Personnel: Wreckless Eric (vocals, guitar, organ); Christoph Linder (tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone); Michael Lembach (trumpet); Fabrice Lombardo (double bass, bass guitar); Denis Baudrillart (drums, maracas).
You could take Wreckless Eric out of England, but you couldn't take the England out of Wreckless Eric. In 1996, the former Eric Goulden was living in France and had been asked to put together a band for Martin Stone, a British guitarist whose résumé had included stints with the Action and Joe Strummer's 101'ers. Eric found a capable Parisian rhythm section in Fabrice Lombardo on bass and Denis Baudrillart on drums, and when Stone's project fell through, Eric decided to cut a project of his own, using Lombardo and Baudrillart as his backing combo and billing the new trio as the Hitsville Houseband. Recorded on the cheap with Eric's collection of battered analog gear, Wreckless Eric Presents the Hitsville Houseband's '12 O'Clock Stereo' sounds like a companion piece to his 1991 effort The Donovan of Trash (recorded under similar circumstances), and from the first lines of "Kilburn Lane" -- "The beer is flowing like piss/The piss is flowing down the drain" -- it was clear life as an exile hadn't changed Eric one bit. Lombardo and Baudrillart turned out to be inspired accompanists, just tight enough to hold the songs together well and just loose and uncluttered enough to match Eric's pleasingly shambolic aesthetic, and if Eric's vocals and guitar work were a bit less sloppy than usual, there was more than enough Sussex snark on display to leave no doubt that Eric's lyrical outlook was unchanged despite his new circumstances. 12 O'Clock Stereo is full of character studies of less-than-charming drunks, pretty gals with wandering eyeballs, next door neighbors whose tai chi routines are sexier than they're meant to be, lonely ladies romanced by space aliens, and being the odd man out at the party, all married to tunes with a garagey bent and a sound that manages to be gritty and charming at once. Even if no one was paying attention at the time, 12 O'Clock Stereo is evidence that Wreckless Eric remained a prickly but engaging artist and an inspired songwriter in the '90s, and that he was (and still is) one of the most interesting and rewarding of the eccentrics Stiff Records brought to the public in the '70s. [Fire Records gave 12 O'Clock Stereo -- the title referring to the fact the mix is actually in mono -- a second lease on life when they reissued the album in 2014.] ~ Mark Deming