The pub punk great continues to enjoy a stellar career renaissance with his second solo LP in less than a year
The seventies were an awkward era at best. It was a time marked by both insurgence and apathy, flush with anguish and ecstacy, suspicion and celebration.
On one side of the divide, there were those dismayed by disco, on the other, those repelled by the harbingers of heavy metal. It spurred the rise of singer/songwriters, along with some that made little distinction between pop and pap. It had the misfortune to follow the sixties, a time when rock was breaking new boundaries and the possibilities seemed as limitless as the light years that separated earth from outer space.
The decade certainly spawned a mix bag musically, but for every momentary teen idol, there were those who etched an indelible impression — Springsteen, The Clash, The Ramones, and Graham Parker, among them. One should also give due credit to Stiff Records, a hearty label out of England that took flight from an early fascination with punk and then found credence and respectability with New Wave. Stiff’s mantra, “If It Ain’t Stiff, It Ain’t Worth a Fuck,” demonstrated a stoic sensibility bred from independence and integrity. Indeed, the artists it promoted early on — Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, the Damned, Madness, and the Pogues, among others — found common ground between the mercurial attitude of the punk brigades and those that placed trust in the most basic populist precepts.
Eric Goulden, better known as Wreckless Eric, could be considered one of the label’s more optimistic artists, as exemplified by his 1977 hit single, “Whole Wide World.” An unabashedly exuberant offering, it helped ignite and sustain his career through three albums and the reflective reckoning that came by being an essential part of the upstart Stiff collective. After leaving the label, commercial success evaded him, but he continues to make music that excites and inspires both on his own and in the company of his wife, singer/songwriter Amy Rigby, as well as the various collectives (The Captains of Industry, The Len Bright Combo,Le Beat Group Electrique) that have served as banners for his various individual efforts.
It follows then that after going on hiatus for the better part of the nineties, Eric came roaring back at the beginning of the new millennium. He insists however, that he was never intent on recreating past glories or simply rebooting his older records.
“It was fine at the time, but I never wanted to proliferate it,” Eric says of Stiff and the music he made under its aegis. “I don’t want to be harkening back to the glory days. We’re still the greatest and all that. You’re not when you get old. So what are you going to do? I’m not one of these people who are trying to look like they did in 1977. It’s kind of like, that was then. I went to Australia recently and I hadn’t been there in 38 years. I had to tell them ‘I’m not Walt fucking Disney. They didn’t ship me here in a freezer chest and scrape the ice off me. I don’t know what you’ve been doing the last 40 years, but I’ve been living a life. What I do is what I am. You’re just going to get my life. You’re not going to get a recreation of 1978.’”
Eric’s new album, the aptly titled Transience, reflects his evolution from pop pundit to experimental auteur. “I don’t know what I can tell you,” he demurred when asked to share some insights for the album overall. “I like the thoughts behind it. We did it so damn quickly. I don’t think there was any chance for anyone to have any thoughts.”
VIDEO: Wreckless Eric at Third Man, late 2018
Nevertheless, the music offers plenty to appreciate. Songs such as “Father to the Man,” “Tiny House,” and “Dead End” are generally upbeat in the means and manner of his earlier recordings. However there’s also a fair share of cosmic cacophony spread about as well, especially on such songs as “The Half of It” and “Indelible Stain,” the latter of which sounds like an outtake from the Beatles’ Revolver.
“There’s always some psychedelia on my records one way or another,” Eric insists. “I’ve never really thought about how I play the guitar, but it’s kind of an atonal-ish kind of thing anyway. I come up with these chord changes, and then sort of ignore them. Some people are so slavish about the chord progression. It sounds so regimented. They all turn right and carry on the march and they all turn left and carry on the march. It’s kind of boring. So I like some ambiguity in the chord structure. Does that make sense?”
Well, sort of. Nevertheless, he partially credits drummer Steve Goulding, a fellow veteran of Stiff servitude, with the sprawling sound that surfaces in “Indelible Stain.”
“He played this weird drum pattern,” Eric remarks. “There was also this strange tuning. An A flat where it would ordinarily be a G. One strange chord laid over another. I don’t know what it is. I keep talking about chords. I must be having one of those days.”
In fact, one might believe Eric had one of those days while writing “Creepy People (In the Middle of the Night),” a decidedly demonstrative offering, especially since it deals with politics and polemics.
“‘Creepy People’ is a frightening song in a way,” Eric admits. “It’s got obscenity and blasphemy. Otherwise it could be the hit single off the album. ‘So tell me it’s God’s will when he’s fucking you up the ass.’ It’s not exactly radio friendly. I just finished wishing the president a crappy birthday. I hope he has a disgusting day. That’s my good, positive vibe.”