Sunday, September 18, 2011

Call of the West - Wall of Voodoo

Call of the West
Wall of Voodoo
IRS  SP70023

I saw a Stan Ridgway show over the summer.  I was actually going to see Michelle Shocked who was opening for him but I stuck around to check out his act.  I've never been a fan, in fact I used to find him kind of irritating so I was pleasantly surprised to find that I really enjoyed the show.  He is an entertaining, even compelling performer.  So I dug out this record and gave it a spin.  Basically the only reason I have it is that I was a big fan of IRS Records back in the New Wave days and I would buy practically any record they put out.  I bought this but didn't like it all that much, mostly because I was annoyed by Stan, or as he called himself back then Stanard, Ridgway's voice which I would describe as a cross between David Byrne and Fred Schneider filtered through Ian Curtis.  I find as he has gotten older the voice suits him or maybe I'm just more open to his mannered style of singing.  This record appeals to me now, I have a bigger problem with the 80s synth pop sound on it than I do Ridgway's singing.  The best song on the album is the most famous song in his repertoire, the New Wave classic "Mexican Radio."  Like many of the songs on this album, it has a bit of a film noir feel to it which has been a popular motif with Ridgway throughout his career.  This song is insanely catchy, hear it once and you will hear it forever.  The film noir influence is very pronounced on "Lost Weekend" which sounds better live where Ridgway gives it a more dramatic interpretation than on this album.  Like a lot of Ridgway's best songs it has a strong narrative, his music has a cinematic feel to it.  This is particularly true of the excellent closing song, "Call of the West."  This epic song is influenced by westerns and also captures the desolation of the Southern California desert were Ridgway was born.  It features one of Ridgway's best vocals.  The western influence is very strong on the instrumental "On Interstate 15" which is the road that goes from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.  It sounds like a psychedelic western soundtrack.  "Factory" opens with a howling harmonica reminiscent of a Morricone spaghetti western soundtrack, but the song that follows is a dark tale of modern life, part film noir and part suburban nightmare.  "Hands of Love" reminds me of the Talking Heads, a bouncy observation of ordinary everyday weirdness.  "Tomorrow," "Look at their Way," "Spy World" and "They Don't Want Me" are lively tunes with that big New Wave beat but full of atmosphere and sardonic lyrics, intelligent music you can dance to.  This record sounds better than a lot of records from that era and I think Ridgway deserves credit for that.  He has so much enthusiasm and drama in his singing style, it gives feeling and resonance to his synth pop.  The band is strong as well, they play with taste and restraint, virtues in short supply in the pop music scene in the early 1980s.  Recommended for Talking Heads fans who dig Sergio Leone.   


  1. I'm with you IRS Records -- I was a fan and followed nearly everything they put out in the early '80s. Not many record companies you can say that about anymore...

  2. I think there are still some good labels around. I'm a fan of Sundazed, Jagjaguwar, Slumberland, Matador, Kill Rock Stars, Merge, Polyvinyl, K and even Sub Pop to name a few. A good indie label with a commitment to vinyl earns my loyalty forever.