Stan Ridgway

Ultra Modern / New West Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Each year, I get swamped with discs that, for one reason or another, get temporarily shelved until near the end of the year, when the release calendar slows down for the holidays and I begin to panic that I've got so much shit to listen to before January -- most of which I requested in the first place. It's also usually about this time that I get calls from publicists who have been, to that point, very patient with me -- but their patience begins to run thin, and they want to know when I'm gonna get off my ass and actually review their artists.

Such was the case with Anatomy, the latest disc from Stan Ridgway. While my intentions of getting to the disc were good, it got shelved in favor of other artists -- some from the same publicist, others that came in the mail and that I was absolutely drooling over. Finally, after a couple of calls from the publicist's office (I believe the gentleman's name was Kumar -- sorry if I've botched the spelling), I finally switched around some discs and popped Anatomy into the player.

Well, Kumar, if you're reading - I'm offering to fly you to Chicago to beat me over the head with a Louisville Slugger -- repeatedly -- for not getting to this disc sooner. Not only is my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Anatomy an incredible disc, it could damn well be the best thing I've listened to all year -- and I feel incredibly stupid for not getting to it sooner.

Chances are, the moment you hear Ridgway sing, you're gonna say to yourself, "I've heard this guy before." Good memory, Sparky -- Ridgway was the unique voice behind Wall Of Voodoo and their quirky hit "Mexican Radio". What Anatomy does is not only puts aside the thought that Ridgway can only write goofy songs, but also establishes him as a very serious songwriter who nurtures his craft carefully.

Oh, there's still tinges of sinister nature in Ridgway's songwriting, as evidenced in "Valerie Is Sleeping". And while there's still a twisted sense of humor in Ridgway's songwriting, often he balances it with a more serious message, as on "Mama Had A Stove": "And mama raised us up / To never tell a lie / Except when there's a secret / Where the neighbors tend to pry." Ka-pow.

Musically, Anatomy shines just as bright. Although you know that "Murray's Steakhouse Story" is only 68 seconds long, you find yourself expecting the track to just burst forth into something even more spectacular than what you're hearing. (It does -- only it happens on "Susie Before Sunrise.") If a simple instrumental can make you feel that excited, you can imagine how the bulk of this album is.

Even on the more serious tracks like "Picasso's Tear" and "Train Of Thought", as well as the cover of Merle Travis's "Sixteen Tons," Ridgway makes sure that the ride he takes the listener on is exciting enough to make them want to get back in line for more. And, brother, you're gonna want a whole lot more.

But wait, there is more - joy! If you throw this disc in your computer and load the Liquid Audio player, you're treated to three live tracks from an EP that Ridgway recorded in 1991. Why he chose to go this route rather than actually add them to the CD proper, I don't know, but it's well worth loading a player that I don't normally use. "Camouflage" is a re-telling of a tale often used in '50s "death" music, but is so powerful because you don't expect it to turn into such a track. And the humor of "I Wanna Be A Boss" - hell, I'd work for such a guy.

Ridgway has successfully erased the ghosts of his musical past with Anatomy, and has created an album that captures the man and his craft perfectly. If you take a chance on only one album this year, search this one out -- you will not be disappointed.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Ultra Modern / New West Records, and is used for informational purposes only.