The Dukes of Stratosphear: Psonic Psunspot (1987)
Somewhat surprisingly, as much as I enjoy XTC, I find the music they recorded as the Dukes to be better than any of their own albums. Maybe because I'm a sucker for 60s British psyche, or maybe because they just happen to have come up with an unusual number of wonderfully great pop songs for these releases.
The 1985 EP 25 O'Clock leaned a little heavier on deliberately trippy retro-psychedelia, while Psonic was a little more straightforward and varied in its quirky pop presentation, albeit still full of playful throwbacks. Opener "Vanishing Girl" is just good ol' shiny happy pop, but from there it bounces around a bit stylistically. "Have You Seen Jackie" is a playful bit of gender confusion, shades of Barrett-era Floyd, and "You're A Good Man, Albert Brown" is a chipper old-style music-hall romp. "Collideascope" is a quiet psychedelic groove that opens into a truly infectious chorus; "Brainiac's Daughter" goes with a latter-day Beatles vibe; and closing track "Pale & Precious" is a joyous Beach Boys pastiche.
Throughout, the album conjures a delightfully reverent late 60s vibe while sounding somehow current and fresh (not just in 1987, but sitting here today). It's something I play all the time, certainly more often than most of the XTC catalog (no offense to their "real" band).
The album was initially released on CD combined with the 25 O'Clock EP as Chips From The Chocolate Fireball (the version offered by Spotify), a fantastic package if you can find it; the two were later re-released separately with bonus demos and outtakes.
Here's the video for "You're A Good Man, Albert Brown" (yay, it's puppets!):