Well, isn’t January turning into a month of comebacks!? Although, it is fair to say that Adam Ant’s return to studio recording some 18 years after 1995’s “Wonderful”, for his ninth studio album, is somewhat less of a surprise than that of Mr Bowie. But has it been worth the pain, anguish and wait?
Let me begin by saying that, of all the musicians or artists that have influenced me and driven me as a musician, Adam Ant is right up there. I think if you held a gun to my head, I might even say that he was THE most important, given that he was probably the first artist to actually cause me to focus on what I wanted to do and to obsess me more than any other in my formative years. It was the Burundi-influenced tribal drumming sound that convinced me that I wanted to be a drummer. He is very important to me and therefore I hold him in the highest regard. I actually treasure him and genuinely care about everything that he does, like you would a well respected family member.
He was the first artist whose records I bought more than just one of. He was the first artist who I wanted to actually be. He was the first artist I actually got upset over when he split the Ants up in 1982. He was the first major artist I ever saw live. Such was my desire and passion for this man and his work, I endured ridicule from friends and family for dressing up like him. But, of course, Adam taught me that it was nothing to be scared of.
If we ignore commercial success, something that Adam has had plenty of, up until 1995, he produced consistently good bodies of work. Good songs, interesting and clever lyrics mixed up with the playful side of pop and rock. “Wonderful” displayed a maturity we had not seen before, “Manners & Physique” was as ‘poppy’ as he’s ever been and featured an awesome co-write with Kevin Rowland, “Vive le Rock” was Adam dabbling in the art of 50’s American/Italian culture and sing-a-longs filled a clever use of nonsense words(“stop diddy boppin’ buddy bouncin’ betty on you”, for example), “Strip” saw him using polished production and trying to get some of Prince’s blatant sexuality into his music and image, “Friend or Foe” was a twangy affair that could easily have been an Ants album to follow up “Prince Charming”. Of course, the aforementioned “Prince Charming” and its predecessor, “Kings of the Wild Frontier” were world dominating, genre changing masterpieces of pop success. And “Dirk Wears White Sox” is still, in my very humble opinion, one of the finest albums ever made. An album so strong that even now, almost 35 years after it was made, it still stands up as relevant, fresh and exciting and still influencing acts today that weren’t even born when it was made.
Between “Wonderful” and now, there has been nothing, unless you count 1993’s unreleased album, “Persuasion“, an album that MCA refused to release because, allegedly, “Manners & Physique” didn’t go gold. Not that I’d encourage you to do it, but it exists online and if you ever listen to it, you might wonder what the fuck MCA were thinking of. An album that features Larry Blackmon (Cameo), Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson (Chic, Power Station, Robert Palmer, David Bowie, Madonna) and original Ants member, Leigh Gorman. It stands up with the rest of his work, without a doubt. There was also the “Live at the Bloomsbury” CD, featuring Adam singing and reading some of his work, accompanied by Dave Pash on guitar.
And of course, between that last commercial release and now, we’ve had numerous compilations (B-Side Babies is a particular stand out gem), reissues (The remasters are a true benchmark of how to approach that type of release), box sets (Antbox is a fine collection for true aficionados) and the infamous, highly public and poorly reported period of struggle with his bipolar disorder.
But over the last 2/3 years, Adam has re-emerged, shunning the 80s revivalist circuit in favour of touring off of his own brand, with new music blended with old and forging a reputation for being a must-see live act. And today, this 20th day of January 2013, we are able to buy an official Adam Ant album once again, “Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter”, released this time on his own label, on his own terms.
I admit that I hit play with some trepidation. The lead single, and opening track here, “Cool Zombie”, had been promising. Musically, it worked well, but it left me feeling like it lacked a structure, like it was rambling a bit, only to return to its vocal hook for safety. And as the album progressed, there was more evidence of this trait in abundance.
Some songs seem incredibly “demo-ish” in their nature, like Adam has come up with some good ideas but not quite hit on a way of making those ideas work in the context of a single song. On the other hand, the production, whilst possibly deliberate, seems to leave Adam’s vocal too far back in the mix of a number of songs. Like I say, this may be deliberate, but it certainly felt to me that the lead vocal should be more in my face. That said, there are some absolute belters on this album, such as “Dirty Beast”, “Vince Taylor” and “Bullshit”.
This album is definitely Adam Ant. There is no doubt about that. But I was left feeling like he could’ve done with the assistance of an executive producer, someone to rein him in a bit and either force him to fully develop some of the songs or drop them all together. Some have said that, at 17 tracks, it’s too long. I never understand how an album can be “too long” unless it is that bad that it’s just prolonging the listener’s agony, which this most certainly does not. In this day and age of over produced crap, you might think I’d laud this, possibly minimalist production, as the antithesis of such banality, but there is also a crime of under-producing, and I feel Adam may be slightly guilty of that here. In my head, certain songs screamed for some direction and structure and I found myself, time and again, visualizing a Marco Pirroni sized gap in the final result. I’m not too sure as to the why’s and wherefore’s in the story of their partnership. I know that Adam has done good work without Marco as is demonstrated with “Dirk”, but there is no denying that Marco was a good foil for Adam and vice versa and I feel that his involvement might well have provided Adam with the focus this album clearly lacks. Of course, it doesn’t have to be Marco, but a firm but sympathetic ear and filter.
But all that aside, this is a really good album. It’s warm and likeable yet raw and edgy at the same time. If it were a dog, it’d be that scruffy but attentive and faithful mutt that never left your side and always gave you some good times, even if it did drop a smelly doggy fart here or there or tear up your newspaper as it popped through the letterbox. It’s ultimately satisfying and it heralds the return of one of pop music’s greatest purveyors. If this leads to more material, it will serve its purpose very well indeed. I heartily recommend that you buy this.
You can stream the album on Spotify and it’s available for download right now in iTunes for £7.99, at Amazon for £7.49 (where you can also pick up a physical copy for £9) and if there are any actual record shops still on the UK high street, I’m sure you’ll find one there too