Perfect Sound Forever

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby

Follow-up by Kurt Wildermuth
(December 2009)

“In most songs the drama or tension results from the fact that the singer moves between word (sense) and note (song). At one moment the song simply ‘says’ something. At another moment the voice stretches out the words--the heart cannot contain!--and the voice moves toward pure sound. Words take flight.” -- Richard Rodriguez, Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez (1982)

1. Before

Before my previous Eric/Amy article went online, I was impatient for readers, so I shared the Word file with friends. A friend who grew up on Long Island forwarded the file to a friend of his. My friend’s friend reported that as a teenager he had become obsessed with Larry Wallis’s “Police Car.” He was listening to the original single, not the Stiffs Live version, but still we were wowed by the connection.

2. After

After my article went online, I emailed Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby through their individual Web sites to let them know it existed. At his site, Eric has posted a note explaining that while he’s grateful for messages he receives, sometimes he finds himself overwhelmed by the task of replying. But Amy replied two days after I wrote her, and her response couldn’t have been more gracious or gratifying. In capturing the Lakeside Lounge show, I had both confirmed her sense of how “bad” it was and let her know how much I enjoyed it. She promised to make sure Eric saw the piece.

In my reply to her message, I mentioned an eerie coincidence that had occurred to me only after I’d written the article. Remember the bar mitzvah boy, Craig Woods, whose photo helped inspire and is one of the illustrations for the piece? His cousin, though they’ve never met, is Elliot Easton. Easton is best-known as the guitarist for the Cars, but he also produced Amy Rigby’s first two solo CDs, Diary of a Mod Housewife (1996) and Middlescence (1998)!

I let Amy know how much I loved the Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby CD, which I bought during the week between the Lakeside show and my writing the article. During the show, Amy and Eric had performed about half the CD, and I needed to hear those songs again. I also wanted to find out if the recording confirmed my sense of the couple.

3. During

“All singing and playing by Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby” the CD booklet announces. The production--the sound and feel of the recording--turns this blanket statement of fact into a manifesto. The absence of drumming might be the key here in that it gives the tracks a “naked” feel, but every track makes you acutely conscious that you are listening to voices and instruments, the way that being in darkness makes you hear every noise. In other words, without being ramshackled or less than professional, the recording sounds like music being made as you listen. You experience the parts, the layering, and the combined effects all at once.

At the start of the first track, “Here Comes My Ship,” co-written by Eric and Amy, the programmed keyboard beats sound familiar and sluggish. The bass playing is tentative. The three-chord guitar riff you’ve heard a million times. Then Eric sings, in an English-accented, slightly wobbly voice that you recognize instantly as the one that sang “(I’d Go the) Whole Wide World” three decades earlier, “Here comes my ship / I’ve waited so long for it.” His claim sounds true and false. When he starts the next couplet, “Electric light / When daytime turns into night,” he stretches the first syllable into two. When Amy joins him, toward the end of “-lectric,” at first it sounds like a mistake, as though she was supposed to come in earlier or later, but really it’s genius at work. The record feels so spontaneous because Eric and Amy left in surprises like this, details to be discovered.

During a pause in the vocals, there’s a bleat of what sounds like harmonica, like a quick parody of young Bob Dylan’s bursts between his verses. Apparently it’s not harmonica, because according to the booklet notes for this track, Eric played guitars, bass synthesizer, bass guitar, and organ. Amy did the harmonies and the “spoken part.” The weird organ bleat, or whatever it is, leads to the duo’s next lines: “Here comes the fallout / Here comes the pain.” The bass and beats pick up right after the lyrics darken even more: “Everlasting panic attack / Ever-falling rain / It’s such a shame.” The downward motion of the sentiment crosses with the increasing, uplifting musical energy. Then comes the spoken part, which includes lines such as “One of these days / I’m gonna let it slide / And then I’ll be satisfied.” As Eric’s vocal personifies the slide, Amy’s multitracked harmonies deliver this complementary contradiction: “Sunshine / Pours down.” Her many voices suggest those rays and their fall. The whole thing, the song and performance and recording, feels complicated yet simple, masterfully effortless. And this isn’t necessarily the strongest track on the CD.

Amy’s “Astrovan” is indie-rock psychedelia about a beloved vehicle. Eric’s “Another Drive-In Saturday” conjuries Bowie, Mott the Hoople, and T. Rex in remembering what it was like to be liberated by glam rock as a teenager in the early seventies. Amy’s “First-Mate Rigby” begins with an assessment of her as “a girl with a past” and Eric as “a man with a plan” and builds to a hammering crescendo in which Eric sings, “I’m a girl!” and Amy sings, “I’m a boy!” Then each one sings “I’m a girl!” and “I’m a boy!” The keyboards gurgle. The guitars screech. The noisy pileup is like the end of “Here Comes My Ship,” but even crunchier and more frenzied.

The mood calms considerably on Amy’s “Men in Sandals,” a near-samba that laments the footwear faux pas of the title. That song’s cheesy keyboard and deceptively easygoing groove give way, on Eric’s “The Down Side of Being a Fuck-Up,” to cascading, electrifying electric guitars (riff credited to Amy). If that one is indeed about the downside of being a fuck-up, then Amy’s bittersweet “A Taste of the Keys” is about the down side of waiting tables. “‘Trotters,’” a co-written instrumental, shows off the duo’s Pet Sounds influence. Amy’s “Please Be Nice to Her” is the ballad Lennon and McCartney would have written in 1964-65 if they had been the fathers of daughters needing protection from potentially harmful suitors. The co-written “Round” is pure pop, sung by a recorded song to a listener: “Turning me up / We can have a good time” and so on.

These gems flow together into an old-fashioned album, a series of narrative moods. You start out caring about two happy melancholics, you want to know where they end up, and you leave them, as they leave you, in a good place. The closing track is a subtly majestic cover of Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone.” It’s Johnny Cash country as seen through the eyes of music-business veterans who’ve lived, loved, lost, and found that experimenting together is a way to find--and deliver—a whole lot of serendipitous fun.

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