A review of Stan Ridgway’s CD Partyball.
There’s something oddly magical about a Stan Ridgway song. I don’t mean magical like with pixie dust and Disney elements, but magical as in the gritty sort of street magic that you might have just missed if you had peeked around that corner sooner, or the dark kind of magic that you feel when you turn off the engine after a long night working and instead of going in, you just sit and listen to the desert. That kind of magic.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to classify Stan Ridgway and although classifying him seems pretty ridiculous on the face of it, I keep thinking he’s basically a fantasist. An urban fantasist. An urban fantasist with a New West streak a mile wide. Or maybe that’s just the wild harmonica speaking.
Stan Ridgway was front man for Wall of Voodoo, an aggressive and crazed band from the mid and late 80′s. Their blip was a frenetic tune called “Mexican Radio,” although I happen to think “Call of the West” was far superior in every way (and “Spyworld” is damn great, too, but I guess if you sing about eating iguana, you’re gonna draw a crowd). But still, “Mexican Radio” gets the airplay. I even heard it on the radio a week or so ago.
Since “Wall of Voodoo”, though, Ridgway’s single albums have cut a very weird and fascinating path through music’s landscapes. I keep coming back to “weird” when I think of them, and this should be used to mean both “strange” and “eldritch or magical” (there’s my Lovecraft reference for the day). If you’re not paying attention, if you’re not listening to the lyrics (which would be quite a trick, as there aren’t too many folks who are easier to understand than Stan Ridgway, despite the unmistakable twang), then you stand the chance of hearing something that sounds vaguely Westerny flavored, with harmonicas and guitar in there, but with strong beats and rhythms. A brief bit of sitar (or something like a sitar) might throw you off suddenly, make you think of mystical Eastern philosophy, and then the next few seconds drain off a metallic pounding from a piledriver at work. So it’s hard to classify, and I think that’s good.
Then, you might start listening to the lyrics. And it gets weirder. Is that a song about an evil car? Is that a song about a ghost marine? Is that a song about a futuristic spy wandering around our world, lost and confused?
Lately, I’ve been spinning his album Partyball. A lot. I can spin this CD over and over and over and not enjoy it one whit less.
Every track is amazing.
“Jack talked like a man on fire and his eyes moved like two shiny steel ball bearings”
Thunderous and weird.
I Wanna Be a Boss
“I wanna take a two week vacation, twenty-six times a year!”
I still hear this on occasion, too, usually requested on morning radio shows. A perfect example of Ridgway taking an ordinary situation and gradually moving it into this weird fantasy world, where a man decides to become a boss and from there ends up vastly wealthy, buying Mars to build an amusement park, etc.
“One foot slammed on the gas––no shoe, just an argyle sock and that car was screamin’ wild down the highway, like lightning toward the roadblock”
I like the idea that a small town, filled with ordinary folks, would suddenly decide that a car could be, practically, supernatural, but that however supernatural such a thing might be, a good roadblock by honest men is the solution. Well, that and snowcones.
“I was chasin’ a ghost––pale and white and hard to see”
Beauty for the ears.
Right Through You
“And I see right through you, right on through, but I know you see right through me too.”
Of all the words I could think of to describe this song, I keep thinking “gentle”. It’s just genuinely nice, yet it hides nothing. No one can have secrets in this situation — everyone is transparent, and that’s okay.
The Gumbo Man
“And nobody bothers to conceal what they cannot hide”
Moving into more of the street magic kind of mentality, “The Gumbo Man” feels like walking over a road that only thinly covers an ancient graveyard. It buckles and humps and beneath it you know there are secret things writhing.
“And Harry Truman finally dropped the bomb, so I can go to sleep at night.”
Everybody should sleep. That’s the best way. And while you sleep, Things Happen…
“And both moons are glowin’ purple, and there is no sun to shine”
Pure science fiction. Ten years after World War Nine, mankind is enslaved on a distant planet, digging deep mines. But this has been his place for a long, long time. The only thing that’s different is who’s holding the whip. In this case, the Overlords.
Uba’s House of Fashions
“From behind a desk, inside a cool green cloud, a strange low voice told me then to join the crowd”
Even weirder. Love it!
“Everyone will be saved”
It probably doesn’t mean what you think. “Beyond Tomorrow” is a crazy vision of a strange future that looks not unsurprisingly like the one in which we are living now.
I should also add that between many of the songs are odd little instrumental interstitial tunes, each one a brilliant little psychedelic pill.
I can spin this CD all day long and my life just keeps getting weirder and weirder.
Ridgway’s CD can be found on Amazon.