Review Summary: An astonishingly unique and wildly creative cornerstone of new wave music in the 1980s.
Every once in a while, a band creates an album that is truly unique, an album so starkly original and wildly creative that nothing before or since has sounded similar to it and likely never well. Truly this is the case with the group Wall of Voodoo's first LP, Dark Continent. Best remembered for their Top 40 1983 hit "Mexican Radio", a staple on most new wave and alternative rock stations as well as being a favorite in the early years of MTV, Wall of Voodoo is a group that's gained a cult following over the years but still remains unfortunately underrated by most it appears. So underrated in fact that a page for this very album did not exist on Sputnikmusic when I searched for it, and had to create the page myself, leading me to this review here. This is a damn shame, and I suggest anyone with an interest in new wave, punk, indie, and college rock as well as synthesizer-driven music with wildly absurd lyrics, really I'd suggest anyone with an interest in music in general to pick this album up.
The album starts off with a bang with "Red Light", an extremely terse and nervous song in which Stan Ridgway, the lead singer and main lyricist of the group, introduces the listener to his unique nasal but truly unique voice right from the start and really gives you a taste of what's to come.
Up next we have another classic Wall of Voodoo tune in "2 Minutes to Lunch", which introduces the listener to one of the main lyrical themes of all of Wall of Voodoo's music, that being their perspective on life in the working class and the dull, tiresome tedious everyday existence that can eat away at you on the inside. This theme will come up repeatedly in Wall of Voodoo's music, which really makes this band the perfect group to listen to if like most of us you're stuck in that dead-end job working for *** pay and the simple everyday routine of constantly checking the clock until you can escape from your duties and responsibilities.
Animal Day is the next song, and it's yet another classic example of both Ridgway and Marc Moreland (the incredibly talented guitarist of the group) and their style of music, it's really a prototypical Wall of Voodoo song in that it features complex synthesizer effects, a ringing Ennio Morricone spaghetti-Western influenced guitar and the absurd and humorous lyrics of Ridgway, sung as only he could. Here are the lyrics, to give you an idea of Ridgway's writing style:
"My Grandma is a rhino
My brother is a dog
I can tell it's Animal Day
'Cause my best friend just turned into a frog
Bobby is a monkey
My girlfriend is a horse
But I'm not turning into anythingâ€"â€"
I never caused animal wars!
Growin' hair on my hands!
I'd better run for mirror!
I'm an animal!
It's Animal Day
It's Animal Day
Now the animals have cars
They're starting to run us over
Notches on the steering wheel
My pet is calling me Rover
Deers are hunting for humans
Seals keep crushing our heads
Animals betting on us at the track
My animal's in my bed"
If you're looking for an album with emotional and personal lyrics, look elsewhere, as Ridgway is more concerned with pointing out life's absurdities and putting a humorous spin on them as only he can.
But allow me to get to the song that initially got me interested in Wall of Voodoo and remains my favorite track of theirs to this day, and that's "Back in Flesh", which you may recognize from a brilliant performance the group did of the song for the 1982 punk/new wave documentary "Urgh! A Music War", which you can find here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeh69Myi9fI This is truly Wall of Voodoo at their best, Stan is at his best vocally, the lyrics are as absurd and hilarious as always, Moreland's guitar is plucked at such perfect places while an INCREDIBLE bassline and drumming so raw it sounds like the drummer was using a pair of rusty pots as a bass drum ties together the whole song. They even use a triangle in the song, and not in a contrived way at all. Truly a classic song.
Another track worth checking out is "Call Box (1-2-3)", which might be Wall of Voodoo at their most melodic and Ridgway gives a great vocal performance to go along with incredible, raw drumming and Marc Moreland at his anthemic, melodic best on the guitar. Really just a fantastic song.
Also make sure to check out "Good Times", as it's another classic song of Wall of Voodoo with a synthesizer melody so catchy it could be mistaken for an unreleased B-side from Depeche Mode's early Vince Clarke-driven days.
Finally closing out the album we have "Crack the Bell", which is the closest to punk you'll probably ever hear from Wall of Voodoo as Moreland's guitar utilizes feedback and distortion to incredibly ferocious results. Typically excellent Wall of Voodoo track.
I didn't go into detail about every track, just some of the highlights but I assure you there are no wasted tracks on this great, great album and anyone with even a passing interest in new wave or alternative rock with with synthesizers to check into this album immediately. Truly Wall of Voodoo at their creative peak, I guarantee you'll never find another group that sounds even similar to Wall of Voodoo.