It's a sweet surprise, then, to discover that Holiday in Dirt -- though ostensibly a collection of B-sides, alternate versions and songs written for movie soundtracks -- is actually Ridgway's most thematically consistent disc to date. It finds the singer ruminating on age and the passage of time, ideas he treats with admirable grace on "Beloved Movie Star." A lush composition inspired by the classic film Sunset Boulevard, it chronicles the decline of an aging actress, set against shimmering walls of harp strings. The album includes two versions, one a longer, expansive "Cecil B. DeMille mix."
Much more sinister is "Brand New Special and Unique," originally envisioned for Ridgway's sideband, Drywall. Like Devo gone bad, the track bleeps out eerie computer rhythms underscored by haunting chorales, while Ridgway grimly intones, "Gray is shown the door ... Bring the new, replace the antique." Holiday finishes with an amusing hidden track on which Ridgway, assuming the guise of a doddering geezer, belts his way through the cheesy country standard "Behind Closed Doors" with all the grace of an arthritic mule crossing a frozen pond. Hilarious and revealing, the song makes it clear that this particular singer/songwriter, although a bit long in the tooth, has many good miles left to travel -- and that his sense of humor is still fully intact.