When the whole punk thing was breaking loose in the UK, Stiff Records launched a package tour to promote their acts. At that moment, it was anyone’s guess who would break out as the hit maker: Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Ian Drury or Wreckless Eric. All four performers wrote witty, literate pop songs. Of the four, Wreckless Eric fared the worst in the marketplace. He did two LPs for Stiff, and then went on to play stripped down garage rock with the Len Bright Combo before drifting off to exile in France. Every now and then, a CD surfaces from Eric.
Bungalow Hi is the latest postcard from Eric. The rambling compositions are a long way from the pithy pop hits of yesterday. While the title track and “Magnificent Party” show a playful flirtation with electronic music, the album is dominated by a mood of despair. “33’s + 45’s” is a powerful dissection of a relationship where dividing up the record collection is a painful reminder of good and bad times. This song suggests a sequel to High Fidelity, where the characters are still obsessed with records in their dyspeptic middle age. Similarly, “Sell-By Date” is a despondent look at an alternate world where everything and everyone has exceeded their shelf life. It’s hard not to wonder if Wreckless Eric feels that he’s past his sell-by date.
While there are some really powerful ideas stumbling about in the grooves of Bungalow Hi, they are not fully realized. “33’s +45’s” and “Sell-By Date” sound like demos in great need of editing. The songs ramble and grind their lyrical message into the ground. Both songs could be trimmed to about half their length. I’m afraid that Bungalow Hi is one of those records where I’m glad to see that an old favorite is still alive and kicking, but lament that they’re not anywhere near the top of their game. Still, there are glimmers of hope. Maybe on his next outing, Wreckless Eric will polish his ideas into the concise pop songs he’s done so well over the years.
Wreckless Eric: www.wrecklesseric.com