When you listen to the seventh album in 40 years from English punk great Wreckless Eric, entitled Construction Time & Demolition, it’s not before long a wave of horns, fuzz guitars and fanfare hits you with all the power of Quadrophenia… had The Who recorded it for the singer’s old haunt Stiff Records. But if you plan on catching him during his cross-continental tour in support of the new album, which at press time finds him doing a month in his native United Kingdom before coming back to the States in June, he’s quick to point out how light he is traveling on the road.
“It is constructed like what we used to call a pop record,” Eric, a longtime resident of the New York Catskills region with his wife and fellow songwriter Amy Rigby, explains in regards to the new album. “And I’m really proud of the way it is. But I prefer to go out on the road with the spirit of it on my own. The moment you’re out there on the railway and you’ve got everything you need with you and you’re on your way, it’s just the greatest feeling because all the responsibility seems to drop away. It’s just me in a car with two guitars, one amplifier, two fuzz boxes, a delay pedal, a screwed-up looper that doesn’t work like it should, my GPS, iPod and Kindle. I think it’s so much simpler.”
But here’s the thing about the man born Eric Goulden: he writes songs so good they work both in full flight and stripped to the bone. In fact, many of these 11 new songs were written on an electric piano, establishing a marked difference from the way he’s crafted material in the past.
“I came by a Wurlitzer 200 electric piano and wrote songs on it,” he explains in the liner notes of Construction Time & Demolition. “So much easier than writing songs with a guitar, trying to balance the notebook, strum the guitar and write down lyrics and chords while the guitar pick and pen lose themselves between the cushions of the sofa. I felt like Elton John writing the tunes for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, except that I couldn’t really play the piano.”
Reflective songs like “Gateway to Europe,” “They Don’t Mean No Harm” and “40 Years” sound as if they sprung from the major chord majesty that comes with composing on 88 keys, its brass-kissed melodies reminiscent of the melodic rabble that made his biggest single, “Whole Wide World,” such an enduring pop treasure since 1977.
“I’ll always play ‘Whole Wide World’ in concert,” Eric promises. “People will ask me if I’m tired of playing it and I say, ‘No, it’s a hit!’ Other people’s enthusiasm for it will always buoy me up and make me want to play it.”
Goulden remains grateful for the exposure he’s enjoyed thanks to the evergreen nature of “Whole Wide World,” even though he doesn’t own the tune himself.
“Universal owns the song now,” he reveals. “I wish they’d get in touch and let me know what they’d like to with the catalog, but they haven’t. The band Cage the Elephant recently covered ‘Whole Wide World’ and that has been a big help.”
It has been long-overdue, the proper remastering campaign of his catalog, particularly his 1978 eponymous debut (which turns 40 on June 1), his other ’78 LP The Wonderful World of Wreckless Eric and 1980’s Big Smash!. And based on the sentiments he’s expressed in regards to the reissues of his discography currently out there on the market, Eric is unhappy about the sonic ills partaken upon his early material through the years.
“They were reissued by Demon Records, but they made a mess of it,” Eric admits, referring to the Demon Music Group, the largest independent record company in the United Kingdom. “They put Wonderful World and Big Smash back out on vinyl, but they cut it so the run-out groove is longer than the actual playing surface of the album. I told them, ‘This is not how you cut a record.’ And they said, ‘Oh this is better.’ So I was like, ‘You’re telling me that we’ve been doing it wrong for 70 years?’ They said, ‘Oh yes.’ They don’t know shit about cutting records. These people have no idea. This has been my life—I grew up with it!”
Such frustration on the part of Goulden, however, is undoubtedly rectified by the premium quality of Construction Time, which he released this April on his own Southern Domestic Recordings imprint. And perhaps more so than any other Wreckless Eric record out there, the arrangements and Englishness of these 11 songs illustrate the influence of Ray Davies and Pete Townshend on the landscape of classic punk and new wave. In fact, if you listen to 1978 albums like The Kinks’ Misfits and The Who’s Who Are You, one can arguably observe those two bands nodding to the burgeoning scene. According to Eric, however, such outright acknowledgments from the old guard of British rock was a bad look, in those days, for their own profile, though from his experience some bands were very open about their support for the growing movement on the streets of London. And, looking back through the lens of time, he wishes they could have thrown more of their influence into the scene beyond admiring from afar.
“When you get to a certain stage, if you’re a band like The Who and The Kinks, and you embrace what’s new, you get accused of trying to maintain your position by jumping on a bandwagon, which I think is terribly unfair,” Eric believes. “I always loved Led Zeppelin for that kind of thing, because they would take on anything. One of my greatest memories of ’77 was going to see The Damned at The Roxy, and I turn around and there was this rock monument silhouetted in the lights near the bar. It was all four members of Led Zeppelin, all standing there waiting for The Damned to come on. They had no boundaries, and I thought punk did us a disservice because it fell into the hands of morons who thought it was all two or three chords and shouting.”
But what about the strides his fellow Stiff Records alumni Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe have made as creative entities beyond their pub/punk roots over the years, or perhaps even the possibility of a Stiff Records reunion?
“I know there was an idea floating around years ago about re-doing the original Stiff tour,” Goulden reveals. “I was not keen on the idea. Elvis definitely said no. I think Nick said no as well, but Ian Dury bought into it a bit. The official line is that me and Elvis hate each other, which is not true. I don’t think it is anyway. I admire him for all that he’s done, but a lot of what he’s done is just not my thing. Same with Nick Lowe; for what he’s done and what he does, I think he’s great. But we live in different worlds. Elvis plays for thousands. I’m lucky if I play to hundreds. But I like playing in the bars where people are standing up and getting rowdy. I’m not so much into the sit-down supper club thing. My credibility is really my strongest asset at this point.”