Stan Ridgway and Drywall
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Continuing an on-again/off-again relationship with his Drywall side project that began in 1986 with Work the Dumb Oracle, the third album in Stan Ridgway's "trilogy of apocalyptic documents" isn't substantially different from his better-known solo work, at least on this 2006 release. His carnival barker vocals, bizarre lyrics, and shapeshifting cinematic soundscapes are in fine twisted form as the songs morph from the moody, bluesy harmonica-laced "Bury the Pope" to the more experimental subtle electronica textures of "Rain on Down" and the whimsical, Tex-Mex party atmosphere of "Goin' on Down to the BBQ." Co-Drywall conspirators/multi-instrumentalists Pietra Wexstun and especially Rick King are relegated to sideline status as Ridgway's distinctive vocals and lyrics dominate the proceedings. The diverse sounds combine aspects of Tom Waits (the percussive "The Alibi Room" sounds like an outtake from Rain Dogs), jazzy noir lounge ("Somewhere in the Dark"), Yello ("That Big Weird Thing"), and even world music ("Bold Marauder" is sung by Wexstun doing her best Grace Slick impression), but ultimately seem like Ridgway pushing his already elastic musical boundaries. At just over an hour, including a humorous bonus track that features sentences from George W. Bush speeches cut-and-pasted to mean something far different than what was originally intended, there is a lot to listen to here. Each track is overdubbed multiple times with layers of sound effects and instruments requiring repeated listenings to fully absorb. As with many Ridgway projects, the lyrical theme is obtuse but the music is so challenging, quirky, and innovative that the whole shebang is a mesmerizing musical trip. Anyone already a Ridgway fan will be thrilled, and open-minded newcomers might find enough of interest here to seek out his earlier, arguably more cohesive albums. Barbeque Babylon is a fun, often but not always lighthearted romp with the participants obviously enjoying themselves by painting a sonic palette the equivalent of '60s pop art. Part pastiche, part storytelling, and part experimental, the album finds Ridgway at the peak of his powers, creating music that demands attention even if at times it doesn't take itself seriously.