I heard the dandelions roar in Piccadilly Circus.”

This surreal image (dandelions don’t roar; Piccadilly Circus is actually an urban area in London’s West End) grew into “River of Orchids,” a call to arms in the name of England’s flora. Here are the lyrics, with repeated lines removed:

I heard the dandelions roar in Piccadilly Circus
Take a packet of seeds
Take yourself out to play
I want to see river of orchids where we had a motorway

Push your car from the road

Just like a mad dog you’re chasing your tail in a circle
It’s all in your back yard
You’ve the whole world at your feet
I said the grass is always greener when it bursts up through concrete

River of orchids winding our way
Want to walk into London on my hands one day
River of orchids the road overgrows
Want to walk into London smelling like a Peckham Rose

I had a dream where the car is reduced to a fossil…

Note that Partridge sings in commands, lending urgency to the green rebellion. Some of the lines almost border on acts of violence — throwing around cars and upturning concrete — and the “I want” lyrics could be shouted from a dais. All in all the lyrics are snippets, related but nonsequential, letting the spinning melodies braid with the left-field violins and trumpets and dissonant “Hmmm” grunts. A time-lapse scene of sprouting dandelions becomes a Tolkien-like battalion of trees, marching to the sound of buglers and bullhorn slogans, the soundtrack of an unseen revolution.

MP3: XTC – “River of Orchids”

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