ROCK ‘N’ ROLL LIFERS Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby

From the former’s lineage stretching back to ground zero punk to the latter’s
career as a thoroughly mod(ern) housewife, they ain’t just your everyday
musical stiffs.

 

BY MARY LEARY

 

Figuratively speaking, my jaw’s dropping open. I keep
cocking my head toward the speakers, with widening eyes. I’m wondering why I
haven’t kept up with the career of
Wreckless Eric.

 

Of course, I already know one answer to that question. That
would be the utter fool I made of myself many years ago, when I was supposed to
be interviewing Wreckless Eric (nee Eric Goulden) in the green room of the Bayou in Washington, D.C.
Instead, a friend caught a picture of me leaning on his shoulder, blind drunk,
close to passing out.

 

To his credit, Goulden looks bemused; nonjudgmental. And
oblivion frequently hovered around the pre-AIDs, halcyon milieu of the New
Wave. I’ll never forget the night some barely-of-age Maryland yahoos showed up
to see my fave band, the Razz, then spent a good part of the evening with their
heads pushed into the band’s Marshall speakers (when they weren’t trying to
climb them). It’s the kind of thing you remember, along with the reaction of
those of us who, that night, were just having a few beers, smoking joints
during intermissions, and maybe doing a bit of the nitrate spirited over by one
of the strippers who worked two doors over. 
Our reaction? “That’s kind of dumb… but we can relate. You never know
what’ll happen next, at one of these shows.”

 

So, no, that night at the Bayou, if anyone judged my shift
from music journalist to out-of-control party girl, they didn’t say anything,
and may have forgotten it by the next day. For me, especially in light of what
happened in the six hours that followed, it was an embarrassing, depressing
turning point. But that’s another story.

 

 

 

 

 

Wreckless Eric came into semi-public view in 1977, as part
of Stiff Records’ Barnum and Bailey-like array of iconoclasts and oddballs, a
short list of which includes Ian Dury, Rachel Sweet, Lew Lewis, Plummet
Airlines, Mickey Jupp, Dave Edmunds, Graham Parker, Devo, Jona Lewie, Madness,
the Tyla Gang, the Bongos, Yachts, the Pink Fairies, Wazmo Nariz, Lene Lovich,
and Elvis Costello. Was Goulden’s work compelling enough to cut through that of
the label’s packed tent of side show personalities? For me, at the time, the
answer remained as vague as my experience of seeing him, and not interviewing
him, from the vortex of a blackout.

 

Listening to Amy Rigby and Goulden’s third album, A Working Museum (Southern Domestic),
I’m amazed. One of the elements that unified the disparate artistry lumped
under the New Wave umbrella is unusually prominent. That’s Goulden/Rigby’s
maximization of every crumb of conceptual
inspiration and musical ability they have… into something bigger. A Working
Museum
may not be marked by much in the way of advanced musical technique.
But for its creative abandon, and courage, it towers above a hill of output by
younger musicians, as well as some of Goulden’s better-established
contemporaries. There’s a nearly uniform freshness to the album’s colorful
ruminations on “everyday” topics. Another magnet is provided by the frequent
shift from Goulden to Rigby at the lead vocal mic.

 

A passionate commitment to honesty flares on the album’s
opener, “A Darker Shade of Brown,” which features Goulden ranting about
striving to maintain optimism in the
face of “sanitized sex” and other modern horrors. “Safe sex” is just one aspect
of modern life that can be troubling to anyone who’s been of age when the word
freedom meant…  freedom. In a fell swoop,
Eric articulates something that’s seemed sort of bad form, or politically incorrect
(to talk about), which might have remained indefinitely unspoken. The
experiential and artistic triumphs in the song’s transmutation of its lament
about the difficulty of navigating an increasingly categorized, confined
society into a buoyant commitment to uncovering new possibilities (“Let’s
pretend that we can’t swim – let’s drown/But at least let’s paint this town/a
darker shade of brown.”)

 

Some tracks, such as the Byrds-y “Rebel Girl Rebel Girl,”
are based in a clear admiration for seminal folk-rock. As was the case with
Eric’s earlier work, the injection of his sensibilities into that form yields a
heady product slightly similar to Billy Bragg’s. The mellow wheezings of
“Sombreros in the Airport” (how the hell can you fit them in the overheads?)
are captivating enough that I don’t
think to check the title until it escapes the couple’s lips. Several
melody-strong tracks also underscore Goulden/Rigby’s familiarity with ‘60s
sounds. “The Doubt,” for one, takes a progression that could have happened with
the Grassroots into a place that’s sublimely surprising.

 

“Tropical Fish” is an almost unbearably orgiastic flush of
guitar effects and up-close vocals. Peppered by striking pop culture
references, it implies the insanity of the latter’s taking up space in anyone’s
head. Another especially noteworthy track is the dreamy “Valley Liquors.” From
many contemporary, twenty/thirty-something “dream pop” or “psych. rock”
musicians, it might be marketed as a freshly minted, just slightly
retro-derivative creation.

 

From Rigby/Goulden, though, it testifies to the hard-earned
fruits of lifer artists’ lives.


 

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