Real Life Rock Top 10
Gumshoes and Old Men Edition.
By Greil Marcus
Stan Ridgway "Anatomy" (Ultra Modern/New West)
"Coming out of the old L.A. punk scene with Wall of Voodoo, Ridgway has always peeked around corners as a kind of detective ("of the heart," I think you're supposed to add). Here the liner art plays off the '50s moderne credits of the 1959 movie "Anatomy of a Murder." But unlike other detectives, Ridgway has all the time in the world. He's not going anywhere; he doesn't solve anything; he just takes notes. The slowness in his singing is like the slowness in the way Dwight Yoakam's trucker moves in "Red Rock West." He misses nothing and he keeps his mouth shut. That's a hard trick for a singer, but that's the feeling you get: In Ridgway's songs, not a word is spoken out loud. They all take place in his thoughts as he tries to figure out what he's seen. The music is muscular, but all restraint: You don't raise your voice if you're not really using it. "Wrong, so wrong, we're wrong," Ridgway says in "Mission Bell"; he winds the words around each other until the song they cast back to, a 20-year-old Elvis Presley's "I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone," has grown up without ever announcing it's there at all". - Greil Marcus ( Salon.com)
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Stan Ridgway remains one of America's best songwriters, a Dirty Realist storyteller whose observations of the sad, soft, underbelly of the American Dream unerringly focus in on the moments when hope sours into resignation, and idealisim into cynicism.
His tales of little loser lives are characterised by a Jim Thompson world of grifters, carnies, and lowlifes making do and screwing up, their dropped stitches sketched in telling phrases that leave more questions begged than answered, as Ridgway employs straegies of concealment and revelation to keep the listener constantly revising their understanding of events. But however much is revealed, the mystery remains. What exacty do his characters want? What is their state of mind? What are their intentions?
Most of the time, you don't really want to know: the protagonist of "Valarie is Sleeping", for instance, ponders what do do now he's disposed of poor Valaries's corspe, while the numbed soul of "Deep Blue Polkadot" seeks more extreme sensation to fend off anomie, musing that "Beauty in decay can be the only way / When you are not".
The influence of such as Raymond Carver and Jim Thompson can be readily dicerned in Ridgway's writing, though the quirky detail, wry humour, and odd narrative twists are, if anything, more characteristic of the Cohen Brother's films. And indeed, the sleeve design - a pastiche of designer Saul Bass's stylised credit sequence for Otto Premiger's ":Anatomy of a Murder" - gives clear indication of the cinematic sensibility which Ridgway brings to his lyrics and his music.
Like Ennio Morricone, he has a good ear for the "visual" qualities of instruments, combining them in narratively pleasing arrangments which proceed by mood and texture as much as by melody: a whine of lonesome harmonica, a cold shiver of synthesised strings, a smattering of meloncholy Euro-cinematic piano.
It's a versatile, flexible method which enables Stan Ridgway to come closer than otherwise possible to the heart of a song such as "Train of Thought", a deeply moving evocation of the limitations of memory: " All the world and history / Burns like a bad sign / And here within my reach revealed / The clouds part in my mind / I see the love that I sought / But then I lost my train of thought ".
Wherever you stand on the great Keats / Dylan debate, that's sheer poetry
Andy Gill - UK Independent Newspapers
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Review From TOTALLY MUSIC / UK Magazine. 5 stars *****
A look at former Wall Of Voodoo frontman Stan Ridgway's 1999 release, Anatomy. Listening to Ridgway's impressive back
catalog, it's easy to understand why his rabid fanbase call themselves "Ridgnauts." His music and songwriting is simply out of this world, uncategorizable and wonderfully off-kilter.
His obsession with B-grade horror and sci-fi flicks, warped detective stories, Merle Kilgore, Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie, Little Walter, Ennio Morricone, a mysterious wooden dummy named Jack and the piano and banjo eventually led to his ambition to become the world's greatest film
After punk entered his world in the mid-'70s, he decided to "Mix all my influences into a 3 or 4 minute song." He formed Wall Of Voodoo in 1977 as a vehicle to produce his soundtrack ideas, but the band soon found that Ridgway's catchy, aural mini-dramas were equally suited to
(and more profitable on) the stage. After heavy gigging and an appearance in a late-'70s rock documentary, they were signed to IRS Records and released their self-titled, debut EP in 1980. Ridgway stuck with the outfit for two more full-length albums, the second of which, Call Of The
West, spawned the popular single "Mexican Radio." Citing creative differences, he left the band and began a successful, if underground, solo career. He's released six albums on his own (not counting soundtracks and three records with the band Drywall, featuring his vocalist wife Pietra
Wexstun, and playing on the debut CD of her latest band, Hecate's Angels), and worked with and/or influenced two generations of popular artists, including Tori Amos, The Police's Stewart Copeland and '90s alt-rockers Possum-Dixon.
Anatomy is another wonderful, careening jaunt through the slightly-blown imagination of a true rock 'n roll survivor. Though he's never veered far from the soundtrack approach (damn near every song he's ever written would make a great movie on its own), he sprinkles a
healthier-than-usual dose of melancholy emotion and come-of-age wisdom over the album's trippy, desert-drive-inspired story-songs. Kicking off with "Mission Bell," a slow, dreamy observation on loneliness and desperation, the album offers the listener both above-standard musical
enjoyment and below-the-surface lyrical dichotomy; how deep you want to dive is up to you. "Train Of Thought" glides out so easily it feels as if it's been playing all along inside your head, and you just caught up to the song. The instrumental "Murray's Steakhouse Story" tells its
forlorn tale without uttering a word, and leads into the album's first (and loudest) shot o' rock, "Susie Before Sunrise", an in-your-face blast of biting, vitriolic guitars and gurgling electronics. "Sweet Pig Alley", another instrumental, features Indian-style grooves under a blatty trumpet, and
introduces the unsettling, neo-classic murder ballad "Valerie Is Sleeping." The story is familiar, yet horrifyingly, voyeuristically exciting in its delivery. This track is quintessential Ridgeway, stark, scary and so visual you can almost see the grimace of anger on the killer's face fade to
stunned realization as he moans, "My life went wrong when I met Valerie." Instrumental number three, "Mickey The Priest," is full of horrific, warbled/backmasked monk-chants and spine-tingling, spoon-like clicks and preps the listener's ear for the Twain-inspired "Mama Had A Stove." The
countrified groove of "Whistle For Louise" follows, and once again showcases Ridgway's detached, macabre penchant for turning everyday tragedy into garish headline news: "The wind will always whistle for Louise / Working at the pump she knew gasoline, maps...beer, and
methedrine." "Picasso's Tear" bounces in on a randy, Irish-jig-gey stomp, and raises a stiff middle finger to aging, ego and the music business with caustic lines like, "Yeah the kids can fuck themselves / Yeah, they'll find out soon enough." The album closer (note: CD-Rom users will find
three live bonus tracks in Liquid Audio format), a cover of the Tennessee Ernie Ford classic "Sixteen Tons", transforms the simple coal-miner's lament into a six-plus-minute opus on life, music, love and inspiration.
This record catches a jittery ride on that ole Mystery Train through the bright lights and wicked nights of Real America, and deserves the reverence of the best of fellow soul troubadors Randy Newman, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. Though Ridgway once said, "The nature of my
voice...doesn't allow me to hide behind the music", Anatomy (and his crack band) proves that his music is a powerful voice on its own, and is just as much a part of this album's fantastic, heard-but-not-seen collection of musical mini-movies as his classic, Raymond Chandler/Johnny
If it's true that beneath the chest of every cynic beats the broken-heart of an optimist just wishing his eyes weren't so damned good, the longstanding party line on Stan Ridgway may be just slightly askew.
Too often remembered either as the bolo-bedecked New Wave smart-ass whose mug surfaced from a pot of boiling beans singing the glories of Mexican radio, or some seen-it-all musical reincarnation of Raymond Chandler with a penchant for Ray-Bans and filter-tips, the "real" Ridgway has often seemed elusive at best. Small wonder; plying his trade in a devalued cult of personality, Stan's never underestimated the value of a good persona - indeed, it's those second and third party viewpoints that have made many of his story-songs so tellingly jaundiced, if perceptively right on the money.
Set against that history, Ridgway's last outing, the largely acoustic "Black Diamond" was a warm, often brilliant surprise from an artist many broken-hearted critics probably thought they'd neatly pegged and filed away long ago. Ridgway may have emerged from this fair city's vaunted early 80's Punk/New Wave history, but that so-called "scene" wasn't much more than a well-timed venue for a band (his original Wall of Voodoo) whose instincts were much artier and - dare we say it - tasteful than their peers.
It came as no surprise to longtime Stan fans that his disparate affections for Sun Records, be-bop, Merle Travis, Dylan, Mose Allison and the intrigues of history were genuine and not the product of some cynical, irony-of-the-age marketing shuck. But it was refreshing to hear him weave them so effortlessly into his work, that quirky, distinctive baritone suddenly finding its rightful niche as a true American original; no surprise he's often more appreciated on the far side of the pond.
Frustrated with the vagaries of the pop music game, Ridgway also embarked on a second, promising career as a film composer, work that's seemingly shaded his recent "Anatomy" release as much as that afore-mentioned singer-songwriter canon informed "Diamond". The new album's perspective is often oblique, if increasingly personal (and in the case of the haunting "Mission Bell," ever more gripping), even if it comes at the immediate expense of what record-biz crit-wits call "accessability" - you're mature adults, so deal with it.
New Times - Los Angeles
Some know him just as the long lost singer with the great Wall Of Voodoo, others as one of the great unsung maverick geniuses of our time. MELODY MAKER
For Stan Ridgway life is like an old detective movie, full of furtive con men and tough dames who hide their daily crimes in the gray mist of the city. This is mature music, short on sentimentality, long on imagination and style. PEOPLE MAGAZINE
Stan Ridgway has a cast of thousands at his fingertips, and a wealth of tales in his head. A rare and famous talent. Not part of any club or click, just a maverick in his own right. LONDON MIDWEEK
Stan Ridgway is one of the most unique and talented songwriters around. RECORD MIRROR
Haunted by America's pulp serial past, Stan Ridgway has become his own wireless theater. THE FACE
Stan Ridgway is equal parts Raymond Chandler and John Huston, Johnny Cash and Rod Serling. NME
Filtered through his sardonically insightful wit, these stories become engaging not only for the details he includes, but the ones he chooses not to expose as well. THE AUSTIN CHRONICLE
Stan Ridgway tells stories from the underside of America. It's the dream gone sour; the dream that never even took root. Tales of losers who battle on and play the game their own way, with a glamour-less beauty and a bath of realism...slices of lives that knew the rules have been drawn up 'someplace else'; characters that have to bluff to get by. FOLLOW MUSIC AUSTRALIA
An effective blend of Johnny Cash's morbidity, Bob Dylan's absurdist humour and Jim Thomspon"s bleak outlook, Black Diamond ought to earn Ridgway some new fans. OPTION
I wrote him this letter once, but I never sent it to him. He is a very American kind of songwriter, and he writes from the point of view of a detective or a person passing through town. People need to know about him. He is a brilliant writer. SUZANNE VEGA in HEAR MUSIC
Fast moving novellas full of dense musical imagery, peopled with characters from a human highway 61 revisited. THE FACE
More noises from America's lost frontier. His songs tell stories that unfold gradually and trade in old fashioned narrative devices like character and suspense. It's a move at once conservative and daring - but, best of all, it works. ROLLING STONE
Stan Ridgway is the Nathaniel West of rock. LA WEEKLY
Ridgway has the talent to hold your attention by telling a tale in the same intense and clear way that rockers like Neil Young and Lou Reed do. A cool Californian commentator with a sense of humor to match his sense of history. Q MAGAZINE
Ridgway's tales of the sad, soft underbelly of the American Dream are songs of hope petering into resignation, of idealism soured into cynicism; he's a very adult writer operating in an arena more usually home to the naive and infantile. THE INDEPENDENTS
In fact he's an ingenious writer with a grip on low - life imagery that hearkens back to that of Burroughs, Bukowski and Brecht.. If a moden American counterpart to Bertol Brecht's collaborations with Kurt Wiel exits, it's the music of Stan Ridgway. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
If David Lynch were a musician, he would be Stan Ridgway. Both look at Leave It To Beaver America and see serial killers lurking beneath its porches. Both can infuse a simple everyday object with weirdness and dread, creating A world that;'s consistently disturbing, facinating and cool.
Its possible that Ridgway's change of stance reflects a more serious attitude toward his music. Ridgway isn't just a wise guy anymore. L.A .TIMES
Black Diamond is Ridway's best album in years, and it hit extremes of both detachment and passion that make it a career milestone. L.A. READER