As I'll mention when I write the "I.B.A.B. Wall of Voodoo" entry, I ran across Stan Ridgway mostly by accident. Before I discovered that he used to be in Wall of Voodoo, I knew him only from the goofy "Camouflage," which I'd previously ridiculed as total schlock.
Now I know that Ridgway is rarely saying what you think he's saying. He's been compared with Raymond Chandler, but I'd like to add a hint of Bob Dylan and Dorothy Parker in there, along with primitive New Wave sensibilities and the carnival keyboards of his wife (Pietra Wexstun). You might remember him best for "Don't Box Me In," a song he created with Stewart Copeland for the movie "Rumble Fish." And it's a damn good song.
In his long (and mostly obscure) solo career he has occasionally stumbled. Sometimes his rhymes are terrible. Sometimes his production sucks. Sometimes his extended live between-song rants are downright unfunny and dull. But for the most part his work is golden, eccentric, surprising, and uncompromising. He has a rabid cult following which is much deserved.
Over the years he has toyed with synthpop, adult-oriented rock, sample-heavy noise (in his side-project "Drywall"), and folk. Here he is this year, live and solo, in one of his frequent shows which never seem to cross the border (but I did get to meet his drummer Joe Berardi several years ago, which was a real treat).
Stan Ridgway just keeps going strong, and I keep following along.
Albums to buy: His debut "The Big Heat" (for the synthpop period) and "Black Diamond" (for the more Dylanesque sound). Albums to avoid: "Partyball" sounds like a poor commercial compromise but still has some good moments. For fans only: His album of children's songs, his album of '40s big-band standards, and his retrospective DVD "Showbusiness in my Life."