Joyous album reclaims pop in it's purest form

George Byrne

Back in April 1978 the great XTC released a joyous single called This is Pop? a cracking track with a soaring chorus but just enough musical oddness in the verse to warrant the question mark in the song's title. Alas it didn't trouble a chart anywhere and it would be the next year before the Swindon outfit graced the Top 20 for the first time with the sublime Making Plans for Nigel, but their influence carries through to this day.

To many who were fans of the band from the early days the music they made was, of course, pop. Granted, it was filtered through the post-Punk/New Wave prism and had some noisy, fiddly bits but still had at its core the classic values of strong melodies and choruses -- traits not missed by Duncan Maitland on his debut solo album.

Recorded mostly in his home studio but you'd be hard pressed to tell. Lullabies sees Maitland stepping from the shadows where he so skilfully plied his trade for many years as a sideman. He delivers a collection of songs which owe much to the orchestral psychedelic flights of the Beatles and the Beach Boys.

Duncan arrived from England in the early '90s and joined Picture House in time for hits Heavenly Day and Sunburst before going on to collaborate with fellow pop purist Thomas Walsh and Pugwash. XTC's Andy Partridge co-wrote and sang on Pugwash's last album, with former bandmate Dave Gregory contributing orchestral arrangements. On Lullabies XTC's bassist Colin Moulding plays on the gorgeous opening track Your Century which sets the tone for the rest of the collection. The sheer skill and invention at work on the following Terry the Toad and Crash Position are remarkable.

Lullabies has been getting US airplay for some time now, so hopefully there will be enlightened radio presenters in Ireland who'll pick up on this thoroughly accomplished album because it's a joy to experience. Oh yes, this is pop. > GEORGE BYRNE

Lullabies for the 21st Century is released on Reekus Records. Duncan Maitland plays the Pint on Aston Quay tomorrow night