Sunday 29 April 2018

Wreckless Eric: Construction Time and Demolition

I reviewed the rather lovely new Wreckless Eric album for an online music thing and it didn't get used. Shame, as it's a fine record and I thought it was a decent piece of writing, too. Hey ho."Construction Time and Demolition" is a great piece of work and caught me off guard - I really expected it to scratchy and lo-fi, but it's anything but. "Mind ...blown" as Owen Wilson might say. 

The artist formerly/sometimes known as Eric Goulden gets home from the pub and makes another record. It's album #7 under his nom de guerre of Wreckless Eric and casual observers may sneer that, in a recording career which started in 1978 with his eponymous debut album, he's hardly up there with Guided By Voices when it comes to cranking out the tunes. Dig a little deeper and you'll find more treasures - albums by The Len Bright Combo, Le Beat Group Electrique, Amy Rigby and even one under his birth name of Eric Goulden fill out his catalogue in a very pleasing way. I guess it's only fitting that his latest album Construction Time and Demolition sees Eric looking back at a forty-year career which started off in the pub rock backwaters of old London town and sounds like the memoirs of the guy in the bar who's always there when you go in and still there when you leave.
At times Construction Time and Demolition sounds a bit like the soundtrack of the musical of the life of Wreckless Eric. Who would play the title role is a bit of a mystery – can Jack Black pull off nasal Estuary English? While you're pondering that, "Gateway to Europe" paints the backdrop to 1960's England and the details are beautiful: "A brother of a brother-in-law tore all the houses down", "We've got a gig tonight, we need someone with a car" and references to Woolworths "Top Twenty" guitars combine to create a really evocative depiction of Goulden's early steps onto the rock 'n' roll stage. It's "Saturday Gigs" rewritten by Ray Davies. That's a very good thing, by the way.

It's Goulden's lyrics which are the key to this record. Musically, it's strong, moving from the epic opening track through the atmospheric "The World Revolves Around Me" to the biting garage rock of "Wow and Flutter", but it's the words that lift all these tunes to another level. "All your records are shit, except for maybe one" goes the chorus of "Wow and Flutter". That's not the kind of line you'd find in the work of many songwriters, is it? Goulden has a knack of making mundane observations sound fascinating. When he sings "I just sold my bass guitar" in "Gateway to Europe", you fill in all the blanks yourself. And that's the mark of a great writer.

Most people associate Wreckless Eric with the lo-fi, two chord approach of "Whole Wide World". This album owes very little to that. Backing vocalists, multiple keyboards and horns fill out the space behind him as he unfolds his life story in a voice which has changed very little in forty years. It's a nicely timeless piece of work, owing almost nothing to 2018, or even 1978. Then again, back at the tail end of the seventies, when everyone was ripping holes in their Levi's and playing distorted barre chords on cheap guitars whilst spitting at each, Eric was pondering on the nature of love and loneliness. "Round records for square people" was one of the slogans of his old label, Stiff Records. It was true then. It's still true now.

Construction Time and Demolition is a great collection of songs. Mature, well produced and with just the right amount of world-weariness. You may only know him for that one song, but that is definitely not the whole story. Not at all. It's not all "lovable loser" stuff on a barely in tune guitar – this is a man's life in microcosm, lyrically simple and direct, but with enough musical detail and breadth of scope to keep even the most jaded consumer amused.

"Here comes the discourse, here comes the bit, that's gonna stop this from being a hit" he sings on "Wow and Flutter". It may not be a hit, but it's definitely a fine record.