ADAM & THE ANTS

OVERVIEW:
Get the three Adam & The Ants albums, without a doubt. Some of the catchiest and most creative music of the late 70s/early 80s. Tread carefully with Adam’s 6 solo records – “Vive Le Rock” is wonderful, and “Friend and Foe” worth hearing, but the rest is mediocre.

THE ALBUMS:

Dirk Wears White Sox *
Kings Of The Wild Frontier *
Prince Charming
Friend Or Foe
Strip
Vive Le Rock *
Manners & Physique
Persuasion
Wonderful

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DIRK WEARS WHITE SOX   (1979)

A

I’m sorry, did I miss something? I’ve spent most of my life thus far thinking of this group as an 80s novelty-esque new wave band – I had no real grounds for doing so, and I’m sure I was influenced by their goofy name. They don’t seem to have any genuine reputation on the “record geek” circuit, and I rarely notice ‘em being batted around on the periodicals and websites that are supposed to provide us with our pop music savvy. But Jesus….these early albums fucking RULE. And this band is probably the most obvious carrier of the early 70s glam rock flag into the new wave era – while most punk and post-punk bands would borrow the energy and some of the vocal stylings/guitar sounds from glam, Adam also borrows many of the less “cool” elements (the theatricality, the humor, the utter desire for catchiness at all costs). This album sounds like a lost early-XTC record – all bouncy and spastic and post-punky, but crammed with great hooks! I’ve heard this written off by some as a wanna-be-cool “post-punk” album…and yes, it’s a decidedly more rocking and punky and herky-jerky affair than the upcoming albums. But it’s really just a POP record, as Adam’s glammy and good-humored delivery and all the fantastic pop hooks make quite clear to me. And it’s not at all derivative to my ears – this kind of sense of humor and all these sorts of goofy rhythmic ideas would NOT show up on very many self-serious post-punk records.  Adam is also just a totally charismatic, PERFECT front-person for a band like this – much of this material works mainly due to his vocal delivery. I can imagine someone considering this a “slighter” sort of punk record, due to the poppiness and the sense of humor…but I think this album stands up to any acknowledged classic from that era, especially if you are a pop fan as opposed to just a grumpy punker. Now…The Ants lineup is different here than on the famous records – this early version of the band would go on to serve time in Bow Wow Wow. Everybody sounds great on here nonetheless! Adam hasn’t transformed into the yodeling B-movie obsessed nutter of his most famous years, but he still indulges in some weird lyrical excursions (“Catholic Day” is about JFK and includes lines like “Kennedy’s wife with his brain on knee, poor Jacky!”). Almost every song on here is winner, but the opener “Cartrouble Parts 1 and 2″ is a particularly genius slice of late-70s pop-punk with a killer riff in the second part. I also completely love “Nine Planned Failed” – when the arrangement cuts out and Adam recites the title line and then the band drops back into that main tribal riff…it’s pop bliss, and what hooky quirky rock music is all ABOUT! “Day I Met God” and “Digital Tenderness” both kick ass, as does the weird and totally glammy “Never Trust A Man With Egg On His Face.” The album falters slightly on the back end – “Animals And Men” and “The Idea” are both decent, but less distinguished than the previous run of tracks. As a whole, however, this is one underrated record and worth getting to know for ANY fan of the post-punk era.

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KINGS OF THE WILD FRONTIER    (1980)

A-

This is the go-to Adam Ant record, and for most people the pinnacle of the Ant experience. I personally wish the previous line-up would have kept honing their craft and put out more art-pop-punk albums, but there’s also no denying the sheer balls and manic creative glee that went into this album. Adam basically re-creates his entire act here – the line-up is completely different, and the sound is suddenly a very unique (and glam inspired) theatrical hybrid of Burundi drumming, spaghetti Western tropes, new wave pop music, horror movie scores, and stereotypical Native American chanting, complete with Adam’s nutty vocal stylings (yelps, yodels, general theatricality). This is the sound and image with with everyone associates Adam. Some high-minded types might call this act a throwaway, a novelty…but if THIS is a novelty record, then so are all those awesome Sweet singles and really most of the glam rock classics. In other words, fun and goofy and theatrical does not inherently equal “novelty.” The hooks are once again awesome here, though they can sometimes get a little bit garish and obnoxious with all the repetition and yodeling and chanting and tribal drumming. But there’s absolutely no denying Adam’s pop craftsmanship at this point, and there’s also no denying the uniqueness of this experience! The big “single” was “Antmusic,” and holy crap is that a classic pop production! That chorus is totally amazing “Do yourself a favor…” The lyrics are stupid, but this stuff is NOT about insightful lyrics. They work perfectly for the song. Other highlights include the incredible and powerful title track, the Western spoof “Los Rancheros” with it’s totally endearing guitar line, and the catchy opener “Dog Eat Dog.” Most of the record is totally entertaining – there are a couple weaker tracks (“Don’t Be Square” sounds like it’s trying hard to annoy me). But this is definitely something of an 80s classic.

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PRINCE CHARMING    (1981)

B

Almost unanimously criticized as a major fall-off from the previous record. The dropping of the Ants band name for Adam’s subsequent “solo” album cements the impression even further – perhaps even the band felt that these ideas had run their course by the time “Wild Frontier” was finished! But this is not really THAT much of a drop, to be honest. Actually, the first part of the this record is easily stands up to the previous record and contains some of this group’s best ever tracks – “Picasso Vista El Planeta De Los Simios” is a genius pop song, with a hilarious concept and great hook. The title track totally grew on me – it’s insanely infectious, even if a bit self-consciously ugly. The opener “Scorpio” makes use of horns and Latin rhythms and works great! And then comes “Five Guns West,” another Western pastiche that’s every bit as awesome as “Los Rancheros.” Then the album starts to lose some steam for me, and some of the later songs help me to understand the negativity surrounding this record. “Mile High Club,” “Mohowk,” “Ant Rap,” and “That Voodoo” are all basically throwaways (the “rap” song was a heavily promoted single, but I was happy to hear that it’s more of a chant than anything else – it’s actually pretty fun and not at all embarrassing). “The Voodoo” is the best out of those though – it has some cool ideas, but never really comes together. That leaves the closer, “S.E.X.” which is nice while playing but very unmemorable…and of course the most famous song on here, “Stand and Deliver.” That one is a solid pop single with a catchy hook, but it’s not nearly as good “Picasso” or the title track, in mi opinion.  From my 2011 perspective, it’s quite easy to like this record, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who likes the previous one. But if I were in the early 80s and anxiously awaiting a “Wild Frontier” follow-up, one that would expand upon that album’s ideas and bring in even newer and better ones…I’m pretty sure this would disappoint ME too!  It just feels like an outtakes record for the most part, save for the early gems.

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FRIEND OR FOE    (1982)

B-

Save for one record (“Vive Le Rock”), Adam’s “solo” career was a huge disappointment for me. He basically drops the personality and eccentricity and conceptual side of the Ants records, and goes for a variety of trendy radio-pop styles that don’t suit him at all. That being said, this first solo effort has some very strong moments (mostly crammed into the A side). The sound is often striking and not TOO commercial and 80s – there’s also a serious injection of rockabilly, which makes for some entertaining moments. The big single was “Goody Two Shoes,” one of the rockabilly showcases – I find the song totally forgettable, and were I not to have read about it’s single status prior to hearing the record, I would have considered it merely filler. The “Prince Charming”-esque title track, and the melodic “Here Comes The Grump” are my two favorites, but the fast-paced raver “Place In The Country” and the danceable “Crackpot History…” ain’t no slouches either. There are some total duds on the B side, and in general, nothing on here really moves the way the earlier records do. Marco and Adam dropped the big tribal drums, and the Western/Native American schticks, and we’re left with basically just a slightly off-kilter radio-ready new wave album. This is a disposable, if well made pop record – the melodies are all decent enough but not that great, the personality feels compromised and less theatrical, and there’s just not a lot of magic here. Still some awesome drum sounds though! Worth hearing if you love the earlier albums, but clearly a point of departure from true inspiration for Mr. Ant.

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STRIP  (1983)

C

It’s hard to believe Adam Ant would allow his image to grow this lame. The album cover, title, lyrics, and general sound of this album are completely unacceptable by most people’s standards of “good taste” in pop music. Was this supposed to be a joke? That’s not to say “good taste” always matters, because it doesn’t – but without it, you’re going to need some DAMN great hook-writing. And for about half this record, Adam showcases just that – I was downright surprised by how well constructed and catchy some of these tracks were, considering how shitty this album looked from the outside (and also taking into account it’s dire reputation). Adam worked with Phil Collins on a couple tracks, in the ABBA studio – that should give you an idea of the vibe here. But this record mostly stays on the good side of the line that gets drawn whenever ABBA and Phil are mentioned – it’s ultimately just a decent piece of pop craftsmanship. And on the B side of the record, things basically get back to sorta-normal Adam Ant territory – the insanely hooky and catchy “Montreal” is a better track than anything on “Friend or Foe” if you ask me! “Navel To Neck” even has some of the old drum stylings. The title track and the 2nd song “Baby Let Me Scream At You” are a bit harder to apologize for – they’re just annoying and they don’t rock or pop or snap and you get the sense Adam really just wanted to make a lot of money with this corny crap. And unfortunately they START the proceedings! Most of the rest of the album is worth hearing though – there’s a great outro hook buried at the end of the otherwise weak “Libertine” (the way Adam goes into falsetto to sing “Lone Ranger”). “Spanish Games” could have been on an early Ants record with modified production. “Vanity” sounds like “Let’s Dance”-era Bowie (which is a good comparison for a lot of this record). The single was “Puss ‘n’ Boots,” and while I’m not crazy about the overly 80s pop production, it’s got an undeniably infectious chorus. This record loses major points in the presentation department – but it’s good to know Adam hasn’t slipped TOO far in the writing one. HOWEVER…if I were a fan of “Dirk Wears White Sox” when this record actually got released, I’m pretty sure this would have the heavy nail in the coffin as far as my ill feelings towards Adam’s musical choices were concerned (which would have been a shame, since he totally rebounds on the follow-up). And that transparent stylistic shift (or “sell-out”) probably mostly accounts for this album’s horrible reputation.  But in reality it’s just a horribly wrapped box with a decent gift inside.

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VIVE LE ROCK   (1985)

B+

Fuckin’ A! I was not expecting this much of a return to form for Sr. Ant, especially not after the totally off-course image remodeling of the previous record. But here he totally drops the Phil Collins-ness and hires Tony Visconti and makes a hard rocking insanely T.Rex-inspired (hence the Visconti) glam rock album. The eccentricity returns to its proper place, the hooks are great, the whole thing is consistent and energetic, and everything sounds very classic glam, with slightly updated 80s production. The lyrics and melodies are very simple, following the Bolan tradition, but they also WORK, and Adam’s delivery is perfect for this kind of material. I guess they weren’t interested in quality old-school glam rock in 1985 though – this album tanked and Adam retired to an acting career, only to return years later with another unfortunate image shift and his worst ever record. Song for song, this is utterly solid, with only “Scorpio Rising” striking me as a bit lame (though even that one grew on me). The attempt at a big single was “Apollo 9,” and it’s not one of the BEST songs here, but the chorus is great. The title track kicks thing off with a chugging simple bluesy hook, and it’s got big Visconti production and lots of attitude. The best tracks, though, are the most old-school: “Miss Thing,” “Razor Keen,” and “Rip Down” represent the best three song T.Rex tribute of the 80s, though I’m not sure you can really call it a tribute if Visconti produced ALL of ‘em! Then there’s my total favorite (and most overt glam tune) – “Mohair Lockeroom Pin-Up Boys.” Great vocals, great hooks, awesome production and percussion. The rest of the album works too – it’s the best thing Adam did after “Frontier,” and I wish it would have been his swan song. Let’s just say that it IS, and consider the following records “reunion” albums of sorts….

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MANNERS & PHYSIQUE    (1990)

D

Adam’s “comeback” album is the most generic and lightweight of his career. It sounds like a faceless early 90s dance-pop record, and aside from a couple moments of Ant-like fun, it’s a total wash. This is a similar album to “Strip,” but that record still had some excellent hooks, and a sense of humor, and a sense of FUN. This record just sounds desperate, and it’s ugly and overly processed to boot. The idea of Adam going dance-pop isn’t necessarily off-putting to me either – the guy has always possessed Prince-like qualities, and I can totally imagine a marrying of this mechanized beat-heavy sound with the original famous Ant one. But nothing unique happens here – this is just faceless corporate crap. The record opens and closes with it’s too best tracks – the single “Room At The Top” does absolutely nothing for me, but it’s well-written and has a memorable refrain. Though the fact that that refrain is based around a lazy rhyme scheme  (“top” and “not”) forces me to re-think the “well-written” part of what I just wrote. The absolute best is the closer “Anger, Inc.” – again, not something I’d ever listen to again, but at least it SOUNDS like Adam, with a bit of the old glammy flair as well. Actually, only half of this record is really invested in the 90s dance-isms – the rest are just lame radio-ready Brit-pop songs (“Young Dumb And Full Of It,” “Piccadilly, “If You Keep On”). Well, they would be radio-ready if they were any good (though I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a serious requirement in 1989). Anyway, this album adds nothing to this man’s legacy, and detracts from it considerably if you choose to take it seriously. I choose to consider it an ill-advised experiment from an essentially retired one-time star, and file it in the “afterthought” category. In other words – don’t waste your time.

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PERSUASION  (unreleased early 90s album)

(no grade)

This record was (I believe) fully finished by Adam and shelved by his label before it could be released. It  sounds like a continuation of the previous dud, but it’s actually a bit BETTER than that record! Not better enough to make it worth anyone but the biggest fan’s while, but still…if you want to hear a crappy 90s sell-out Adam Ant dance-pop record, THIS should be your choice! Songs like “Survival of the Fetish” and “All Girl Action” are way more interesting than anything on the previous record. They have older sounding Ant hooks, and some decent melodic ideas. Most of this record SOUNDS better too – the arrangements are an ounce more musical, and there are some neat Prince-like vocal harmonies on a few cuts. I’m sure the label, or whoever, had a good reason not to release this – I mean…it does pretty much suck! Just not any worse than the album preceding it. But you can never truly know what goes on behind the scenes with these jack-asses.

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WONDERFUL   (1995)

C

Adam’s last album to date is a complete 180 shift from the dance-pop of “Manners & Physique.” This is a 90s alt-rock album with a lot of acoustic guitars, some psychedelic touches, some VERY generic song structures and lyrics, and a BIT of the old spirit. There are some overt glam-isms on here, and when coupled with the 90s Brit-poppy production, moments of this call to mind bands like Suede and Blur (not that Blur was ever particularly glammy). The best material here is far better than anything on the previous two records (meaning “Manners” and “Persuasion”): “Yin And Yang” is an interesting dreamy psych song with a nice melody and it’s easily the standout for me…”Alien” and “Vampires” are Hunky Dory-lite,  unremarkable save for the style, but that style is a whole lot more exciting than what we’d been dealing with on the previous couple albums. There are some huge commercial bids – the title track is WAY too corny for Adam! It sounds like a faceless 90s radio-track for lame-os. This album leaves very little impression on me, but at least it’s kinda professional and respectable, and Adam’s in good voice. It’s notable for being the least gimmick-y of his records – this is just your basic strummy 90s Brit-Pop, without a ton of swagger. It was a giant failure though – none of the tracks would ever make my “Adam & The Ants” mix-tape, and therefore I’m comfortable calling it a “fans only” release.

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