The third full-length release from Stan Ridgway's noise-rock project, Drywall, is a delightfully bizarre concoction of out-of-the-void speak-singing, lounge-y electronics, down-and-dirty rock-outs, and a jazz-inspired, structure-less approach to songwriting. A complex collection of Zappa-esque sonic experimentation, Barbeque Babylon boasts progressive, off-the-beaten-path thinking and oddball talent; it's the sort of record meant for the recliner and a pair of headphones. And, for the final track, Ridgeway squarely takes on the Bush administration, and tells it like it is (but more on that one later).
"There's so much information, I can't take it all in," Ridgway sneers on "In
Total Focus" atop spacey psychedelic effects, fuzzy riffs and drum-machine beats.
And he's right. About life and this album; it'll take a number of listens (or
tries) before you get it. Or get close to getting it. "Concentrate and keep focused/
Keep total focus." We'll try. But with an album that switches genres every three
seconds, it won't be easy.
Luckily though, it's enjoyable enough full of generous, ear-tickling textures, infectious melodies and danceable beats to make you want to stick around for the ride, focused or not. With Barbeque Babylon, you get a little taste of everything from a welcomed alternative sort of perspective.
Featuring a delicate, eerie instrumental section that carries into the distance like a lonely bird fleeing the desert, "Somewhere in the Dark" feels like, well, being lost somewhere in the dark while Ridgway's grimy vocals narrate the confusion; it's at once mesmerizing and discomforting.
"The double-A RP is after me," Ridgway croons on the bitter, harmonica-driven track of the same name, winking both at Ridgway's age (52) and longevity in the music business he's been writing and recording independently since the late '70s, when he formed the new wave (evident in his music today) band Wall of Voodoo in Los Angeles in 1977.
Fueled by a funky, menacing bass line and chiming electronics, "The Big Weird Thing" contemplates the modern world (?We are not cogs, we are not invalids") and our place in it: "We are pale faces walking backwards... everything is changeable, everything is changed," Ridgway barks forcefully (his nasal vocals are the idiosyncratic sort you either love or hate). "Robbers & Bandits & Bastards" is a string-laden, swinging country number.
And there is that final song, "Hidden Bonus Track" (which is, um, not hidden), which begins with a speech from Bush (or is it a Bush sound-alike?): "The American flag stands for corporate scandal, recession, stock market decline, blackmail, burning with hot irons, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, terror, mass murder and rape," to which the crowd explodes in clapping. The remainder of the track goes on with the same, brutally honest and terrifyingly true speech atop ironically optimistic drum machine beats. "I have a message for the people of Iraq: Go home and die."
Clearly, Ridgway is scared neither to offend nor shock such divergent music-making and thinking is threaded through every experimental, against-the-grain and tell-it-like-it-is track here.
by Jenny Tatone
Fast reviews of recent releases
Article Published Apr 13, 2006
Drywall, Barbeque Babylon (Redfly). Wicked sophisticated political satire is Stan Ridgway's latest vehicle, and when he sings "The AARP Is After Me," the former Wall of Voodoo frontman is just as hilariously surly as he was on his signature '80s hit "Mexican Radio." This genre-blurring pageant of pop styles is another fine example of Ridgway's genius for studio wizardry and biting black comedy. -- William Michael Smith
SXSW Performance: Stan Ridgway
March 19, 2006 12:21 AM
by Tjames Madison
It's been 24 years since Stan Ridgway (music) and Wall of Voodoo released "Mexican Radio," an instant radio classic that also helped usher in the pop-video age via MTV.
In the long intervening years, Wall of Voodoo has vanished (possibly to the same alternate dimension where MTV still shows music videos), but Ridgway never went away. He's been watching us and taking notes the whole time.
Ridgway turned up Saturday night (3/18) at Threadgill's, a "surprise guest" at the unofficial CD Baby showcase. The singer/guitarist looks a bit quizzically rumpled these days--sort of like a high school biology teacher wondering where his reading glasses went off to--but the offbeat wiseguy voice is still there, and Ridgway's talent for left-field musical hooks is still apparent.
Ridgway has always invested heavily in a particular set of source materials in his music. Endless roads and driving at night, potentially violent confrontations and mysterious signals from unknown sources: this is the world Ridgway is the most comfortable living in, and his short but satisfying set Saturday found him settling into his favorite settings like a well-worn chair.
A Tex-Mex version of "Mexcian Radio" set the tone for the stripped-down set. Ridgway brought with him his frequent touring companions, keyboardist Pietra Wexstun and guitarist Rick King (occasionally known as the Stan Ridgway Acoustic Trio), and the band stretched with out several relaxed versions of some of Ridgway's best-known songs, including a rousing version of "Camouflage." A casual listener might have even thought they were hearing a normal band.
But they would be wrong, as Ridgway demonstrated with the closing number, the old Wall of Voodoo chestnut "Call of the West," a weird enough song to begin with, but one which on this night the singer embellished with an improvised narrative section involving some kind of range war between two Austin restaurants, the transformation of nearby I-35 into a toll road, and the seemingly inevitable expansion of Austin into a megacity which eventually will swallow up Houston.
"But ... I don't care," Ridgway summarized. "Because I don't live here!"
And then he vanished again.
By William Michael Smith
Article Published Feb 16, 2006
Looks like former Wall of Voodoo leader Stan Ridgway (remember "Mexican Radio"?) has re-emerged from LA noir-rock obscurity just in time to lob a sarcastic musical hand grenade into a homeland secured by the smug likes of Tom Ridge and his little color codes. Worth the price for the song titles alone, Ridgway's vision of Babylon is drawn in daring, surly, slap-in-the-face Dada commentaries on the absurd ironies of modern life ("The AARP Is After Me") and twisted odes to Bush/Cheney/Rummie and the neocons like "Wargasm" ("I wanna have a wargasm. Now!").
Ridgway plays an army-band full of instruments, twists 40 million studio knobs, and sings like a man inhabited by extraterrestrials, backed up by the minimalist ensemble of wife Pietra Wexstun on all manner of keyboards and guitarist Rick King. The whole thing manages to sound like a full-blown Frank Zappa production on wack tracks like "Fortune Cookies" and "In Total Focus" and then ranges easily across early Beefheartian outer-space terrain on "The Alibi Room" and "Rain on Down." The band's seamless amalgam of noise rock, Tejano, funk, and country resembles some sort of über-cynical, Tom Waitsian, psychedelic dream on wicked sing-along ditties like "That's the Day They Buried the Pope" or the self-explanatory "Robbers & Bandits, Bastards & Thieves."
While most overtly political records are filled with tiresome clichés and smarmy groupthink do-gooder-isms (inevitably making for strained and tiresome listening) Barbeque Babylon is brain-gripping stuff. Ridgway's pièce de résistance is a splicing of George W. Bush utterances into a fake State of the Union message: In the opening we hear the President tell the assembly that "we meet every four years to threaten the world," and at another juncture he vows that "every schoolchild in America should have three nuclear missiles." This is political opera taken to its highest and most damning level. In fact, the record as a whole is so stout and anti-establishment, I'm surprised Bill O'Reilly hasn't dedicated several programs to decrying it. At the very least, Pat "I Know What The Lord Would Do" Robertson should've called for Ridgway's assassination by now. Still, if this album were presented as evidence at Ridgway's trial for sedition, it's doubtful the judge could keep a straight face while listening to it.
Barbeque Babylon (Redfly Records)
US release date: 10 January 2006
UK release date: 5 September 2005
by Stephen Haag
"15 Choice Cuts For Your BBQ Party” announces the cover of Barbeque Babylon, the third album from ex-Wall of Voodoo frontman Stan Ridgway’s new project, Drywall. I guess that pronouncement would be true… but only if you’re inviting Tom Waits, Mike Patton, JD Wilkes, Captain Beefheart and the reanimated corpse of Frank Zappa to your BBQ, as much of Barbeque Babylon trafficks in the sonic pastiches, politics and general weirdness of those well-known, well-established weirdoes.
Ridgway and his Drywall compatriots Pietra Wexstun and Rick King have a knack for couching their harsh, cynical outlook on the world in silly, almost cartoony instrumentation. Opener “Goin’ On Down to the BBQ” sounds like a fun invitation set to a zydeco beat, but Ridgway’s Waitsian carnival barker hints at a dark underbelly to the festivities: “Tammy got a knife with a razorblade / She brought her baby with a burnt teddy bear / Lost her finger on a midnight swinger / Cook it up and like it medium rare”.
If the music was as gloomy as Ridgway’s dystopian vision of the world, Barbeque Babylon might inspire a rash of suicides. As it is, listeners get treated to everything from bossa nova ("Somewhere In the Dark"), jazz guitar ("Buried the Pope") and synthesizer workouts ("In Total Focus”, “The Alibi Room") married to lyrics like “In Total Focus“‘s “We are just fish swimming in a dirty pool”. Ridgway and co’s unique musicianship certainly helps the medicine go down; as such, much of the album plays like a politicized version of Mr. Bungle’s genre-hopping swan song California.
And Ridgway’s political stripe is this: He doesn’t trust the government. The sea shanty “Abandon Ship”, with its crashing cymbals, sinking ship and headstrong captain, could be read as an indictment of a certain current US president, while the Western-tinged waltz “Robbers and Bandits and Bastards and Thieves” paints with a broader brush, basically accusing anyone in power of corruption, greed and incompetence. If the powers-that-be could, sings Ridgway, “They’d lock us up and charge for the keys”. Given the goings-on in the world today, can anyone begrudge Ridgway his cynicism?
Ridgway’s biggest influence, far and away, though, is Frank Zappa. Both men share a healthy distrust of the government and a love of genre-hopscotching. And like Zappa’s music, there’s plenty on Barbeque Babylon to reward listeners, but it doesn’t make for the best BBQ party soundtrack. The acid guitar of “Fortune Cookies” could easily have been found on FZ’s Jazz from Hell; the looped audio clips and drone of “That Big Weird Thing” is cut from the same cloth as “Porn Wars” off Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention. Too, Ridgway is a fan of using disembodied voice sound snippets as pastiche, a technique Zappa often relied on (see Lumpy Gravy, Civilization Phaze III). On the lighter side, it’s not hard to imagine Zappa, the satirist who penned such tunes as “I Don’t Wanna Get Drafted”, writing the old-age-is-creeping-up-on-me lament “The AARP is After Me”. And the closing track about socioeconomic woe, “Something’s Gonna Blow”, feels like the grandson of FZ’s “Trouble Every Day”, right down to the ramshackle guitar riff, and Ridgway’s breakdown command to “C’mon play that organ” is pretty darn close to Zappa’s request to “Blow your harmonica, son”. Your opinion of Zappa - who was not always an easy man to like or an easy musician to comprehend - will inform your opinion of Barbeque Babylon.
Not that all these styles and techniques are the exclusive domain of Zappa, but he’s the one who synthesized them all to the greatest use over the course of his 30-plus year career; comparisons are unavoidable. Although Ridgway clearly invokes several of Zappa’s eras, at its heart Barbeque Babylon is most akin to FZ’s early albums with the Mothers of Invention; that is to say, it’s a protest record, full of satire, brimming with musical ideas and pastiches, hoping for a better world but skewering the one we’re stuck with. Not to sell Ridgway-the-standalone-musician short, but he makes for an excellent Frank Zappa torchbearer in a musical landscape that desperately needs one.
Published on 2/2/2006
Ridgway gets as weird as usual on Drywall's latest
"Barbeque Babylon: 15 Choice Cuts for BBQ Party" -- Drywall (Redfly)
By MIKE CURTIN
Special to the Post-Star
You know when the instruments listed start with guitar, harmonica and keyboards, and deteriorate quickly to "kabob mandolin," "flopsweat" and "slide snake," that you're in for a very strange ride, but that's what you get from a trio led by Stan Ridgway.
From his years as the brackish lead singer of new-wave wonders, Wall of Voodoo ("Mexican Radio"), to acclaimed solo discs like "The Big Heat," "Partyball," and 2005's "Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs," the California-based singer-songwriter has tilled his own unique acreage in American music -- a place where the noirish visions of mystery author Raymond Chandler and the skewed party music of the B-52s find, if not common ground, at least seating at the same seedy bar.
Joined by Pietra Wexstun and Rick King, Ridgway's Drywall is yet another manifestation of his fractured personality.
"Buried the Pope," for example, is an oddly affecting look at an event where sorrow, solemnity and political machinations were intermingled amid the grandiose trappings of last year's most famous funeral.
"Goin' Down to the BBQ" is a jaunty calliope of polka and mariachi music, reminiscent of nonsensical songs from the '60s like the Trashman's "Surfin' Bird."
His faithful rendition of Richard Farina's "Bold Marauder" is tailor-made for his vocal style and is, hopefully, the first of many recordings honoring this sadly neglected songwriter who died in a motorcycle accident in 1965.
P.S. Don't play the hidden track for any of your Republican friends. For the rest, enjoy a cut-and-paste State of the Union address, that many people will find is more true to the times than the national address heard Tuesday.
Review of Barbeque Babylon by Will Harris
For your daily dose of Facts to Make You Feel Old, here's one that'll cause a few more gray hairs to sally forth from your scalp: Wall of Voodoo's "Mexican Radio" is 23 years old.
Since then, the band's decidedly recognizable frontman, Stan Ridgway, has continued to record and release albums, but virtually each one has been unique from its predecessor, save for his inimitable voice. Leaving the majors behind in 1991, Ridgway has flirted with any number of styles, up to and including a collection of big band standards and Broadway show tunes ? trust me, you haven't lived 'til you've heard him sing "Send In The Clowns" -- each quirky, but all relatively user-friendly when approached with an open mind and a sense of humor.
In 1995, when Ridgway put together a band with Peitra Wexstun (Hecate's Angels) and Rick King (Bee Vs. Moth); calling themselves Drywall, it was, oddly enough, an opportunity for Ridgway to get even more experimental with his material. The group released an album, Work the Dumb Oracle, then followed it up the next year with a soundtrack album to a movie that didn't exist, entitled The Drywall Incident. Since then, the group's more or less been on hiatus as Ridgway's continued recording his solo material, most of which has been the audio equivalent of film noir...but, after almost a decade's absence, the trio has returned with Barbeque Babylon.
With song titles such as "The AARP Is After Me" and "Wargasm 2005," it's evident from the get-go that a certain percentage of the album is an opportunity for Ridgway and company to go hog wild with weirdness. "Buried the Pope," which features backwards psychedelic guitar, is decidedly ironic, since it was almost certainly written before John Paul's passing. Admittedly, some of the tracks, like "Somewhere in the Dark" and "In Total Focus" sound like they could've popped straight off Stan's last album, 2004's Snakebite, but songs like "Fortune Cookies" and "That Big Weird Thing" are decidedly experimental numbers. The untitled hidden track, however, is going to be a big selling point for all of Drywall's Democratic fans, as it puts together a series of sound bites from President Bush in an almost seamless fashion to have him declare, "The American flag stands for corporate scandals, recession, stock market declines, blackmail, burning with tire irons, multilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, terror, mass murder, and rape." Yikes.
Barbeque Babylon is loveably eccentric; it's a tough listen at times for those who prefer their music to be instantly accessible, but it's undeniably fun, despite the goofiness. Those who enjoyed Wall of Voodoo's Call of the West but haven't investigated anything Ridgway's done since -- and, c'mon, that's most folks -- might want to take a listen to the samples of the album that are available at CDBaby.com. At the very least, "Goin' On Down To The BBQ" should lead off any mix disc you make this summer.
"Tammy got a knife with a razor blade
She brought her baby with a burnt teddy bear
Lost her finger on a midnight swinger
Cook it up and like it medium rare
Comin' on down to the BBQ tonight
God love Stan Ridgway. There's just nobody like him. Then again, perhaps that's for the best.
Everybody gonna burn it up there
Chunky lit a torch too close to the porch
Runnin' round with a fire in his hair"
Collaboration elevates Ridgway's weirdness
By WAYNE BLEDSOE,
Stan Ridgway has always been on that weird side of rock 'n' roll. He's sort of the musical equivalent of Orson Welles' classic film noir "A Touch of Evil" - a little creepy, a little funny, wonderfully entertaining and just plain bent. Ridgway seems to revel in the company of Drywall co-conspirators Pietra Wexstun and Rick King. Unlike Ridgway's organic-sounding instrumentation on solo albums, Drywall is filled with wiggly synthesizers (mostly courtesy of Wexstun), processed beats, bleating saxophones and the like. Electronica mixes with Tex Mex and twisted lounge music. Dialogue from band members fills gaps between songs. As on Drywall's 1995 debut, "Work the Dumb Oracle," songs address politics.
January 22, 2006
Sometimes the references are oblique, as on the bouncy "Abandon Ship," but, more often, the group goes for the throat.
An untitled track at the end of the disc is made up of re-edited speeches by George W. Bush set to the sound of tribal beats, guitars and electronics.
At times, Drywall recalls Ridgway's tenure as frontman for the early 1980s group Wall of Voodoo.
Drywall, though, is far more mercurial. Ridgway, Wextun and King are adults who still remember what a blast it is to be smart-aleck kids.
It's not as arresting as Ridgway's wonderful 2004 solo album "Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs," but it's great to hear all the things that Ridgway won't do on his own. (out of five)
Who do Voodoo: The treasure of Stan Ridgway
By Oliver Hall, Thursday, 05 January 2006
The sense of the American Southwest as a place that beckons the most absolutely venal and hungriest human scum on God?s earth is nearly lost, though you might catch a glimpse of it projected into the mythic past in Westerns or film noirs?The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, say, or Double Indemnity. Even Erich von Stroheim?s ancient Greed was looking back a quarter-century to 1899. Instead, recent movies about California?Laurel Canyon, for one?imagine it as an anesthetic place built on good intentions, rather than on the vices of people who had stolen the land itself. As Pat McCormick asks Fred C. Dobbs in Sierra Madre (shortly before running off with Dobbs? wages): ?What couldja do with money out here anyway except gamble and lose it??
Stan Ridgway is famous?to the extent he is famous?for singing ?Mexican Radio? in the band Wall of Voodoo. Everyone in Southern California seems to know this song, though I would bet it is sung in all 50 states, having passed into our memory of ?the ?80s,? a phrase that apparently no longer refers to a decade of historical experience but to a musical genre. ?Mexican Radio? was?like Devo?s ?Whip It??an arty, self-conscious song by a conceptual new wave band; stripped of its context on the radio, it was a cheerful, wholesome piece of nonsense you would not have hesitated to play for a newborn kitten, a Jehovah?s Witness or a particularly slow cousin: ?Wish I was in Ti-a-jua-na/Eating barbequed i-gua-na.? (He puts an extra ?a? in ?Tijuana? when he says it, just like you and I do.)
It sounded very different, however, in its place on Wall of Voodoo?s 1982 album Call of the West, a gloomy concept album about the people who live in the Southwest. Many of Ridgway?s people have no idea what freedom they were looking for when they came here, and those who know are not to be trusted?they speak of having chili for breakfast every morning, selling Time-Life books, owning a minibike and not having to do their own laundry. That?s what the liquor-store owner tells the young man who?s come out west to start his life over in the title track. The young man turned the wrong corner, and now he?s staring into the barrel of the liquor-store owner?s rifle: ?There?s a conflict between land and people,? the owner announces. ?The people have to go.?
Ridgway grew up in Barstow and as a young man wanted to make movie music, and there?s certainly an echo of Morricone in his harmonica playing and use of guitar. His 2005 greatest-hits collection Songs That Made This Country Great pursues a number of these regional types that fascinate him, and it?s a good album once you get past the rinky-dink synth arrangements of his early solo work. Some of the characters just daydream, like the office clerk in ?I Wanna Be a Boss? (?And I?ll have people workin? under me/And this lousy job I?ll toss?), or the cab driver in ?Drive, She Said? whose latest fare is a woman who, it turns out, just robbed a bank and is trying to make a getaway. She yells at him to shut up and drive every time he opens his mouth, but he can?t help it: ?And when I turned the headlights on, just for a minute I thought I saw the both of us on some kinda tropical island someplace walkin? down a white sandy beach or somethin?.? ?Can?t Complain? reports the extraordinarily banal conversation Bert and Charlie had once?Bert?s back went out, he cut his finger, his boss is a ?big ass,? he lost his wallet, the wife?s sick, the kids are going to hell, all that government paperwork, but he can?t complain?intercut with a jolly Hawaiian chorus about sailing men out on the water, which is high, though the fish swim low. Then Charlie calls Bert a loser and workers drop a piano on Bert from the 10th floor of a building.
You couldn?t much ride off into a sunset anymore, but you could drive west till you hit the ocean?and for Ridgway, that?s probably just a fast way to get nowhere. There?s a freeway in his song ?King for a Day? (from his recent Snakebite) that his character rides at 100 miles per hour just to feel free, smoking crack at the wheel and pursued by wailing squad cars. You understand how that movie might end: having fled to the final frontier, Ridgway?s characters dream only of having somewhere else to run.
DRYWALL, ?BARBEQUE BABYLON? (redFly)
Stan Ridgway?s ?experimental noise combo? Drywalls? latest CD sounds like a rave in which the ringmaster invited the Holy Modal Rounders, Sam The Sham, Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart, the Wiggles, the Trashmen, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Popeye, Steve Earle, Devo, Nico and err?George Bush, then spiked the punch with a scary, ultra-potent new psychedelic drug and hosted big ol? jam session. Brilliant, unique, hysterical, topical, oodles? o? fun, somehow exceptionally listenable, and (dare I say it?) even danceable, this is what happens when the concept of music as art actually succeeds to perfection. Clue: a sense of humor is always essential.
Five Stars *****