Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, September 06, 2008
      ( 9/06/2008 08:38:00 AM ) Bill S.  


"I'VE GOT BAGGAGE TO HAUL AND A CARD FOR THE PHONE." Of all the musical smarties and entertaining eccentrics to debut on the Stiff Records label, none blended youth and identifiable paranoia as well as Eric Goulden, a.k.a. Wreckless Eric. With his mewling whine of a voice, knack for crafting memorable pop-rock hooks and well-earned suspicious world-view, the young singer/songwriter may not have achieved hit status in the states - but his mournful "Whole Wide World" remains one of the classic Britpop tracks of the D.I.Y. Era.

Eric eventually parted ways with Stiff - not on the best of terms either - which makes this release on the recently revived label a minor miracle just on that basis alone. That Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby is the near-equal to anything this hard-partying Stiffmate created back in the seventies (other great lesser-knowns from that era: "Semaphore Signals," "Hit And Miss Judy" and "Take the Cash [K.A.S.H.]") can in part be attributed to his collaborator, new wife Amy Rigby. No small deal as a singer-songwriter herself (check out her '96 debut Diary of a Mod Housewife than follow on through the next five releases), the onetime New York rocker has an affinity for sweetly cynical girl pop. In terms of musical strategies, it's hard to imagine a more compatible couple.

The duo's first full-blown release together is a fairly low-key production - just husband & wife messin' around a studio in France. A lot of the tracks carry on the garagey sound both artists have mined so effectively in the past: lots of mid-tempo rockers pushed forward by suitably edgy guitar and proto-psychedelic keyboards. Rigby's "Astrovan" utilizes a bossa nova beat and spacey swooshes, while the harder rockin' "First Mate Rigby" takes a "Jump Into the Fire" styled bottom and layers a great shouting call-and-response on top of it. In amusing contrast, her "Men in Sandals" (a slam at open-toed footwear) sounds like something Christine Lavin might've concocted. Hubby Eric's "Another Drive-In Saturday" manages to check both Hunky Dory/Aladdin Sane Bowie and Mott the Hoople, while his collab track "Round" wittily follows the career of a one-hit wonder. His wonderfully titled "The Downside of Being A Fuck-up" takes us back to the lovable Wreck' we all know and empathize with, as does the slightly more subdued opener "Here Comes My Ship," with its lyrical reference to "everlasting" panic attacks.

WE&AR lags a mite in its middle - the duo taking the studio playfulness thing too far, layering radio chatter on top of Rigby's otherwise wonderful Jimmy Buffet tribute "A Taste of the Keys," than following it with a nattering instrumental sound collage reminiscent of Yaz's distracting "I Before E Except After C." But it quickly regains its pacing with one of the set's most explicit pop-rock treats, "Please Be Nice to Her," about a girl "who's not as switched-on as she looks." The disc concludes with its one cover, a duet of Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone" that sounds like it could've come out of the '60's Vanguard Era. Makes you think that - with enough attention from their respective cult fan bases - these two could be a more egalitarian Richard & Mimi Farina. Not a bad career track to take . . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).



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