Review Summary: While slightly gimmicky, The Dukes of Stratosphear's 25 O'Clock is an upbeat, trippy and humorous homage to the psychedelic bands that inspired them. Recommended to fans of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd.
The Dukes of Stratosphear was a pseudonym used by the 80’s new wave band XTC
, as an outlet to release heavily 60’s inspired psychedelic rock that would sound completely out of place on a normal XTC
album. After the success of their first EP, 1985’s 25 O’Clock
, a full length album, Psonic Psunspot
was released in 1987. The same year both were put together into a compilation album, Chips from the Chocolate Fireball
Unlike other neo-psychedelia bands of the time such as Rain Parade
and the other Paisley Underground bands, The Dukes of Stratosphere don’t create their psychedelic sound with mellow dreamy melodies or atmospheric keyboards. Instead, the music is completely chaotic and insane. While the full length album would be slightly
calmer and more ordinary, on 25 O’Clock
the upbeat bass lines and riffs are constantly surrounded by layers and layers of guitar fuzz, trippy synthesiser effects, piano and organ. The production is pretty much perfect, creating a trippy dense sound but also letting the hugely catchy riffs and basslines stand out against the effects completely, never letting them sound at all buried. The vocals are also energetic and clear, despite often being coated in effects and distortion
A lot of what really makes 25 O’Clock
great though is the tongue-in-cheek feel to it. The music never takes itself too seriously, making it great fun to listen to. At times it is absolutely hilarious, thanks to the bizarre lyrics. The Dukes even went as far as releasing the EP on April 1st, claiming it was an album of lost gems from the late 60’s and not made by XTC
at all. Despite being treated in such a light-hearted manner, it would be unfair to dismiss The Dukes of Stratosphear as a gimmicky joke. The songwriting is consistently excellent and the songs can honestly stand up to any original psychedelic rock released in the 1960’s.
However, the EP could very easily be criticised for being totally unoriginal and even going as far as totally stealing the sounds of other bands, and even specific songs. ‘Bike Ride to the Moon’ sounds like it could have been taken straight off Pink Floyd
’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
while ‘The Mole From the Ministry’ is clearly heavily inspired by The Beatles
’ ‘I Am the Walrus’. The intro to the title track is taken almost straight from The Electric Prunes
’ ‘I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night’ and even the album cover looks suspiciously similar to the cover of Cream
’s Disraeli Gears
However, viewing The Dukes as thieves would be missing the point somewhat. It was never meant to be new or original, and should instead be seen as a tribute to the bands, albums and songs that inspired it. There are references all throughout the lyrics to different obscure psychedelic bands, and while it doesn’t do anything particularly new, it manages to recreate the sounds of the late 60’s with a new found energy. If anything, 25 O’Clock
manages to advertise the bands it references. With its all too short length and varied styles it never gets at all dull or boring and stays interesting for multiple listens.
Overall, while 25 O’Clock
could be too silly for some, fans of psychedelia should love it’s upbeat trippy vibe and humorous homages to the original psychedelic greats.