Squirm factor: 4
This record is a monumental achievement in the history of human aspiration - the Pyramids of rock and roll. For just as the Egyptians managed to erect their gigantic edifices without the aid of any equipment beyond the seven simple machines, so Wreckless Eric, who lacks any of the fundamentals of a successful career in music - a good voice, instrumental ability, charisma, good looks, or melodic felicity - nonetheless created one of the great records of our time. The disparity between the talent and the end product is so staggering it baffles.
What Eric does have in spades was energy, insight, and recognition of his own limitations - and these three attributes drive some brilliant songwriting. You can't deny these hooks: "hell's bells, buckets of blood", "you can't wind wind wind wind wind her up", "back in my …. ho-ometown" - fantastic tunes, all 12 of 'em. And the delivery is tops. Eric doesn't have much ("any") range in his voice, and he doesn't hit all ("many") of the notes, but he gives each reading here just the right combination of attack, humor and dynamic control to express the shades of emotion within the song.
And these songs are full of genuine human feeling; where many another person with this type of voice would go for the novelty effect (and Wreckless Eric was branded with the "drunken boor" image by his record label), Eric explores all aspects of life, from the hopeless public transportation crush in to the sister-in-law who talks too much. There's never a false moment in these vignettes. "Broken Doll" is tender and mournful, while "Tonight" is cruel and sleazy, yet both are written with such an eye for the little things that each seems authentic. Even the obligatory anti-record company rant is tolerable, as a sense of the absurdity of it all underpins the enterprise (has anyone ever put more drama into the phrase "get some AM/FM action in the United States"?)
For once, there's some decent production on a Wreckless Eric disc, by someone named Bazza (whose only other work I know is Kirsty MacColl's also brilliant "There's a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis"), and a fine band at work, which helps make this record one of the most enjoyable LPs I own. Listen to the organ grinding out the hook in "Too Busy", and the guitars blasting through "Back in My Hometown." The horn section is a nice touch on "Pop Song" and particularly on "Strange Towns." As if Big Smash isn't a miracle by itself, this package includes a repressing of The Whole Wide World, a collection of older singles that makes the case for Wreckless Eric as the finest pop mind of the entire English New Wave movement (miles beyond Nick Lowe, for sure.)
For a guy who can't sing or play, Wreckless Eric makes some of the best music I know.
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