Partridge still delivers shrewd, smart, and uncompromisingly Beatlesque pop gems, like the syncopated shuffle of "My Brown Guitar," the Stevie Wonder soul of "You and the Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful," and the faux-blues slur of "Wounded Horse." Surprisingly, Moulding's contributions steal the show. Both his tunes on Volume One devolved into dorky, lightweight Monty Python sing-alongs. But here, "In Another Life" delivers breezy romance, "Standing in for Joe" offers coy, devilish infidelity, and the set-stealing "Boarded Up" provides a soulful lament on how his hometown has deteriorated.
Taken alone, Wasp Star provides a great ride from two arch songwriters and pop maestros; only the Volume One comparisons hurt. Compared to former milestones such as "Easter Theater" and "Greenman," the songs here take a step back -- a composition as lyrically ambitious as "Church of Women" deserved the full orchestral treatment, while the set-closing "The Wheel and the Maypole" grates in a relentlessly upbeat sort of way. But consider "I'm the Man Who Murdered Love," an insightful, instantly catchy single about which Adam Ant can only dream. Wasp Star won't reach the head of the class, but that's only because XTC is in a class all to itself.