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.