One-third West Country goth lothario, one-third weary stand-up comic dying on his feet in an empty room, and one-third bedroom noise genius, Robert Ridley-Shackleton is the real deal. The self-titled cardboard prince has been producing grubby, gritty sound offerings for years now, his Bandcamp a smorgasbord of abrasive crunch, tinny Casio jams and baffling spoken-word rambles whose labyrinthine plenitude is equalled only by their appalling sound quality. This, of course, is part of the charm, and ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ is no exception. Listening to this excellent, invigorating tape is like watching a piece of surreal performance art through a filthy, broken window. But, like the best DIY-messthetic-home-taped gubbins, the inadequacy of the medium adds layers of sonic goo that enhance as much as they obscure.
In a live setting, this fuzzy wrapper is absent, leaving us to experience the cardboard prince in hi-definition reality. At gigs and open-mic events, chicken-scratch wiggles and rock frontman exhalations get disrupted by meandering monologues and eruptions of paper scrunching. Unease and enthusiasm sit side-by-side, as Ridley-Shackleton uses his vulnerability as a source of strength, challenging his audience to rethink their own expectations of a performance.
On ‘Stone Cold Crazy’, that exposure is turned inwards, Ridley-Shackleton’s only audience himself and his recording device. The jaunty keyboard riffs and heartfelt croons of opener ‘Stone Cold Crazy In Love With You’ fracture into claggy, grey sound-puddles, punctuated by disjointed poem fragments and frustrated diatribes. ‘Yol 4 President’ (a sentiment I can only agree with) coils a distressing stream of consciousness rant through a shoal of aluminium clatters. “I’m literally knee-deep in my own filth… I’m sorry I exist… but thank you for listening to this…I’m sorry for the way it’s been lately”, he mutters at one point. Fortunately, a nonsense freestyle that mashes daytime classic Supermarket Sweep in with children’s TV heroes Sooty and Sweep lightens the gloom.
The disparate elements of the Ridley-Shackleton aesthetic – funk and noise, introversion and swagger – reach a fruity high point on ‘Dirty Cardboard’. A bumpy synth riff reminiscent of Prince and The New Power Generation’s ‘Gett Off’ is a great vehicle for vocal histrionics, Ridley-Shackleton duetting with himself in a series of distorted, libidinous grunts and growls. By the end, the whole thing is steeped in monochromatic aural debris, dissolving into a screeching mess of atonal chords and falsetto howls. It’s exhausting but totally exhilarating, a suburban Jim Morrison gate-crashing their local arts centre and whipping the assorted chin-strokers into a Dionysian groove riot. GOOD GOD! It’s stone cold crazy, alright.