One of the finest unknown bands of the New Wave era was Wall of Voodoo, a band that might be termed influencial if anyone had really heard of them outside of "Mexican Radio." This album culls material from before that song was written, combining their very first official release and a bunch of previously unreleased live tracks.
The band's thin sound is your typical garage act, with the addition of some highly unorthodox guitar work and an unusual percussion section. Since the band was founded to do soundtracks to things like horror films, it's obvious that they were influenced from these movies and their sound took an unusual turn. There's very little quite like it, especially in the modern music space, but people who aren't fans of rock of the late 70's and early 80's will probably have no problem dismissing this quickly.
Tracks one through six were originally released in 1980 as a self-titled EP which is actually not too hard to find on vinyl, and will cost you less than this CD. The best known track will most likely be "Ring of Fire," an electronic-flavored cover of the South-of-the-border Johnny Cash classic. "Longarm" explores the band's paranoia of the corporate world, "The Passenger" is a song about a guy on a plane with a bomb, "Can't Make Love" needs to be heard to be appreciated. "Struggle" is a mostly instrumental soundscape that sounds like a woman is drowning, and "Granma's House" is an instrumental track with a ringing telephone. With the exception of those last two, the topics of the rest of the tunes seem like something that would've made a decent splash in 2004, but this of course relies on the fact that somebody heard these songs. They're wonderful, and Stan Ridgway's crooning combined with Marc Moreland's assault on his guitar are so fantastic that if you're familliar with the band and haven't heard these songs, you're really missing out. The songs from that original EP don't reveal some masterworks to come, nor do they show a kind of restrained musicianship genius. They show one of many fantasic Los Angeles-based bands from a great age of music, though, and fans of unusual rock will get a huge kick out of them.
The remainder of the album is a live show recorded in 1979 at some place near the University of California. The quality of the recording is high, although the album is notoriously lacking in Stan's "blabbing," as he's been known to call it, with few instances of him rambling toward an unappreciative audience. The bulk of the tracks were released elsewhere, but some of the other albums are harder to get than this one.
The tracks that will appeal to most fans are "End of an Era," "Invisible Man," and "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly / Hang 'Em High." Why? These are unavailable on any other known official releases, and the quality is great. The western movie themes as played by Wall of Voodoo are a real treat because it's not everyday a band breaks into some of the best known movie themes of all time, except perhaps the infamous 1988 band of Frank Zappa. The songs aren't exactly orchestrated masterpieces, but they're played well and should delight and amuse the band's fans. The other two tracks are original unreleased rock numbers, both of which sound a lot like their early demo tapes-- jittery, paranoid, angry, and all around afraid of the world around. Sure, it sounds uninteresting, but it makes for some great music.
Four tracks on the album are live recordings of tunes that would eventually appear on Dark Continent, the band's first full-length album. Since it's largely impossible to get on CD, this is a great way to hear "Back in Flesh," a great song about not wanting to go to work, and "Animal Day," which sounds like a children's book gone haywire. The rest of the album brings together tunes from a variety of other albums and it actually works great as an introduction to the band's work outside of "Mexican Radio." There isn't much to these recordings that is especially unique or unusual, but they do have some minor differences that as a fan of the group, I'm glad I heard.
The one thing about this album that's a pain is like many CDs from the group, it's long out of print and impossible to find new. Used copies can be found at used CD shops for six or seven dollars, if you keep checking back. Online, though, the asking price is often $30-$60, and while it's a great album, the liner notes have only lyrics to the first six tracks and there isn't a lot here to justify that kind of cost. For $20 or less, though, it's truly fantastic and people with even a passive interest in the band will probably enjoy it immensely.
April 12, 2004