[Review] Wall of Voodoo (EP) (1980)

If Johnny Cash had a son who joined a punk band, it might sound like this.

Kronomyth 0.5: Death valley devo.

A death valley Devo or The B-52’s rusting in an aircraft boneyard. That’s what the music of Wall of Voodoo reminds me of. Stanard Ridgway has one of the more unique voices in rock and roll, a kind of postmodern Johnny Cash. Add the angular guitar work of Marc Moreland and the buzzing, droning synthesizers of Chas Gray, and you’ve got a recipe for some serious strangeness.

The difference between Wall of Voodoo and bands like Devo and The B-52’s is a sense of humor. Wall of Voodoo doesn’t have one. Their music is moody, unsettling, troubled. Longarm is about a displaced factory worker. Can’t Make Love comes to the conclusion that love is a waste of time. And I don’t even want to know what Struggle is about. Ridgway’s dark narratives create a palpable gloom peopled by strange and disconnected sounds.

All of which would make you think that the band’s initial extended play release, Wall of Voodoo, isn’t a whole lot of fun. But it really is an interesting record that could be regarded as a thinking man’s punk music. My disappointment with the music of the 80s stems largely from the fact that the decade started out so promising. We began with Wall of Voodoo and somehow ended up with Milli Vanilli.

While it doesn’t contain a hit single, the band’s cover of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire will serve as one in a pinch. Much like Devo’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” it’s a refutation of the establishment done with a revisionist’s eye. The rest of the record follows the same style and closes with the strange Granma’s House: a minute of weird synthesizer sounds against a ringing phone. Say what you will, you can’t charge Wall of Voodoo with not answering the call of the wild.

Original EP version

A1. Longarm (3:44)
A2. The Passenger (4:07)
B1. Can’t Make Love (3:47)
B2. Struggle (2:14)
B3. Ring of Fire (June Carter/Merle Kilgore) (4:59)
B4. Granma’s House (0:55)

All songs by Wall of Voodoo unless noted.

The Players

Chas Gray (synthesizer), Bruce Moreland (bass, piano), Marc Moreland (guitar), Joe Nanini (percussion), Stanard Ridgway (vocals, organ). Produced by Wall of Voodoo; engineered by Jim Hill.

The Pictures

Cover concept by Wall of Voodoo. Design by Index Images. Photography by Scott Lindgren.

The Plastic

Released on EP in 1980 in the US (Index, SP 70401).

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