One of the earliest signings to Britain’s renegade Stiff Records — the same stable of artists that fostered Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Ian Drury early on — Wreckless Eric fashioned a persona that was odd, irreverent, and flush with pure attitude. His initial appearance on the label’s auspicious early sampler, A Bunch of Stiffs, quickly established him as a personality to be reckoned with, but it was his subsequent single, “(I’d Go The) Whole Wide World,” that made him a star and quickly established his career.
Eric eventually grew disgruntled with Stiff and its efforts to manipulate his music, causing him to venture out on his own. The Wreckless Eric brand produced less than half a dozen efforts, but he went on to record under a number of different guises: the Captains of Industry, the Len Bright Combo, Le Beat Group Electrique, the Hitsville House Band and his given name, Eric Goulden. He switched his base of operation — from England to France and eventually to Upstate New York — where he currently resides with his significant other, singer/songwriter Amy Rigby. The two have recorded several albums together over the course of the past ten years, an eponymous debut, a sophomore set called A Working Museum and another dubbed Two Way Family Favorites, but Eric’s solo output has been pretty much nil over the past decade.
Happily then, his new release, amERICa, slyly named for his adopted country and dedicated to its particular attributes large and small, shows an undiminished enthusiasm that revels in that pure punk attitude of old. The topics are mainly autobiographical in nature; “I carried a case full of dirty clothes halfway around the world / When luggage was smaller and the chances were plenty…” he reflects on the song “Transitory Thing”. Elsewhere, he marvels at the circumstance that’s been so integral to his life as a wayfaring musician, the sense of desperation (“Property Shows”), reasons for regret (“Days of My Life”), the need to get ahead (“Up the Fuselage”), and, of course, the fleeting futility of pursuing fame and fortune (“Boy Band”).
Likewise, the music shows Eric’s snot-nosed perspective and generally dismissive attitude. Guitars are feverishly strummed, loops and drones cascade in an out at the most unexpected intervals and chamber pop arrangements form the musical core. Rigby plays piano and banjo and supplies vocal harmonies, augmenting contributions from Brian Dewan on keyboards, Alexander Turnquist on e-bow guitar and the ever-reliant Jane Scarpantoni on cello. Eric does the rest, and the results are notably woozy, thanks to the cascade of noise and loosely spun enthusiasm that dominates the album overall.
As has been the case throughout his career, Wreckless Eric is a singular sensation, generally unpredictable but always without reserve. amERICa provides a welcome return, as well as a reminder of everything that was both exhilarating and unhinged during those heady days when indeed punk and pop found common ground.