Record Review: Stan Ridgeway – The Big Heat

I.R.S. Records | GER | CD | 1986 | CDILP 26874

I.R.S. Records | GER | CD | 1986 | CDILP 26874

Stan Ridgeway: The Big Heat GER. CD [1986]

  1. The Big Heat
  2. Pick It Up (And Put It In Your Pocket)
  3. Can’t Stop The Show
  4. Pile Driver
  5. Walkin’ Home Alone
  6. Drive She Said
  7. Salesman
  8. Twisted
  9. Camouflage
  10. 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.

stan ridgeway - driveshesaidNE12AThe 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.

stan ridgeway - walkinhomealoneUSK12A“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.

stan ridgeway - camoflageUS7A

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.

– 30 –

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9 Responses to Record Review: Stan Ridgeway – The Big Heat

  1. Echorich says:

    Theres a twisted darkness to Drive She Said that I’ve always loved. Walkin’ Home Alone has a gorgeous, widescreen feel. The title track was missed opportunity, in my mind, for a potential hit single.


  2. Brian says:

    I have this one on cassette, and it’s exactly what you would expect a 30-year old tape to sound like. I have never replaced it because i have a 12″ single with “The Big Heat” on the A-side and “Drive, She Said” and “Salesman” sharing the B-side. “The Big Heat” and “Drive, She Said” were always my two favorites. i have always been willing to stand pat, but your description of “Walkin’ Home Alone” (along with Echorich’s, for that matter) has me reconsidering.


  3. I’ve always been a big fan of “Camo-FLAGE!” as I like to call it, and the WOV cover of “Do It Again” is my favourite one, mostly I’ll admit due to the bizarre video with a cameo by Brian Wilson himself. Your review of Stan’s first solo album is completely on the mark: whatever IRS did for him, he would never quite hit the heights he managed on this record.


  4. Vlad says:

    Oh yes, “Camouflage”! Fantastic song that’d one of the most touching war-related songs I’ve ever heard in English – and very memorable too, with that hook sinking deep and good. Could justify the whole solo carrier of a lesser artist (I mustn’t think of certain Mr Ure, no, I mustn’t…).

    Unfortunately haven’t heard thу whole album yet – only “Salesman” which was a B-side of the “Camouflage” 7inch that I have (a great song, too). Must rectify it soon and from your description of it, Monk, I don’t doubt I’ll like it :o)


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Vlad – What I like about “Camouflage” is that it was a very post-modern song that teetered on the line between tongue in cheek irony and something heartfelt. It seemed to reflect the conflict of Ridgeway trying to distance himself from emotionalism [and therefore, his vulnerability] with an ironic stance and not quite believing his own words.


      • Vlad says:

        Yes, that’s what draws me to this one, too. At first I heard a strangely heartfelt song, which seemed very strange from the New Wave guy who also fronted not at all straightforward Wall of Voodoo, but then I realised that this has more than one layer to it. And the video with its, well, not-too-serious approach confirmed my suspicions :o) The song lost none of its attractions, of course.


  5. SimonH says:

    My love for WOV, both with Stan and Andy Prieboy, is huge, to me they are one of the most under valued bands of the 80s. I became a fan after seeing them play live on UK tv show the Tube in 1982, the sound was completely different to anything going on in the UK at the time!
    My first listen to the Big Heat material was via a 12″ single of the title track released independently in the UK way before the album appeared (can’t recall – but at least 12 months). It was always an album where I totally loved certain songs but wasn’t so keen on others, however that has changed over the years, and now I realise the whole thing is great. Saw him live in the UK at the time, the audience was sadly not huge but Stan delivered a great set made up of Heat songs plus a good selection of WOV classics.
    What was that other IRS hit?? Karel Fialka maybe, or Timbuck 3?


  6. SimonH says:

    Always had a soft spot for IRS stuff!


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