Wall Of Voodoo

Seven Days In Sammytown

Wall Of Voodoo - Seven Days In Sammytown ©1985 IRS
1. Far Side Of Crazy
2. This Business Of Love
3. Faded Love
4. Mona
5. Room With A View
6. Blackboard Sky
7. Big City
8. Dark As A Dungeon
9. Museums
10. Tragic Vaudeville
11. (Don’t Spill My) Courage

To the uninitiated, Wall of Voodoo is best known as an obscure Eighties band responsible for the minor hit “Mexican Radio”, available on their 1982 album Call of the West. The band never abandoned the essence of the sound that made them semi-famous - droning, semi-country guitar by the inimitable Marc Moreland, eerie synths, rigid drum beats, and unusual percussion - but their style underwent appreciable changes upon the addition of their new lead singer, Andy Prieboy. Seven Days In Sammystown, WoV’s first album after changing vocalists, is an uneven yet overall appealing affair by a band in transition.

The disc’s outstanding tracks are the Andy Prieboy-penned “Far Side Of Crazy” and “Blackboard Sky”, which are at once deranged (the songs’ narrators are seriously whacked-out, anyway) and truly excellent; the flowing, heartfelt “Museums” and “(Don’t Spill My) Courage” are likewise exceptional. The latter two presage the fuller, more organic sound and more emotionally-oriented lyrical bent that the band would pursue in its two subsequent albums. Two cover tunes, a snippet of Patsy Cline’s standard “Faded Love” and a full Elvis song, “Dark As A Dungeon”, receive a dose of twisted Voodoo-ization with interesting results. Less effective are “This Business Of Love”, “Room With A View”, and “Big City”, which are at least likeable but use the arpeggio sound of older WoV material and sound as if they were penned for Stan Ridgway’s rapid-fire, nearly chanting approach to vocals. Andy Prieboy is a far more accomplished singer and, although he does an admirable job on these tracks, he is more impressive on the disc’sother cuts, where he can actually cut loose and yodel.

Overall, Seven Days In Sammystown is an inconsistent record. The band never fully settles into one musical or lyrical vein, which breaks up the flow of the album and is, to say the least, a detriment to full enjoyment. Even so, Seven Days In Sammystown contains four superb tracks, which easily rank among the best WoV ever recorded, and is an essential part of any fan’s collection.

Review by Jonathan Arnett

Review date: 08/2000

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Happy Planet

Wall Of Voodoo - Happy Planet ©1987 IRS
1. Do It Again
2. Hollywood The Second Time
3. Empty Room
4. Chains Of Luck
5. Back In The Laundromat
6. When The Lights Go Out
7. Country Of Man
8. Joanne
9. Elvis Bought Doris A Cadillac
10. The Grass Is Greener
11. Ain't My Day

"And the gods I loved were poor white trash. One was making wine in Canaan, the other tipping waitresses Cadillacs."

Happy Planet, Wall of Voodoo's second album with Andy Prieboy on vocals, is a damned good album. In contrast to the band-in-transition sound present on their previous album, Seven Days In Sammystown, the band apparently came to a decision; they ditched their original, edgy synthpunk-meets-squalling guitar sound in favor of much more sophisticated compositions using fuller keyboards, multiple voices in the choruses, and generally more relaxed song structures. The result is a much more listenable album, full of catchy, soaring tunes that demand replay and brooding, melancholic pieces that touch the heart.

The band saw a distinct change vocally and lyrically, as well. Out went the remnants of Stan Ridgway's tenure with the band - existentialist, confrontationally chanted lyrics; in came Andy Prieboy's more emotional, theatrically phrased singing. Topics changed as well, with several members of the band contributing excellent songs with lyrics touching on such topics as the dark appeal of Hollywood, drunkenness, and Elvis. Even the song titles improved. There are not many better song titles in the world than "Back In The Laundromat, or: An inebreated [sic] and slightly inbred white male is smitten by an overweight white woman he sees while passing the Fluff 'n Fold Coin Op Laundry."

All these changes did Wall of Voodoo a world of good. They settled on a cohesive sound that played to the strengths of the band, had every member contribute in the songwriting process, and, seemingly energized, burst forth with Happy Planet, which many fans consider their best album.

Naturally, it met abysmal commercial failure and is long out of print...

Review by Jonathan Arnett

Review date: 11/2000

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The Ugly Americans In Australia

Wall Of Voodoo - The Ugly Americans In Australia ©1988 IRS
1. Red Light
2. Crazy, Crazy Melbourne
3. Wrong Way To Hollywood
4. Living In The Red
5. Blackboard Sky
6. Pretty Boy Floyd
7. The Heart Never Can Tell
8. Far Side Of Crazy
9. Ring Of Fire
10. Mexican Radio
11. The Grass Is Greener

There must be a law or something, because every live album seems to follow the same, clichéd order of events: crowd cheers, band takes the stage to a huge, crashing chord, crowd goes nuts, crowd noise fades, band plays a few famous songs, band digs up a relic from its backcatalogue, tired old men crank out a few more famous songs, end with biggest hit to date.

This is not your typical live album.

First aberration from the norm: instead of cheering, the Melbourne, Australia, crowd boos heartily-albeit in a friendly manner-and the first sound is not a grand chord in a major key; rather, it is a drum machine thumping the simple beats to "Red Light."

Second difference: "Red Light" featured Stan Ridgway, the band's original lead vocalist, on the album version, whereas this live version has Andy Prieboy at the mike. This is something akin to Sammy Hagar opening a Van Halen concert with a David Lee Roth-era song or Brian Johnson kicking off a show with a Bon Scott tune-i.e. an odd move, to say the least.

Third peculiarity: The second track, instead of being a barn-burner hit sure to rev up the crowd, is not a real WoV song at all. Rather, it's an amusing little lounge-singer ditty praising Melbourne for its cultural diversity-"you've got everything from restaurants/ to kiddie porn."

Fourth funky move: following this dubious compliment, the band rocks through two excellent, original numbers unavailable on any studio album. Original songs on a live album? And two of them in a row? This is heresy!…but I like it. Track three is one of the best songs in the WoV oeuvre, a musically catchy and lyrically evocative tale of harsh street life in Hollywood, and track four…I dunno what it's about, but it's mesmerizing and, not incidentally, a bit creepy. (Matter of fact, most of the songs on this disc are at least slightly creepy…)

The first (and second and third) expected song(s): the fifth tune, a hallucinatory quasi-love song, is the first appearance of a studio track originally recorded with Andy Prieboy. Oddly enough, out of the eleven tracks on the disc, only three (tracks five, seven [one of this reviewer's all-time favorite songs], and 11) are versions of album tracks featuring Mr. Prieboy on vocals.

Fifth unexpected tack: track six is another previously unrecorded song, this time a Woody Guthrie cover tune. Perhaps it's not entirely unexpected…on a previous album the band included a more-than-slightly twisted version of a Patsy Cline standard, but it's one thing to record a version of another artist's song on a studio album and another thing altogether to release it for the first time on a live album. And who the hell rerecords 1930's folk tunes for popular rerelease anyway?

At last, the lone cliché: track nine is another cover, this one previously released, of Johnny Cash's famous "Ring of Fire," which originally featured Stan Ridgway. The reason this qualifies as a cliché is that it's an oldie in the band's repertoire; their first release, which was also a live recording, included this song on the set list.

And almost, but not quite, trite: track ten, WoV's lone hit, "Mexican Radio," is the next-to-last song on the album; if it had been last, that would have qualified as a live album cliché, but it is disqualifed on the grounds of not being the last song on the disc. That honor goes to the previously mentioned track eleven, a much lesser-known song off a nearly unknown album.

Sure is odd, eh?

Review by Jonathan Arnett

Review date: 05/2000

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