Release Date: Nov 13, 2015
Record label: Fire Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Wreckless Eric is the sort of artist who is commonly described as quintessentially British, even though he's been bouncing about Europe and the United States for a few decades; both his voice and his lyrical outlook are echoes of pubs and bedsits, even after he settled down in France. After relocating to Hudson, New York, Eric decided to make a concept album about the United States as seen through his eyes, and it's fitting that 2015's America (or, as it's spelled on the cover, amERICa) sounds like nothing so much as a Wreckless Eric record, built from the wobbly notes of a slightly eccentric outsider who is at once fascinated and bemused by the big country in which he's landed. Eric rarely painted a rosy portrait of British life, so it's only fair he doesn't seem to feel much different about his new home in the States; he marvels at the fact every diner seems to have the same food, he bristles at getting stuck in a small town where nothing seems to happen, he ponders the curious notion that he's even more obscure in America than he was in the U.
Trenchant tales of an Englishman abroad. Domestic bliss appears to have done wonders for Wreckless Eric. As has a change of scenery. A New York resident for four years now, where he lives with wife and fellow songwriter Amy Rigby, Eric’s creative faculties are keener than ever on this first solo album in over a decade.
In chart terms, Wreckless Eric was a Stiff Records underachiever, certainly compared to label-mates like Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Ian Dury. However, his wilful eccentricity, skewed wit and vulnerability somehow personified the label’s attitude and ethos, making him a vital part of their stable and an invaluable asset to those famous Stiff package tours. Sadly, though, even his best known song, sublime 1977 debut single (I’d Go The) Whole Wide World, failed to trouble the chart, though his 1978 self-titled debut album made No 46 and a 1980 compilation, Big Smash, went to No 30.
"Several Shades of Green", the opener on Wreckless Eric’s amERICa, is flush with memories of "the hit parade," feckless backing musicians, and silly jackets recommended by magazine stylists. The music—a spare backbeat and bass guitar lollygag, busied by skittish piano runs and a modest choral section—belies the ragged, bemused delivery of an artist reflecting on his time as a journeyman power-pop artist on Stiff Records in the late 1970s. "If I’d known then, what I know now," goes the chorus—but it’s a tease.
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.
Wreckless Eric — amERICa (Fire)Photo by Karen KeatsThe label on Wreckless Eric’s six full-length solo album is revealing more than incidental detail when it confides, “Made in America using American parts and labor. ” amERICa is the first record to follow Wreckless Eric Goulden’s move to America in 2011, where he set up a household in upstate New York with his wife and musical partner Amy Rigby. It is also the first to mine a very American cultural flotsam and ephemera for effects both comedic and tragic – roads, vehicles, bad food and guitar heroes make their red, white and blue cameos across these eleven songs, flanked by scrubby guitar strumming, wheedling keyboards and Goulden’s cracked, mordant tenor.
Having redemptively resurrected the bulk of Eric Goulden’s post-Stiff Records canon – through reissues of his two LPs with The Len Bright Combo and three under his Wreckless nom de plume – Fire Records now releases the first new Wreckless Eric full-length in a decade or so. As the typographically-punning title suggests, amERICa is a thematically-threaded affair, documenting Goulden’s relationship with a country he’s toured across since the late-‘70s and has called home since 2011. Being part personal nostalgia trip and part ex-pat abroad observationalism, amERICa is a satisfyingly solid return to frontline duties for Goulden.