Who is Wreckless Eric? All I ever knew was the big song. The known song, Whole Wide World (www). Now there is a compilation of his best work on Stiff Records, Greatest Stiffs. The CD title has the same irony coming through as in his music and the times. Perhaps it makes you think that this is dead music? There is not one thing dead about it. You can learn right from Mr. Wreckless himself about him and his music. The self written brief "bio" and accompanying descriptions of each song help give you insight to the man and his music. The singles are trakced in chronological order so you experince the progression of his sound and creer. The CD taught me a lot about Mr. Eric Goulden. I like the music more.
Like so many rock musicians befero him, Mr. Goulden went to art school but really wanted to be in a band. In his hometown of Hull he started as a bass player in the early seventies for his first band, Addis & The Flip Tops, named after a "rubbish bin". They were a cover band dodging bar fights at "men's clubs". Tiring of this Eric "started writing songs to give us an idnetity. We might be shit but at least we were original". The songs came easily and quickly. Despite a "shit voice" and bad playing he realized he could write a good pop song. Moving to London in 1976 the same time Stiff Records started, Wreckless Eric formed. Ian Dury was the original drummer playing on a fire damaged drum kit. They had the big three working for them- luck, timing and talent. The talent was an ear for smart pop songs with little regard for convention despite having no "real" talent. The timing was perfect. Pop was just about to be shredded and destructed. The bands that influenced Wreckless Eric, The Who, Stones, Kinks, Beatles, were all about to be regurgitated by a bunch of punks.
The first single and first track, Whole Wide World, produced by Nick Lowe, was a "Goulden" hit. Still fresh today. Seminal. A signature track. Any decent "comp" of that era has to include this song. Coming in with a chord strum like a nervous foot taping. Quiet vocals speak of his momma saying that the match for him is out there "but she probaby lives in Tahiti". The son thinks about all the poosibilities of going the "whole wide world just to find her". The sparse drums come in a one punch, two punch, then the plunking bass. The thought now turns to a declaration. The anger, the chance of freedom comes hurling out. That is punk. This is pop. Then comes the handclapping. When it comes to great pop song, handclapping makes it good. How pop can this song be? The Monkees have covered it on recent tours. Enough said.
Reconnez Cherie was the second single released on Stiff. One of Eric's favorite songs to this day. He wanted to write a Cajun song and didn't let his bad French get in his way. "The chorus is rubbish" but how cares? It sounds like it means something. It is a great song. The music sounds like it is being performed on stage at some no name bar, perhaps the swagger comes from all those cover band performances. Lacksadaisical in deivery and signature Wreckless Eric sound. Sparse uneffected guitar that is near acoustic with an electric edge. Thouroughly enjoyable. Semaphore Signals is the B side to the Whole Wide World and the third song in the collection. It is worth a listen as you read along about how the song was produced. Ian Dury had that job and played drums.
Take the Cash (K.A.S.H.). I know this one! I never knew he did it. The third single. You can hear so many bands in here. The line blurs as to who came first; The Velvet Underground, Mekons, Eno, Television Personalities, Feelies, Flaming Groovies, Roxy Music? They all re grazing and digesting from the same fields of influence. One of the more well produced tracks with power chords, bright back ground vocals. The song was "written in desperation in a taxi cab on the way to the recording session". He just came up with it. The spontaneity is captured. Referencing the English game show, Take Your Pick it is a fun song hinting at a sell out to come? Perhaps. Eric himself says it was big hit in NY where it is now a big "American Football anthem".
There is a sarcastic, pandering to Pop Song. It is anthemic like the preceeding song and lyrically mocking the structure of the "two minute" song. "You hear it everyday". It has that classic pop theme of coming up with one big hit! You can't tell if they want a hit or the record company is pushing for it. The biggest selling U.S. single of their career the lyrics deal with the pressures on his "personal vision" at the expense of selling records. The song came out as a successful single in the UK and "Top of The Pops" offered the band an opening slot appearance. Stiff Records snubbed the offer because they "deserved a better position". The song plummeted from the charts the next week and so did any other invitiations to appear on television. The label blew it with their arrogance and punk posing. Also in the punk tradition, "Personal Hygiene" is an off beat waltz with swelling sax, dumping on the clean. Like X-ray Spex Germ-free Adolescents it is the statement that clean is bad. That was part of the punk ethos. Both of these singles are first class punky, pop songs with entrenched punk stances.
To this day, Wreckless Eric's music has one thing that doesn't work for me. After hearing a few of the bigger songs, I get bored. There is no doubt from listening to this collection that this an influential and substansive body of work. After a while I just don't need to hear more. As you get into the collection it seems that the early anger and spontaneity is gone. The early spark still comes through on later songs, Walking On The Surface Of The Moon, Waxworks, I Wish It Would Rain and Grown Ups. There is more structure and musicainship and the songs are better thought out than the debut material while still tapping into that original esseence. Many tracks in the middle of his career suffer from his bouts with self destruction and lose of feeling and attetion. "Veronica" attempts to bring in the original sound. I never liked this song and he writes in the liner notes that "everybody likes this song more than I do....oh well". You can't deny that it is a a true pop song but he seems to lose his edge found in the early recordings. The songs get tedious. The raw and naive stylings are gone. There are flashes and specs of the early days but now it is a job. Expectancy seems to weigh heavily on the song writing. How do you capture that original spontaneity without sounding like you are an imitation of your prior self?
I knew nothing about the details of Eric Goulden or this band. The liner notes taught me the whole story from the man himself. Although brief, the abstracts about each song are direct, informative and endearing. This is a great enhancement to the CD. There are vingettes into the music scene of London from the mid-seventies to the early eighties. Mixed and "erically enhanced" this was a "hands on" production by the artist. Although some of the production is weak it has more to do with the condition of the orginal master recordings. Created on basic four track equiptment, you are left wondering about the condition and storage of his early master tapes. The undeniable fact of Wreckless Eric is that he could write an intelligent pop song. He had a wide ranging influence on the next generation of punk, post-punk and new wave artists. His inexperience aided in twisting the old pop standards into punk standards. Unfortunately his music didn't make him rich. Knowing that he worked on re-mastering the tapes and authoring the liner notes for the CD, this was a labor of love. In true punk tradition, he slags off his attention to the CD with the final statement, "I'm just hoping for a good royalty cheque".