Pulp Fiction

Drywall blend synth-pop, film noir and politics

By Greg Cahill

May you live in interesting times, goes the old Chinese curse. (OK, actually that misappropriated quote is from Eric Frank Russell’s 1950 sci-fi novel U-Turn.) Into these, uh, interesting times steps the latest from interesting singer and songwriter Stan Ridgway–a pop artist with the heart of a pulp-fiction writer–and his Drywall collective.

Barbeque Babylon: 15 Choice Cuts for Your BBQ Party (Redfly) is the third installment in Drywall’s obscure Trilogy of Apocalyptic Documents. It’s chock-full of vivid cinematic storytelling and what music writer Zach Hoskins has branded Ridgway’s “street-corner doomsday preaching.”

It’s all about fear and frustration and an impending sense of doom, with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

In Drywall, the former Wall of Voodoo singer Ridgway, best-known for the twangy, brooding 1982 alternative-radio hit “Mexican Radio,” is joined by keyboardist Pietra Wexstun of Hecate’s Angels (Hecate was the Greek goddess of witchcraft), a master of sci-fi and noirish sound; bassist and guitarist Rick King; and various “wrecking crew” members.

You’re forgiven if you missed the previous Drywall incarnations; 1996’s Work the Dumb Oracle and the 1997 collection of surreal song sketches called The Drywall Incident barely caused a blip on the pop-music radar.

Barbecue Babylon, on the other hand, comes on the heels of Ridgway’s critically acclaimed 2004 return-to-form Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs, his first solo studio album in five years. It is a sometimes surreal, often darkly Dylanesque protest record that skewers the government and corporate America. Ridgway, 51, even evokes paranoia about the persistence of AARP junk mail while poking fun at his own creeping age.

The disc is, Ridgway has noted, his Howard Beale moment, his way of saying, we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore. “A strange look at a strange land by a strange man,” is how the Boise Weekly has described the album.

This flaming party starts off with the Cajun-flavored “Goin’ on Down to the BBQ,” an uplifting dance number that masks the drunken violence of the subject matter. The jerky, jazz-inflected “Fortune Cookies,” which follows, ponders the state of friendly fascism, social decay, sex and death–Ridgway isn’t one to mince words.

“Somewhere in the Dark” fuses a sultry samba beat and cooing Brazilian chorus with an ominous narration about alienation and existential angst. The loopy “Abandon Ship” is an unsettling metaphor for the current ship of state and its reckless insistence on staying the course. “Buried the Pope” is the album’s most topical tune, a neo-psychedelic examination of blind faith and religion. “In Total Focus” delivers the album’s best line: “Hey, maybe if we’re lucky, the government will dope us.”

“That Big Weird Thing,” which launches the second half of the album, is the centerpiece of this strange magnum opus.

It finds Ridgway railing about “shit piles of sour psychotic panic” as Wexstun delivers a funereal montage of bells and dark synth washes.

The song ignites a string of political and social commentary, including “Robbers and Bandits, Bastards and Thieves,” that leave no doubt about where Ridgway stands on the political spectrum.

“Rain on Down,” “The Alibi Room,” “Wargasm 2005” and “Bold Marauder” conspire to stick it to the swaggering swine that feed at the trough of our bought-and-sold democracy.

Indeed, Ridgway reserves his strongest venom for President Bush. Case in point: Drywall closes the disc with a biting, hidden, untitled mash-up of Bush’s 2005 State of the Union address rearranged so that GW indicts himself for all the horrors he has unleashed on the Iraqi people.

Imagine if Springsteen had the courage–and wit–to make this kind of political statement?

From the November 2-8, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© 2005 Metro Publishing Inc.

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