- The Big Heat
- Pick It Up (And Put It In Your Pocket)
- Can’t Stop The Show
- Pile Driver
- Walkin’ Home Alone
- Drive She Said
- Rio Greyhound
I was an early adopter of Wall Of Voodoo from their initial Index EP. I had bought “Dark Continent” shortly after it had come out but didn’t buy “Call Of The West” until just a few years back, for some, crazy reason. Maybe it was one of those “I’ll get around to it” decisions that have a way of taking up decades, sigh. When the time came for singer Stan Ridgeway to move out to solo territory, I was ready and waiting. In fact, I had to wait at least a year or two, since I had never seen the album on CD for the first year. I remember hearing it being played on the p.a. before seeing The Bangles back in ’86. Manager/Label Owner Miles Copeland sure knew to work that action like the pro he was!
The project sounded intriguing as I’d caught the video for the electric “Drive She Said” single on MTV [probably IRS’ The Cutting Edge] and wanted more, but by 1985, I was holding out for a CD, having made the change mid-year. According to Discogs, there was a domestic one in 1986, but I never saw it in any store. I opted for the German CD via catalog and counted myself a lucky cuss for having it even at the higher import cost.
The album marked a decided pull away from the twitchy New Wave that WOV had proffered while keeping the fatalistic worldview of Ridgeway fully intact. The move to more conventional song structures allowed for the full impact of his noir inspired lyrics to have plenty of space to spread out and get comfortable. The net result was still steeped in irony, but with a greater reliance on hard-boiled literary convention. The vibe encompassed cabaret, soundtrack music, folksong, as well as a few nods to rock.
The first single, “Drive She Said” was a knockout; based as it was on an infectious, circular guitar riff and shot through with edgy harmonica caterwauling. It was the only song on the album where reliance on the guitar instead of the [undoubtedly digital] synths of the day made for a tastier song and one which more strongly gave off whiffs of his former band. The hard-boiled dame in the back seat of the cab was a perfect femme fatal to bounce off of the point of view of the more naive cabby narrating the song. I love how he gets lost in a pathetic, shopworn fantasy during the song’s highly contrasting middle eight until the woman admonishes him to just get back to business.
Mike Watt of The Minutemen was a surprising guest bassist on the darkly fatalistic strip club slice of life “Can’t Stop The Show.” This tune ladled on the irony with buckets full of false carny brio as Ridgeway painted a darkly comic vision of bleakness where show business, even at its seediest, beats the downbeat world that the figures in the song inhabit away from the stage.
“Walkin’ Home Alone” was a dip into jazzier climes and a late addition to the canon of “saloon songs” that used to be such a part of American song. Somewhere, I’d like to think that Sinatra might have heard that one and maybe thought a moment or two about covering it. In a better world, he would have. But that’s not the world that Ridgeway is concerned with. No, it’s the dead end losers, and roustabouts that his attention is focused on. So maybe it was better this way.
Most of the singles from this album graced many a European turntable. That’s not surprising. The French took film noir and its dark examination of the seamy underside of the American Dream to their hearts first. What’s going on on this album is no so far from that mark, but the album did have one almost hit single for the American market, the memorable “Camouflage.” The track was notable for being one of two high tech synth/folk songs [complete with banjo!] from the year 1986 on I.R.S. Records. Do you know the other one?
Once heard, “Camouflage” ingratiates itself to the ear by being a near-hilarious deconstruction of a “John Henry” styled folk song that also managed to address America’s post-Vietnam malaise! It’s hard not to think of John Wayne in “The Green Berets” when listening to this song! The conceit of a ghost marine saving a green recruit in a dark night in the jungles was brilliant. One can easily imagine the song’s appeal to both red-blooded patriots and ironic, espresso-swilling hipsters.
This fine album marked the end of Ridgeway’s association with the I.R.S. organization, and to me it represents a high water mark of his accomplishments. Later albums, which I have, were on Geffen or indie labels going forward from 1985. What I’ve heard suggests that Ridgeway has refined his lyrical approach only marginally, but basically kept to this artistic course; substantially more literary than his WOV antecedent and completely lacking in the quirky, percussion + rhythm box but no drums ethos of that band.
I’ve only heard two singles from the band he left behind and they also ceased to be the same Wall Of Voodoo machine. “Far Side Of Crazy” was an appealing widescreen alt rock number, but their cover of The Beach Boys’ “Do It Again” [wacky video aside] failed to convince. I just didn’t see much point in pursuing the Wall Of Voodoo-in-name-only band any further. I recently got my first Post-major label Ridgeway solo album and am looking forward to adding more to the Record Cell.
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