Stan Ridgway | Mosquitos

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by Stan Ridgway

CDs Autographed by the Artist . Songwriter Stan Ridgway's second solo cd. A widescreen masterpiece. Includes "Mission In Life" and "Calling Out To Carol" Strings by Van Dyke Parks.
Genre: Rock: 80's Rock
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Heat Takes a Walk
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2:42 album only
2. Lonely Town
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4:09 album only
3. Goin' Southbound
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4:42 album only
4. Dogs
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4:05 album only
5. Can't Complain
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3:51 album only
6. Peg and Pete and Me
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4:42 album only
7. Newspapers
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2:41 album only
8. Calling Out to Carol
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4:10 album only
9. The Last Honest Man
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4:03 album only
10. A Mission in Life
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5:54 album only


Album Notes
Autographed by the artist. Pre-owned in very good condition with full booklet and jewel case.

If Raymond Chandler and Raymond Carver had somehow fused their literary sensibilities and branched out into songwriting, they might have conjured a lyrical voice something like Stan Ridgway's, a man with an uncanny knack for capturing the nooks and crannies of life among the lost and lowly in Los Angeles, telling their stories with genuine understanding but no illusions. Mosquitos was Ridgway's second solo album after leaving Wall of Voodoo, and it was a far grander and more ambitious work than anything he'd made up to that point. Produced by Ridgway and Joe Chiccarelli, Mosquitos has a rich, expansive sound compared to the claustrophobic tension generated by Wall of Voodoo, and in the instrumental fanfare "Heat Takes a Walk," the proto-ska strut of "Calling Out to Carol," the cinematic atmospherics of "A Mission in Life," the woozy horns that weave their way through "The Last Honest Man," and the Norteño-gone-psychedelic arrangement of "Newspapers," this album gave Ridgway a broader and more colorful musical canvas than he'd been able to work with before. At the same time, the rhythms were as edgy and insistent as Wall of Voodoo, and these postcards of lives in the balance had more shadings than his previous work, but their bitter emotional impact was as sharp as ever, from the doomed romantic triangle of "Peg and Pete and Me" and the disillusioned barkeep of "A Mission in Life" to the physically and emotionally broken protagonist of "Can't Complain." Mosquitos may have been a bit too subtle and moody for the audience that discovered Ridgway through Wall of Voodoo's "Mexican Radio," but at its best, this feels like the soundtrack to the best, most harrowing, and most heartbreaking film ever made about Los Angeles. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

Archived Review : " If Stan Ridgway's "Mosquitos" appears cinematic, as if it were unfolding a story about a certain place with certain characters, that's because it is. "When I write songs," Ridgway explains, "I start from an emotion, or kind of vague feeling. Sometimes I'll write at the typewriter and fill up a page, and then later look at it and see what strikes me as interesting. During the time of recording Mosquitos, I put together a kind of trashy screenplay to amuse myself, and also to get away from the 'songs' angle of it all." "As went along, the two started to overlap, the songs and this B-grade story, and an atmosphere of a certain peculiar place struck me. I was attracted to that." If it sounds like Ridgway, who first came to prominence as the leader of Wall of Voodoo, has taken a decided turn away from his previous musical style, that's because he has -- sort of. "This record seems different in tone to me than my last (The Big Heat). I found I was inventing more gaps, and not being as detailed in the lyrics as in the past. I liked what was coming out because it seemed to me to be a better balance between words and music." In each of the songs on Mosquitos -- from one about a threesome ("Peg and Pete and Me") to another inspired by absurdist writer Samuel Beckett ("Dogs") -- Ridgway creates for the listener an intriguing character. Yet unlike his earlier work, on this album Ridgway has, more often than not, opted for feelings over literary or musical cleverness. "I enjoy things that allow an exchange between the audience and the music.
I like to guess at what ought to be filled in as much as the listener." "For me, songs are little quizzes, little puzzles of emotion," The puzzle of Stanard Ridgway began just outside Los Angeles, in the San Gabriel Valley where he grew up.

There he first started playing an instrument when he was 10 years old, picking up a banjo. Moving to guitar, he began to listen to Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. When he expanded his horizons to the blues, he lent an ear to Sonny Terry (and so learned the harmonica) and Little Walter. "I played in a lot of blues bands in high school," he recalls.
"That was my identity -- black pants and black coat." His circuitous musical trail, also including playing piano, later found him indulging in free-form Ornette Coleman-style jazz. For Ridgway, what happened next was a natural climax to his evolution. "When punk started, I fell into putting all this music into one big bag, and to try and do it in a three or four minute song." Wall of Voodoo was hatched in 1977 at the legendary punk palace in Hollywood called the Masque, located in the basement of a Pussycat Theatre. There, Ridgway and friends decided to form a company to write soundtrack music for low-budget horror flicks. The name "Wall of Voodoo" was clearly appropriate for the venture. But while that effort quickly went bust, the band it spawned did not. Ever the unusual, the band's debut the following year took place at unsuspecting Immaculate Heart Girls School. Surprisingly, when Wall of Voodoo appeared months later at a Masque concert on a bill with the Cramps, Dead Boys, Germs and Pure Hell, the reaction was pretty much the same: Who are these guys? What kind of music is this if you can't dance to it? My God, you can hear the words! Says Ridgway, "The nature of my voice, the diction, doesn't allow me to hide behind the music. I had to be more concerned with the lyrics because there was no way I was going to be misunderstood. And if the lyrics were going to be understood, then they couldn't sound false." In 1980, Wall of Voodoo was signed to I.R.S. Records and released a self-titled EP Now a top L.A. band selling major concert venues, it took to the road trudging up and down both coasts.

After an appearance in the film URGH! A Music War, the band had its full album debut in August 1981 with Dark Continent.

Featuring Ridgway's wit, keen sense of storytelling, unmistakable voice, and intriguing multi-layered music, Wall of Voodoo was a critic's as well as progressive rock fan's favorite.

The summer of 1982 saw the single "Mexican Radio" become an alternative radio hit and the band's second album, Call Of The West, solidify its vanguard reputation.

The next year, however, Ridgway exited the group and the original Wall of Voodoo was no more.

The next two years were spent building his own studio to record his solo premiere.

He also collaborated with Stewart Copeland on the title track for the 1983 Francis Coppola film Rumblefish, titled "Don't Box Me In".

In 1986, the album The Big Heat was released.

The album contained the single "Camouflage", which became a top three hit in England, paving the way for similar chart success throughout Europe.

A resounding worldwide success, this first solo album established Ridgway as an artist who had something to say and a very different way of saying it.

In 1988, he was signed to Geffen Records by A&R executive Gary Gersh -- which brings us to Mosquitos.

"You know, sometimes people feel very positive about things and then again, as your sense of experience increases, you wonder if human behavior will really ever change," he says, "There's a quote from Orson Welles I like.

He'd said that if he'd heard a story that had a happy ending, then he knew that it hadn't ended yet, because most things end sadly." Talking about these songs with Ridgway, songs that he has grown close to from this specific place that he envisions, is a personal experience -- sometimes an overwhelming one, Already he's thinking about the next place he'd like to go to find characters and stories.

"For the next record," he suggests, "maybe it'll go to outer space, get off this planet completely.

Now that would be a different perspective altogether." Mosquitos: Lives of Quiet Desperation Presumably as much of a perfectionist in the studio as the legendary Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, Ridgway did not release another album for three years.

Following what was apparently a period of incessant touring, he released in 1989, on the Geffen label, one of the strongest albums of the 1980s, Mosquitos.

If Greil Marcus is right that The Big Heat was as a "compelling portrait of American social life ... since Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska," then Mosquitos is perhaps the most consistently empathetic and compassionate depiction of the disenfranchised since Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding.

Its ambition far outreached anything Ridgway had previously attempted.

He had refined his mastery of the elliptical narrative, and joined these to a wide range of musical styles and highly detailed arrangements.

In addition, he was backed by a crack touring outfit by the name of Chapter Eleven--the band's name yet another example of Ridgway's sardonic humor.

From the majestic, Coplandesque strings of the opening instrumental track, "Heat Takes a Walk," to the melancholy strings of the closing song, "A Mission in Life," it progresses as a series of short stories, each contributing to a general or overall impression of the lives of urban Americans, as Thoreau would say, as "lives of quiet desperation." But they are not judged, at least not as Thoreau might judge them; rather, they are understood, and their peculiar, personal suffering is made real for us the way things exist.

Comparisons between Ridgway and chroniclers of the seedy side of Los Angeles such as Raymond Chandler are probably justified, though Ridgway's influences are not literary but cinematic.

Like those of country and western music, Ridgway's ballads range from the sublime, to the merely poignant, to the ridiculous.

He reveals a knack for putting a twist on a stock country and western situation.

In the song, "Peg and Pete and Me"--musically, not a country song--he presents the instantly recognizable lover's triangle but gives it a sort of film noir twist, drawn from The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, or perhaps the latter's contemporary re-make, Body Heat, thus giving the song a complexity not present in standard country/western ballads.

His song draws on the structure of, say, Jimmy Rogers' classic "Frankie and Johnny," even down to the final moralistic pronouncement, but where Rogers' would-be "cheater" Frankie gets reprimanded by Johnny's sister, Ridgway's rather slow-witted narrator only too late realizes that he has been set up by the femme fatale, Peg, and provides us with what he thinks is the profound moral statement, "never trust a rich, dead man's wife." (Notice Ridgway's sensitivity to language and voice here: the monosyllabic diction following the imperative "never" is reflective of the narrator's idiom).

The humor here lies in the way the narrator's presumed profound lesson or moral paraphrase--so characteristic of country and western ballads--is stood on its head, by giving us a literal statement of the lesson rather than the anticipated homiletic abstraction.

Incidentally, Ridgway's tributes to country and western are many in his music.

In interviews Ridgway has said he grew up listening to country and western music.

He told J.D. Considine that "I've always loved that music too much to think that I could actually do it whole-heartedly as a country artist." He went on, "The important thing is taking the essence of those influences into what you do, to try and come up with something different for yourself" (14).

Merle Travis's "Sixteen Tons"--made a hit by Tennessee Ernie Ford--has been a staple of his live shows, and while his one man show, rock & roll version of Rex Allen's "Foggy River" (written by Fred Rose), the B-side of the UK 7" "The Big Heat (Remix)," does not purposely try to obscure his country and western roots, it does reveal the kinds of demands his music puts on his listener.

Ridgway expects those of us of his generation to know his sources; this is one of the risks his music always takes.

One has to listen a long time, and hard, for instance, to hear "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky" in Ridgway's "Lonely Town," but it is in there, nonetheless.

I have alluded to Johnny Cash throughout this essay, and I'm referring here to his rendition of "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky" from the Silver album (1979).

Evidence of Ridgway's admiration of Cash began with WOV, of course, in the band's rendition of "Ring of Fire." Cash, however, did not write the song; the songwriters of "Ring of Fire" are June Carter and Merle Kilgore.

"Ring of Fire" was first recorded in 1962 by Anita Carter (as "(Love's) Ring of Fire" on Folk Songs Old and New), but the song failed to hit.

According to legend, Johnny Cash had a dream in which he heard "Ring of Fire" using brass accompaniment, woke up and announced that he was going record "(Love's) Ring of Fire" using Mexican horns--atypical country instrumentation.

When WOV recorded "Ring of Fire" years ago, they dropped the horns.

The Mexican horn riff from "Ring of Fire" returned virtually intact, however, years later when Ridgway recorded his marvellous "Piledriver" (on The Big Heat).

And so when I say I hear "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky" in "Lonely Town," I mean, to be precise, that I hear Cash's rendition of "Ghost Riders" in Ridgway's "Lonely Town." In fact, I hear much of Cash's album Silver in Mosquitos, and I say this knowing that it is entirely possible that Ridgway has never heard Silver.

What Cash understands is that "Ghost Riders" is a song of the sublime, of the human soul exposed to the very mystery of existence.

At its very best, that which we call "Western music" attempts to capture the sublime, and Ridgway knows this.

His sound is steeped in Western music, as "Lonely Town" (among others) reveals.

It is no accident that Ridgway has recorded Rex Allen's "Foggy River," for Allen was the last of the singing cowboys.

Thus, it is through music that Ridgway maintains his connection to the American past and its informing myths.

This is why a song such as "Harry Truman" (from Partyball) is particularly painful for him: it is, as it were, to cut one's self off at the knees.

Moreover, while it is fashionable to mock or ridicule Red Sovine's "Phantom 309" as country corn, that song, too is about the sublime and that is what makes it work.

And Ridgway certainly knows what makes a song work.

Ridgway's best songs are complex in the sense that they play on more than one emotion; they evoke or elicit more than one feeling or intellectual response.

His preferred song is--for lack of a better descriptive term--the "cross-purpose" song, which pull the listener in two, often conflicting, directions.

Ridgway said, "I've always been more interested in the kind of emotions where maybe you want to laugh and cry at the same time" (Musician [February 1986] 94).

Certainly Greil Marcus implicitly understands this when citing "Lost Weekend" as the model Ridgway song.

Yet in a song such as "Can't Stop the Show" (from The Big Heat) virtually all the characteristic themes and song structures are mapped out.

While the voice of strip-joint operator in the song reaffirms that one of his strippers is "a showgirl, not a whore," the music contradicts, even undermines, the inherent tawdriness of the narrator's confession.

In many respects this song is a Ridgway song inchoate: the melody delicate, even haunting; the arrangement dense; the subject matter dark, tawdry, even implicitly violent ("I think she did it [danced] better last year before her boyfriend broke her arm").

The band wanders in the realm of the ideal; the world-weary voice is locked firmly in the world of the real.

Driving these aesthetics is his conviction that easy, clear-cut, black-and-white moral distinctions are extremely problematic, and the conflict between music and lyric in this song exposes that complexity.

His characters are lonesome, alienated--and sometimes full of barely restrained fury.

The narrator of "Newspapers" (on Mosquitos) for example, another cross-purpose song, seems not too distantly related to Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle: sometimes late at night i can see the streets like no one else can.

there's a lot of things going on here that even newspapers don't understand.

some people got too much money, some rob with a gun or a ballpoint pen.

maybe i'll get me a big black cape, and then they'll be runnin' from me, lookin' over their shoulder for me...

The emotional complexity of his songwriting style transcends the pop song formula.

Even when he writes a song of lost love, such as "Walkin' Home Alone," his lyrics are not penned from the position of the crucified lover, epitomized by such songs as Jim Croce's "Lover's Cross" or Keith Whitley's "I'm No Stranger to the Rain," where the pathos emerges from their recognition of their own rejection, and their stoic refusal to mourn.

Rather, as in "Walkin' Home Alone," there is a distant allusion to a violent argument, and the heartbreak of the estranged lover becomes anger that has turned inward, as a self-hatred or self-loathing, and the hurt is masked by a stoic cynicism.

Yet another example of his cross-purpose songwriting style, the music tends to mask or negate the very fury the lyrics express.

The Big Heat and Mosquitos are two of the finest albums of the 1980s, a decade that began for Ridgway with WOV and the L.A. new wave/punk scene.

Ridgway had mastered the "cross-purpose" song and had honed to a refined art his storytelling technique.

That he was not content, in the years following Mosquitos, simply to tread water goes without saying.

Partyball: A Hermit Throws a Party Greil Marcus writes of Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart), "He cannot make his music accessible... Either he'll make hermits' records that implode or put together a set of prophecies that will find its listeners no matter how fast it ends up in the cutout bins" (149).

Ridgway's set of prophecies is no doubt his first two solo albums; but he made a "hermit's record" with Partyball (Geffen, 1991), his last solo album until Black Diamond (1996).

Partyball is a hermetic, relentlessly quirky album that in many respects is a startling follow-up to Mosquitos.

While musically as diverse as his previous albums, it is, at the same time, his most personal and, paradoxically, his darkest.

As such, it is flagrantly, even gloriously non-commercial, with only one condescension to market forces, "I Wanna Be a Boss" (but a good song nonetheless).

The accountants at Geffen could hardly have been amused.

Partyball contains such highly personalized allusions and symbols that it merits the label "obscurantist." A potpourri of ideas and musical styles--which no doubt in part prompted the title--Partyball seems to be in general an indictment of American pop culture (which the title also, sarcastically, connotes).

The self-loathing which some of the songs contains is no doubt a consequence of such an attack: it is to challenge some of very myths which sustain us.

To be sure, it is a veritable double-edged sword.

"(Watch Your Step)" is the first title we see on the song list to Partyball, and it is meant to be taken both as a warning and as a prediciton of what is to come.

The album contains Ridgway's increased experiments not only with elliptical narratives but with the nature of language itself, while at the same time the songs turn more introspective.

Storytelling gives way to lyricism and language play, as if deliberately to challenge his audience (in the manner of Bob Dylan in the 60s, or Bruce Springsteen with Nebraska).

"Jack Talked (Like a Man on Fire)" is the first song on the album, a contemplation on the nature of being, done in the form of a paradox at which he is so good.

One has to glean from interviews the identity of Jack in "Jack Talked." We are told of a strange character named Jack who "talked like a man on fire," And his eyes looked like two shiny steel ball bearings And when he moved the ground beneath him shook and split open No one got too close to Jack Jack never got too close anyway And when he dreamed his ears drooled Thirty weight engine oil For the first time, Ridgway's lyrics are arranged as lyrics and not as blocks of prose.

But more importantly, the lyrics begin to suggest a sort of self-contained personal mythology.

Other songs on the album, such as "The Gumbo Man" and "Snaketrain," support this claim.

You have to read widely to decipher these lyrics; in the British magazine The Face, an article on Ridgway mentions "a homebuilt dummy named Jack" that Ridgway had as a kid: "I was a good ventriloquist," he says.

"Trouble is I had no jokes" (83).

(You can see a picture of Jack, held by the young Stan Ridgway, on the 1992 "best of" CD Songs That Made This Country Great.

Lately, Jack's own alter ego has emerged in the persona of "Jack Teak Lazar"; "Jackie" has a "starring" role in Ridgway's "Big Dumb Town" video.) The actual Jack--before his incarnation as Jack Teak Lazar--will make an appearance in Carlos Grasso's film The Drywall Incident (1995) a few years later.

Perhaps this early fascination with ventriloquism--literally speaking in another's voice--contributed to the development of Ridgway's keen empathetic capacity that informs his songs.

"For four years beginning at age 10, the young Stan was obsessed with ventriloquism," Bill Forman noted in BAM 226 (18).

("'The dummies went by the wayside when I first heard Albert King's 'Crosscut Saw,'" he said.) Essentially, Jack's argument is that he is equal to the artist because he is the vehicle through which the artist speaks: Jack "yelled out as loud as he could/'I have artistic sensibility,/I am a damn good risk,/I am the messenger and/Here is the message'." Jack is just a "dummy," who (that?) can't have any artistic sensibility--he doesn't even have any ideas (like poor ole' Kawliga, he's just a wooden head).

On the other hand, he's the means through which the artist speaks; without Jack the dummy, the artist himself is mute.

The identities of ventriloquist and dummy dissolve.

Who, precisely, is it that yells out, "I have artistic sensibility, I am a damn good risk," the artist Ridgway or the dummy Jack? "I am the messenger and/Here is the message," Jack insists.

Jack does not imagine he's merely the passive vessel through which the voice of the divine passes; since the voice is incapable of expression without him, he and the messenger are one.

He is animated by it, and that is his mode of existence.

The question is an important one, for once we are warned to "watch our step," the ontological questioning of "Jack Talked" is the first song on the album.

A hermit's record indeed.

Indicting the very culture which sustains him--this pure product of America--the album is by turns introspective, confessional, and at times full of barely restrained fury.

Vigilantism under the guise of the law is attacked in "Roadblock" in which "some idiot kids from school ate dirty snow cones colored red white and blue," while a science fiction scenario of a dystopian future is imagined in "The Overlords," one of the few songs in his oeuvre in which he forays into funk.

American icons John Wayne and Rudolph Valentino are emasculated in "Harry Truman" and exposed as tawdry, media-created shams.

"John Wayne was always bald/And he had a woman's name" he sings, and "Valentino was a momma's boy/He cried in his tent all night long." Iconoclasm is certainly a matter of aesthetics, but to attack two of America's most famous, and perhaps cherished, Hollywood stars is to attack those embodiments of values that the country finds important.

He continues, "And Harry Truman finally dropped the bomb/so I could go to sleep at night." Ridgway's personae often go to sleep; the amnesiac factory worker in "Factory," says, "i don't know why i lose my hair/and then i go to/and then i go to/and then i go to sleep." Structurally, going to sleep gives him a bridge in his songs, allowing him to move from subject to subject; but to "go to sleep" seems to be a complex trope in his work for either resignation, of working class complacency or quiescence, or of blissful escape from incessant daily catastrophes.

One infers that the "place we could stay at ... up another mile" that closes the song "Lost Weekend" is a motel, a momentary pause on the trail for two working-class Americans who've blown all their hard-earned money in Vegas.


By Bill Gibron 28 July 2006
PopMatters Contributing Editor

In art, the romance of the road is matched only by the infinite possibilities of the frontier. That is why the American West has been so celebrated: Its vast horizons suggest limitless potential, which artists never will cease to glorify, celebrate and mythologize. In the realm of sound, singer-songwriter Stan Ridgway found a way redefine the kicks one could get along the mostly abandoned stretch of roadway known as Route 66.

You get the impression Ridgway would probably have been happier as a novelist. Ever since his days as leader of 1980s new wave wonder Wall of Voodoo, Ridgway has mined the literal side of rock, sculpting pictures with words while letting his music fill the rest of the sonic canvas. On the two albums he created with the band—Dark Continent and Call of the West—his way with the language forged unforgettable portraits of people in flux and places in decline. Songs like “Long Weekend”, “Factory” and West’s title track dealt with the ever-changing face of fringe society, where dreamers meet the dead end of their desires and must find a route back to reality.

After leaving the group in 1983, Ridgway continued exploring the new heart of American darkness. His first solo album, The Big Heat, was a series of sketches about soldiers, cabbies and other amiable outcasts, and relied heavily on spaghetti-western motifs and routines salvaged from Wall of Voodoo’s vibe. But on Mosquitos, the most conceptual of his albums, Ridgway moved beyond Morricone to fashion a fresh, ambient approach to Western vistas and small-town trials. Mosquitos is a cohesive aural experience in rags, riches, and redemption. Though it plays like a series of short stories, one can indeed envision a single main character, interpreted by Ridgway’s distinct affected drawl, at the center of each tale. For lack of a better name, we will call this character Heat, since the first song on the CD (an instrumental track featuring a flawless string arrangement by none other than Van Dyke Parks) is “Heat Takes a Walk”. Through the sound of insects and a wash of hot, dry winds, we are introduced to the world Ridgway’s characters will inhabit, an arid Southwest fantasyland where remnants of frontier days meld with the promise of the future to make everything and anything seem possible.

But Ridgway also reminds us that unlimited possibilities can produce inertia. “Lonely Town”, the album’s second track, paints the portrait of such an ennui-laden existence perfectly. As he does throughout the record, the singer takes on the role of several citizens, each offering their own take on life far off the browbeaten path. The tune, a beautiful ballad accented by a plaintive harmonica, is so tender and melancholy, you can almost see the tumbleweeds slowly lilting across. Naturally, Heat’s response to all this stasis is to hit the road, and Mosquitos‘s next two tracks, “Goin’ Southbound” and “Dogs” are statements of freedom, chances to break away from the monotony of all the one-horse hopelessness. The backing for these songs is secured by fat, thumping synth lines, their forced funk reminiscent of oversized boot prints left behind in a sand-strewn sidewalk.

During his journey, Heat stops long enough to overhear a conversation between two old friends, Bert and Charlie. The dialogue in song form is a Ridgway staple (Voodoo’s “Lost Weekend” is a similarly styled chat between a destitute couple), and in this case, our pals are lamenting their individual loser lots. “Can’t Complain” carries us past the first phase of Mosquitos, that of the journey. Heat has managed to make it out of his stifling situation, but the road has proven equally unforgiving. Something must stabilize this wandering rogue, and it’s sex that seals his fate. Heat’s turning point comes with “Peg and Pete and Me”. Taking James M. Cain’s classic Postman Always Rings Twice story of passion and murder and translating it into a musical mystery, Ridgway provides a peek into how temptation turns us, making the song’s narrative as much a why-dunit as whodunit.

With a crime of this magnitude, especially within a hick town, one expects scandal, and “Newspapers” highlights the horrors of being front-page tabloid fodder. Yet Ridgway doesn’t take the suspect’s perspective; he’s just the man who runs the local street-corner stand. Yet his comments about information as corruption and facts as deception illustrate the song’s yellow-journalism sentiments with perception and emotion. “Calling Out to Carol” is Heat’s attempt at salvation, a literal shout-out to a woman he once knew long ago. The desperation in the lyric, suggesting intimacy as well as inevitability, plays directly into the main theme of Mosquitos. By leaving home, Heat has destined himself to a foul fate. Taking on the dogs along his southbound travels, meeting up with men who seem unfazed by horrid personal problems, and agreeing to play fall guy to both Carol and Peg, he becomes a true tragic hero. His flaw? An inner restlessness matched by a false hope in finding something better.

It all comes together on the album’s final two songs. “The Last Honest Man” ties Heat to crooked preachers, sanctimonious shock jocks, and boxers who take a dive for money. Dishonesty and personal arrogance call out for karmic comeuppance. Ridgway, with his peculiar voice both strangled and soothing, likely speaks from experience. He too has been searching the wicked world of the music biz for anything sincere and genuine. Of course it’s a lamentable, lost cause, a depressing reality that’s laced throughout the album’s instrumentation. As Ridgway pines for a person of virtue, a guitar line bends and twists, suggesting the search is futile and foolish.

As with many novels, the album’s final chapter, the epic closer, “A Mission in Life”, deals with realization and reconciliation. It’s a slow, somber dirge that discusses something small (Heat, finally settled, now runs a dive bar on the edge of Vegas), then broadens its scope in the chorus to address universal ideals of love and brotherhood. Heat has come full circle. The journey, we learn, wasn’t so much of miles but of the mind. As he hits on a young waitress and avoids the standard phone call from his wife, Heat has reached his own reality roadblock. And as the music swells and soars, creating emotional epiphanies that careen skyward, we sense our antihero’s final consolidation with himself. As he wails the final lines

You got a mission in life, to hold out your hand,
to help the other guy out, help your fellow man.
That’s why I own this bar.
They’re thirsty outside, I give ‘em oceans to drink.
And they drown in the tide.

Heat sees the foolishness in escape. For his patrons, liquor is not the answer, and for him, leaving his little lonely town was not the proper response. Instead, acceptance comes from facing with who you are. Heat had to deal with it during his journey of the soul, and Ridgway had to resolve it in his post-Voodoo career. Over the past two decades, he’s come close to defining his place in the often perplexing pop-culture landscape. Always the outsider, he’s settled down in his own sanctuary, making music he wants to with people he prefers to work with. He may not be superstar famous, but he’s fulfilling his mission in life. And that’s all existence asks of you.



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Pete Dooley

A Masterpiece.
This is the album that Stan Ridgway will be most remembered for...At least so far. If there were more stars to give, I would. It's quite simply his finest work, and no home should be without it. From the evocative opening instrumental to the final track, a jarring but oddly moving riposte to the theme from Cheers, of all things (where everybody knows your name, and STILL doesn't give a damn), this album is sheer perfection. Buy it now. Then buy a spare.