Friend or Foe: An Adam Ant Retrospective
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I was about thirteen when I started to transition my music tastes away from popular music. Much of the new and different music I was drawn to was fed to me by brother, who returned from university every summer with albums and tapes that I played day-in and day-out while he was home. On those tapes were a few songs that I adored and played repeatedly. They were “Stand and Deliver,” “Dog Eat Dog,” and “Antmusic,” all by a band intriguingly called, Adam and the Ants.
Cartrouble (Parts 1 & 2)
Family of Noise
Dog Eat Dog
Kings of the Wild Frontier
Physical (You’re So)
Picasso Visita el Planeta de los Simios
Stand and Deliver
Friend or Foe
Goody Two Shoes
Made of Money
Puss ‘n’ Boots
Vive Le Rock
Won’t Take that Talk
Stay in the Game
I was also starting to build my own record collection, and with little money of my own I needed to be economical. Enter the Columbia House Record Club, in which you could purchase eleven mail-order albums for one cent with an obligation to buy seven more albums over the next couple years, though at a higher price than in stores – usually about $11.99, if I recall correctly, while albums ranged from $7 to $10 in stores. By the end of the accumulation of the eighteen records, you could realize a savings of about 40% against retail prices. I suppose this helped offload the back catalogue for Columbia Records, but for my impoverished young self, it was a grand bargain. Receiving the eleven-album packages, after what seemed an interminable wait of many weeks after having handwritten the order form and mailed it in, was a joyous occasion. Hours of unwrapping the records, looking them over, and studiously playing them one after another over the following days are some of my fondest adolescent memories.
It was not uncommon, however, to have difficulty finding enough albums in the Columbia House lists that fit with my increasingly esoteric tastes. Thus, on more than a few occasions risks were taken with LPs I wouldn’t normally have purchased, either because I only had a mild interest in them or I didn’t know them but they were by artists I knew and liked. It was under this situation that I ordered two records in 1983. The first was one I wanted and was Adam Ant’s Friend or Foe, because the song “Goody Two Shoes” had been a hit the previous year and I had the 7” single and also liked the B-side, “Crackpot History and the Right to Lie.” Inspired by that and my exposure to Adam Ant from my brother’s tapes, I took a chance on another LP I knew nothing about, Dirk Wears White Sox by Adam and the Ants. Friend or Foe became a favourite record of mine for the time but Dirk was hard to warm up to, and despite many listenings it was relegated to the dustier corners of my collection over time and I eventually sold it off. It was a decision I came to regret.
Despite my inability to appreciate Dirk Wears White Sox I was still a big fan of Adam Ant. The previous year Culture Club had released their first album, Kissing to Be Clever, and I loved it and thought Boy George was a marvel. I was attending an all-boys Catholic school and wore a uniform every day, and people like Adam Ant and Boy George, who dressed outrageously and expressed their individuality in unrestrained and atypical ways, inspired me. On the limited wall space of my room were two posters, with one of each in their full regalia.
My relationship with Adam Ant was a microcosm of his broader appeal, and over time he became an artist that had a fair bit of success but struggled to maintain the critical acclaim and respect of discerning music fans. He became a bit of a novelty act as he moved through various visual styles and his music became more pop. It was this evolution that will influence your enjoyment of this playlist. Depending on your tastes, you may enjoy the early section and lose interest at it moves on, or vice-versa. As Ant has tried to revive and continue his career over the past ten years he has been met with tepid response, and the dynamic of his career is a big reason for that. However, it makes him a fascinating and colourful character to profile both personally and musically, so let’s get into it.
Zerox \ non-album single (1979)
Cartrouble (Parts 1 & 2); Cleopatra; Family of Noise\ Dirk Wears White Sox (1979)
Kick! \ B-side to “Cartrouble” (1980)
Adam Ant was born as Stuart Goddard in 1954 London. He was raised in modest means by his mother after his parents divorced in 1961. He discovered art when a teacher guided him to it in order to quell a rebellious spirit. He developed an interest in music over his school years, eventually dropping out of college to pursue it full time. His first band was Bazooka Joe, a pub rock outfit in which he played bass. They were the headlining act when the Sex Pistols played their first show in November 1975.
Stuart briefly married a fellow student from college, Carol Mills, and then also fell into a period of depression and anorexia, leading to a suicide attempt with pills. After hospitalization and recovery, he set about his music career with greater focus, forming a band in 1977 with guitarist Lester Square (Thomas Hardy), bassist Andy Warren, and drummer Paul Flanagan. It was at this time Goddard adopted the name Adam Ant as a means of reinvention. The inspiration for the stage name was uncertain but suspected as a play on ‘adamant’ to reflect a strong nature or as a combination of the biblical Adam and the industrious insect. Carol also went by the name Eve during this time, supporting the biblical connection. It’s also speculated he took it from a children’s cartoon, The Atom Ant Show, or from a ‘60s BBC show, Adam Adamant Lives! And then there was a guess it came from the name of a popular urinal and toilet manufacturer, Adamant. And finally, it may have come from a decision to take on the biblical Adam name combined with a reference to people below on the sidewalk, when viewed from the roof of their building, as ants, which inspired the band name after a guitarist made that comment while auditioning (he didn’t get the spot). Regardless its origins, which Adam himself has always remained vague, the band did take on the name, The Ants, though it was quickly updated to Adam and the Ants.
Ant was a regular of the King’s Road punk scene in London, and as The Ants built a following around London, Jordan, who worked at the SEX boutique run by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, became their manager and a performer in the band. She and Ant landed roles in the 1978 film, Jubilee, by Derek Jarman; which also featured many other members of the London punk scene. Adam performed a song in the movie, “Plastic Surgery,” which along with another song, “Deutscher Girls,” were both included on the soundtrack and became Adam and the Ants first released music. As the band continued to play their way around England, their erratic style and dark, sexually charged themes kept labels and critics at bay. There was also a line-up change as Lester Square and Paul Flanagan were replaced with Matthew Ashman on guitar (after stints by Mark Ryan and Johnny Bivouac, who was the one that played on the Jubilee songs) and Dave Barbarossa on drums. Jordan never stuck as a permanent performer in the band, but no doubt her iconic image and presence around the band helped with its exposure.
After originally being with Decca to release the Jubilee songs, Adam and the Ants were subsequently dropped and instead joined Do It Records in Camden to release their first single, “Young Parisians,” in October of 1978. It was followed by another, “Zerox,” in the summer of 1979. In those days, photocopiers were often known as Xerox machines after the brand and manufacturer, and one would often refer to “xeroxing” when making copies. In the song, Ant used the term to refer to copying another’s music and, I guess, changed the spelling to avoid copyright infringement. The song went to #1 in the UK Indie chart, bringing the band into broader awareness among audiences and revealing the greater appeal for their sound.
The Ants’ debut LP was issued in October 1979 and was called Dirk Wears White Sox after actor Dirk Bogarde. Shortly after the recording Andy Warren left the band to join fellow ex-Ant, Lester Square, in The Monochrome Set. Leigh Gorman came on as the new bass player.
The album was quirky and unique, blending punky guitar riffs with disjointed melodies, percussive rhythms, and Ant’s dramatic vocals and odd lyrics. Moments of sublime melody would be interrupted with breaks and falsetto interjections. There was nothing close to a hit to sink your teeth into and its sound seemed related to punk, post-punk, and bits of pop, but really sounded nothing like anything else around. As I noted in the intro, I never found a way into the album and the effort required to listen to it made it easy to pass over. However, thirty-five years later I can thoroughly enjoy it and enthrall over its clever twists and turns, inventive guitar work, and energetic bursts and flights of fancy. Picking songs for this playlist was difficult as I appreciate all the songs equally. I wish I still had my vinyl copy.
Despite its nature, the album found an audience and reached #16 in the UK charts and went to #1 in the Indie chart. “Cartrouble” (also written as “Car Trouble” on some releases) was released as the album’s single in early ’80, split into two parts for the 7” release, and reached #33 in the UK singles chart. The song was re-recorded shortly after with a new line-up that included drummer Jon Moss, who would soon join none other than Culture Club and help propel their quick rise to chart topping success. He also played on the re-recording of the single’s B-side, “Kick!” His playing alongside David Barbarossa (credited as Barbe) on “Kick!” resulted in a tribal drumming sound. Barbarossa was of British and Mauritian descent and favoured the heavier and propulsive drum sounds of African music. It was a talent that would have a marked influence on the band’s sound.
Dog Eat Dog; Antmusic; Kings of the Wild Frontier; Press Darlings \ Kings of the Wild Frontier (1980)
Having watched Malcolm McLaren promote the Sex Pistols and having been around McLaren and the SEX Boutique scene, Adam sought him out to manage Adam and the Ants and help them find a path to greater success. Oddly, McLaren instead chose to persuade Gorman, Barbarossa, and Ashman to leave Ant and form a new band with Annabella Lwin (Myant Myant Aye), a thirteen-year-old Burmese singer discovered after she was heard singing along to a radio in a laundromat. The new act was Bow Wow Wow, and its early line-up also included a flamboyant young club kid, George O’Dowd – then known as Lieutenant Lush – as a backing singer. He would soon leave Bow Wow Wow, rename himself Boy George, and form Culture Club with Mikey Craig and former Ant, Jon Moss. So, the pairing of the Ant and Boy George posters on my wall a few years later made more sense than even I knew, given their shared origins.
Though it was tried, neither Ant nor McLaren saw a fit for Adam in Bow Wow Wow and a new line-up for The Ants had to be assembled, with McLaren still acting as Ant’s mentor despite having just stolen his band. McLaren’s advice to Ant was to get away from the disjointed style of Dirk Wears White Sox and lean into the global beats that had informed “Kick!” It was the same advice he gave Bow Wow Wow, giving them both an album he’d picked up that featured drummers from the African nation of Burundi. The two bands would share a musical vibe over the course of their next few releases as a result of this shared inspiration. McLaren’s other advice to Ant was to play up his rock star looks and image. Ant took it to heart and transformed into a self-promoting, outrageous persona. Critics were wary, but a strong contingent of fans came on board.
The Ants new line-up brought on Kevin Mooney on bass, dual drummers in Terry Lee Miall and Chris Hughes (who performed as ‘Merrick’) to achieve that Burundi beat, and guitarist Marco Pirroni. Marco had played with Siouxsie and the Banshees and brought a new, creative contribution to the Ants’ sound that sought to separate them from the standard post-punk fare. Together they recorded Adam and the Ants second LP, Kings of the Wild Frontier, released in November 1980 on CBS. The title track was first released as a single in July and managed a #48 spot on the UK chart. However, the subsequent singles, “Dog Eat Dog,” issued in October, and “Antmusic,” released in November, scored the band two top ten hits. “Antmusic” was held out of the #1 spot by John Lennon’s, “Imagine,” which was surging again in response to his recent murder. “Kings of the Wild Frontier” was then re-released in February and this time also cracked the top ten. The band also broke internationally, with “Antmusic” spending five weeks at #1 in Australia.
The album was a notable change from the prior LP. It was full of spaghetti western guitar, drum and bass (remember, two drummers), more anthemic with harmonized vocals, chants and war whoops and a more assertive Ant throughout and was far more accessible and catchier. It gave the band their first, and only, #1 LP in the UK charts, where it spent twelve weeks to make it a verifiable smash. The album was much less clever than its predecessor, but the songs were irrepressible, inviting singalongs and foot stomping.
It would be years later when I heard the whole album, but that cassette tape of my brother’s with the tandem of “Antmusic” and “Dog Eat Dog” provided my first introduction to Adam and the Ants and I was hooked.
Physical (You’re So) \ B-side to “Dog Eat Dog” (1980)
Fall In \ B-side to “Antmusic” (1980)
Ant also released many strong B-sides to his singles that were not album tracks. “Whip in My Valise” was a great flips-side track to “Zerox” and was later added to the track listing for Dirk Wears White Sox for the 1983 re-release. It was about bondage, adding to the subversive elements of their look and sound.
“Physical (You’re So)” was a grungy, dirge-like track that had been part of the band’s live repertoire since 1978 and had been known as “Antpeople.” It was first recorded as part of a John Peel session in 1978 and then as a demo with Decca Records. The song slowed down over time, arriving at the definitive version when issued as the B-side to the “Dog Eat Dog” single. Modern rock fans may recognize it from the fantastic Nine Inch Nails cover, which was a hidden track on the Broken EP in 1992. Ant’s song was also released eleven months prior to Olivia Newton-John’s massive hit single, “Physical.” I only mention this since, despite the songs having nothing in common other than the title, I’ve always had to fight the urge to relate them. Ant’s song was about rough sex, continuing his lyrical distance from what would be typical for chart success.
Likewise, “Fall In” was an old track dating back to 1976, co-written with Lester Square. It was called “Fall Out” until The Police released a single by the same name in 1977 (good thing “Physical” got out before Olivia’s track). This was why the lyrics didn’t match the title. “Fall In” was a faster, punkier tune than most of the rest of The Ants’ repertoire and was a good reminder that Ant derived from the London punk scene. He had spent time with the Bromley Contingent, the group that followed the Sex Pistols around, and shared gigs with many of the early punk acts. While The Ants had many punk accents in their music, their world beat sound and sonic variety kept them solidly outside the pure punk genre. The Ants were part of the post-punk scene that featured a broadening of the punk sound and helped explode the new world of modern rock.
During that time Decca and Do It Records re-released the early Ants music to cash in on the success of Kings of the Wild Frontier. “Young Parisians” cracked the top ten, “Zerox” and “Cartrouble” charted, and Dirk Wears White Sox reached the top twenty. Adam and the Ants, in 1980, had become a sensation.
Scorpios; Picasso Visita El Planeta de los Simios; Stand and Deliver \ Prince Charming (1981)
Adam and the Ants third LP was Prince Charming. Like Kings of the Wild Frontier, it was co-written by Ant and Marco Pirroni, showing the guitarist’s importance to The Ants’ sound. Kevin Mooney left the band and was replaced on bass by Gary Tibbs, who had just done a stint in Roxy Music and appeared on the Manifesto and Flesh and Blood LPs. Prince Charming was another success, delivering two #1 singles in the UK, “Stand and Deliver” and “Prince Charming,” and another top ten hit with “Ant Rap,” continuing his penchant for self-reference in his songs, part of the whole promotional bent of his persona. The album reached #2 in the UK.
While Prince Charming shared much of the same musical feel as Kings of the Wild Frontier, it also shifted to more varied styles, immediately evident on the album’s first two tracks, “Scorpios” and “"Picasso Visita el Planeta de los Simios." “Scorpios” introduced the album with horn blasts, flutes and a Latin flair. And despite its Spanish title, “"Picasso Visita el Planeta de los Simios" (translated to ‘Picasso visits the planet of the apes’) didn’t have as much of a Spanish style, though did include some flamenco style vocal accents. The song did, however, have a more straightforward pop structure and catchy phrasing through the chorus, a marker of Ant’s style throughout his early career.
“Ant Rap” was a weak attempt at rap – still an infrequent and rare presence in music at that point, though growing after Blondie was the first to score a #1 song featuring a rap with their single, “Rapture,” released the prior January. “Ant Rap’s” #3 showing surpassed “Rapture’s” #5 spot in the UK. Ant had yet to see a breakthrough in the US with any of his singles, though the Kings and Charming albums both reached the top 100. Prince Charming included more drum and bass and chant songs on the album along with “Ant Rap,” such as “Mowhok,” “Mile High Club,” and the title track. “5 Guns West” again offered a spaghetti western feel. As much as The Ants could deliver a punky tune or a melodic turn, much of the music remained solidly rhythm based. “Prince Charming” was an unusual #1 hit and wasn’t much of a song.
Despite the album’s success, critics were less flattering to it and it admittedly was a less consistent and engaging LP than Kings of the Wild Frontier. However, it did have another outstanding tune, “Stand and Deliver,” to add to the band’s legacy. Opening with a military style bugle call, the song gradually opened up to a stampeding beat and Ant’s declaration, “stand and deliver!” The song’s energy, western guitar accents, propulsive beats, and varied chants and vocals made for a fun and catchy listen. It was consummate Adam and the Ants and again with a sound unlike anything else around.
“Stand and Deliver” also had lyrical references to Ant’s visual, preening style. “I'm the dandy highwayman / Whom you're too scared to mention / I spend my cash / On looking flash / And grabbing your attention.” “Try to use a mirror / Not a bullet or a knife / Hoh!” “I'm the dandy highwayman / So sick of easy fashion / The clumsy boots, peekaboo roots / That people think so dashing.” Indeed, in addition to their unique sound, Adam and the Ants were one of the most visually distinctive bands around. Their look was both embraced and derided as foolish costumery that made them appear less serious and thus less respected. While their sound drew from African influences, their look instead blended American aboriginal warrior make-up with pirate clothing. Ant was the most flamboyant, braiding beads into his hair and adorning his look with scarves and distinctive naval jackets from centuries past. He was a handsome, though diminutive, leader of the band and was relentless in his sexually charged, swashbuckling performances. It no doubt helped the band gain attention, coming on the heels of, and inspired by, the recently faded glam era. In the emerging new wave era of styled hair and modern, bright fashion, the super-retro style of The Ants was an anomaly.
Friend or Foe; Something Girls; Goody Two Shoes; Made of Money \ Friend or Foe (1982)
Despite the success of Adam and the Ants, Adam knew it wasn’t a true band given the revolving door of members it had seen over its five-year career. He felt the others didn’t share his enthusiasm, and given he’d always been the its defining element it seemed unnecessary to maintain the charade of a band. Rumours had it that Pirroni left the band, or at least refused to tour any longer, which also prompted a change in course. Either way, Ant declared Adam and the Ants broken-up and set about recording and releasing his next album, this time as a solo act.
Pirroni did stay on as his guitarist and co-writer. The style of the next album, Friend or Foe, was a natural continuation of the sounds heard on Prince Charming. At the time, it was hard to distinguish the difference between Adam and the Ants and Adam Ant, and in early media references music from Friend or Foe was credited in error to Adam and the Ants. It was a seamless transition from band to solo act, and even stylistically Ant continued the pirate look, though abandoned his signature, embroidered jacket for a more subtle naval look (per the photo below right, taken from the Friend or Foe tour program cover), styled after Terence Stamp’s portrayal of Billy Budd from the 1962 film (photo below left).
Friend or Foe was the most pop oriented and polished album of his career. It had the tribal beats, spaghetti western guitar, and even more horns than Prince Charming, but the chanting, plodding, disjointed songs that had punctuated that prior release were gone. UK audiences still supported Ant though a little less so, with the LP peaking #5. In the US however, the pop sound of the album sent it to #16 for his best result yet.
The album issued three singles, with the lead, “Goody Two Shoes,” reaching #1 in the UK and #12 in the US to become Ant’s best known, career-defining track (though “Antmusic” feels more appropriate in that role). It was the primary example of the pop shift Adam had made on the album. Riding a relentless beat that propelled a rhythm coordinated with smart horn blasts and a tight acoustic guitar, Ant delivered a chant-rap vocal as only he could. With its memorable, repeating vocal, “Don’t drink, don’t smoke / What do you do?,” the song was infectious and fun.
Friend or Foe marked the first change in which fans that liked the artsy, creative, post-punk explorations of The Ants were given pause. The new sound won him new fans, and to an extent, linked him to the lighter sounds of new wave, though he wasn’t a solid fit for that genre. It’s here that listeners of this playlist may start to see their interest grow or wane depending on one’s musical preference.
The opening track was the title track, the second single, and had a similar vibe to “Goody Two Shoes.” It was a more accessible and pop-styled update to the earlier Adam and the Ants tribal beat. The second track, “Something Girls,” showed where Adam’s new style was headed. It was a horn-accented, sultry, sashaying tune that again brought his sexuality to the fore. After another beat-driven romp in “Place in the Country” came a pair of western flavoured, mid-tempo blends of melody and rhythm in “Desperate But Not Serious” and “Here Comes the Grump,” before finishing with a great, soul-styled cover of The Doors’, “Hello, I Love You.” The entire first side didn’t have a weak track and was a fun listen start to finish. The second side followed with more of the same, starting with “Goody Two Shoes.” There was just one hook after another before settling into a subdued finish with the spaghetti western instrumental, “Man Called Marco.”
Friend or Foe was the realization of Ant’s evolving sound and persona. It was still distinctive and true to his unique musical style but found a happy medium between that and a more fan-friendly sound. It didn’t equal the heights he’d had in the UK with The Ants, but gave him his biggest success in North America.
Strip; Puss ‘n Boots; Montreal \ Strip (1983)
The next album moved Ant further from his tribal sound and more into pop and dance but still with a sexually charged feel. Once again mostly rhythm based, the songs didn’t have the catchiness of Friend or Foe and failed to chart as highly. The album reached #65 in the US and #20 in the UK, making it his weakest result of his five LPs in his homeland.
His change in sound was evident in the first single, “Puss ‘n’ Boots,” which had a novelty feel. It was catchy, but lacked substance and edge, further alienating the audience that had followed him through his formative years. It reached the top ten in the UK while the second single, “Strip,” fell just short of the top forty in the UK and the US, at least charting there whereas “Puss ‘n’ Boots” hadn’t. By 1984 when these songs were getting airplay, especially on the emerging video channels for which Adam was a natural fit, I was already moving on from my fascination with Ant as my alternative tastes developed, and these songs were partly why.
Once again written and produced with Marco Pirroni and featuring guests such as Phil Collins and Anni-Frid Lyngstad from ABBA, the album had its moments, but its lighter sound and mood was harder to warm up for his old fans as he grew away from his edgier beginnings. The western accents faded away in place of more Latin vibes, such as on “Spanish Games.” Horns again drove much of the feel but there was also greater use of keyboards. Overall, it was an inoffensive album but not one that begged for repeated listens.
Vive Le Rock; Miss Thing; Scorpio Rising; Apollo 9 \ Vive Le Rock (1985)
Every album from Ant had rolled out reliably in late October or early November every year since 1979. So, when it took until September of 1985 for Vive Le Rock to appear, it was a longer break. It also came on the heels of his appearance at the Live Aid concert in July, showing he still had some status in the music world, though when he was limited to just one song (he played “Vive Le Rock”) it was also indicative that status was waning. The LP only peaked at #42 in the UK, again marking a new low point for his career.
Vive Le Rock sustained the pop and dance feel of Strip and continued with Ant’s dandy persona. However, some of the edge returned and made for a more compelling batch of songs. It was again co-written with Pirroni but this time produced by legendary producer of David Bowie and T. Rex, Tony Visconti. He also went into the studio with a more stable line-up, with Chris Constantinou (Chris DeNiro) and ‘Count’ Bogdan Wiczling having joined him and Marco during the previous tour. The result was a tighter, slightly more aggressive and attitude-filled album.
“Apollo 9” was the first single, released the summer of ’85 before the LP, and it reached #13 in the UK singles chart. It was pure Ant, as always scoring with an unlikely hit given its disjointed structure, chants, and beat-driven sound; but with audiences well inured to his sound, it caught on. It was followed by the album’s title track, an anthemic tune with more aggressive guitar to give it a rock edge not heard since his early days with The Ants. It was a sound to support the title. Other songs like “Miss Thing” and “Scorpio Rising” showed Ant was sublimely mixing all the elements of his career in interesting and nuanced ways, providing songs that weren’t immediately catchy, but had hooks that created earworms and made for an engaging LP start to finish. The loss of the horns also gave it a darker, more intense feel that also harkened back to his earlier vibe, but as new wave and post-punk were dying out, so was interest in Ant’s sound.
U.S.S.A. \ Manners & Physique (1990)
Recall that in 1977, part of what launched Adam Ant’s career was a part in the movie, Jubilee. Acting was something Ant continued to do through his career, mostly in small parts in TV shows, but it was after Vive Le Rock that he shifted his attention more purposefully to that side of his career. Ant was dissatisfied with the trajectory of his music career and the lukewarm support he was getting from CBS. So, in 1986 he played a nomad in the horror film, Nomads, and in 1987 he appeared in the movies Slam Dance and Cold Steel, none of which fared well with critics or the box office. More movies and television would follow, making Ant a fairly regular presence on the screen through to the end of the ‘90s.
His shift to acting resulted in a five-year gap before he issued his next LP, 1990’s Manners & Physique, released on MCA Records. It brought back Marco as his writing partner and guitarist, though they were back to using guests to fill out their line-up. Pirroni was also enjoying success as Sinead O’Connor’s guitarist at that point, having played on her first two breakout LPs, 1987’s The Lion and the Cobra and 1990’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.
There was a sound over the mid- to late-eighties that dominated, relying on electronic drums and generic synths in an R&B mold that rendered much of the music thin, homogenous, and unsatisfying. Unfortunately, this was what Ant leaned into for the new LP. The lead single, “Room at the Top,” was the consummate example. It was a lousy, generic synth-pop song that lacked Ant’s signature sound and personality. It reached #13 in the UK and #17 in the US, sadly reinforcing his move into this popular style.
The album produced two more singles of similar style and quality, “Rough Stuff” and “Can’t Set Rules About Love,” neither of which charted well or at all. The rest of the album was forgettable, and I’ve selected for this playlist one of the only songs, “U.S.S.A.,” that bore any resemblance to the Adam Ant of old, featuring a solid rhythm and his chanting vocals.
Won’t Take that Talk; Beautiful Dream; Wonderful \ Wonderful (1995)
Following Manners & Physique, Ant and Pirroni continued to explore the synth/R&B sound, partnering with Chic’s bass player Bernard Edwards to record an album, Persuasion. Chic’s drummer, Tony Thompson, also played on most of the tracks. However, the LP was rejected by MCA, prompting Ant to take the album on tour in hopes of getting a new label for it. However, despite eventually signing with Capitol in the US and EMI in the UK, MCA wouldn’t give up the Persuasion recordings and it was never released.
Therefore, it wasn’t until 1995 when Ant issued his next LP, Wonderful. Along with Pirroni it included Dave Ruffy, who had worked with Pirroni on Sinead’s music, and Morrissey’s guitarist, Boz Boorer. After having issued six albums in his first seven years, Ant had now only released two over the past ten. It was a challenge for Ant to get the same attention and consideration his reputation had built for him in his early career. In the era after grunge and Madchester and amidst the rise of electronica and Britpop, Ant was an anachronism.
In 1993 Duran Duran released the album, Duran Duran (The Wedding Album). The ‘80s new wave and pop band suddenly revealed a mature, full, lovely sound full of melody and depth that made people reconsider their original perceptions – that was certainly the case for me, never having been a big fan. Just two years later, Ant did the same with Wonderful. The album was great, full of an engaging mix of tracks that drew on Ant’s unique personality and sound but updated with a smoothness, maturity, and depth that he hadn’t shown before. He hadn’t been known much for slow songs in his career, but this LP was full of slow to mid-tempo tunes that swept you along in a melodic bliss. His vocals were less pronounced and generally absent the usual chants and quips of his style. It showed he could sing and had talent in ways never envisioned. It appeared the R&B explorations of the early ‘90s had smoothed out his sound but was now paired with the stronger instrumentation of his earlier work.
The album’s lead track was the solid, “Won’t Take that Talk,” which gave notice this was going to be a different and richer album for Ant. It was followed by the bouncy and catchy, “Beautiful Dream.” The third song was the title track, the album’s lead single, and one of the best songs of Ant’s career. I didn’t get around to hearing this song or album until the past ten years, twigged to it after hearing it live when I saw Adam Ant in Toronto in 2013. The moment I heard it I knew it was a great song, and the album version delivered beautifully. It was just an impeccable, mid-tempo pop song. Building that link to the Duran Duran album of the same period, “Wonderful” reminds of the songs “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone.”
However, same as I’d lost touch with Ant, it seemed the same for others as neither the single nor the album caught on with “Wonderful” peaking at #32 in the UK and #39 in the US. The second single, “Gotta Be A Sin,” reached #45 in the UK only. The LP reached #24 in the UK and didn’t crack the top 100 in the US. Despite its strength, and a reasonable chart showing, the album did not suggest Adam Ant was as wonderful for fans as he once was.
Cool Zombie; Stay in the Game; Vince Taylor \ Adam Ant is the BlueBlack Hussar Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter (2013)
After Wonderful, Adam and Marco continued to write and record songs while Ant kept up his acting in bit parts in film and TV. Ant formed his own label, Blend Records, for which demos were recorded. A few songs came out on soundtracks and for benefits, and Ant guested on others’ recordings, but over time, despite hinting at several plans, nothing official was released in terms of singles or albums.
In 2002, Adam made news after an altercation in a pub, resulting in him throwing a discarded car alternator through its window from the street. He was arrested and eventually pled guilty for a fine and a suspended sentence, contingent on him getting psychiatric care. Always dogged by mental health issues, he would soon be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
In 2006, Adam released an autobiography, Stand and Deliver, and in 2009 there were reports he was recording new music. In 2010 he started doing live dates and launched a new music label, Blue Black Hussar. All these events culminated in his first new studio album in eighteen years, the lengthy titled, Adam Ant is the BlueBlack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter, which alluded both to his being an actor and to his old image, with ‘Blue Black Hussar’ being his Kings of the Wild Frontier persona. ‘Marrying the gunner’s daughter’ was a reference to a form of old, naval corporal punishment. He was back playing the pirate and musically, exploring some of the most varied and alternative sounds since his debut 34 years earlier. I saw him at a sparsely attended show at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto in 2013 and was mildly surprised and impressed at his energy and the strength of his show. In particular, the album’s single, “Cool Zombie,” came off as a great live track. Now hitting 60, he was determinedly reviving his career.
Ant’s voice wasn’t as strong as his earlier self, and the music was uneven, but there were many strong moments throughout the album. “Cool Zombie,” the opening track, had a classic rock feel like a T. Rex glam track for the modern ages. It was originally written with Andy Bell from Ride, Oasis, and Beady Eye, though he wasn’t credited after Liam Gallagher protested and fought publicly with Ant to have the song suppressed. Ant re-wrote the song with Chris McCormack for the final album version. “Stay in the Game” had a raw, post-punk feel with a rumbling bass line and edgy guitars. The title track revived Ant’s disjointed rhythm and beats sound but with a rapping vocal that fell flat but did have a nice guitar riff. “Vince Taylor” had an energetic, punk-pop vibe reminding of his early Ants tunes. Tracks like “Valentines” “Cradle Your Hatred,” and “Who’s a Goofy Bunny?” (a 1980s track about Malcolm McLaren redone for the album in commemoration of his old manager’s passing in 2010) were plagued by hummed, breathy vocals that were more distracting and annoying than additive to what were otherwise decent songs. Late in the album was an energetic tune with an industrial slant, “Bullshit,” surrounded by two versions of a funky return to his spaghetti western sound, “How Can I Say I Miss You?”
Marco Pirroni was credited on the album, but only via his contributions to the writing and recording of several songs dating back to the demos of the late ‘90s. Pirroni and Ant parted ways in early 2010 while recording for the album, not finishing any new material. This led to Ant joining with others to help write the album, including Boz Boorer, who had helped on Wonderful and was back to co-write seven songs and play on many others, and the aforementioned Chris McCormack from ‘90s band, 3 Colours Red, who co-wrote four songs on the LP.
Blue Black Hussar was a very different album than Wonderful, indicative of the eighteen-year gap between them and seemingly an interest by Ant in getting in touch with his musical origins. It had more in common with Dirk Wears White Sox than any of his solo material. While the album charted in the UK, given the irrelevance of charts in today’s music world it was hard to tell the extent to which Ant was re-welcomed by fans. Would older fans embrace the nostalgia, or turn away from it as a sheepish childish indulgence? The album was, at the very least, a modern and solid effort for someone that hadn’t brought forth music in almost twenty years.
Adam Ant, with his unique sound and dandy look and personality, was an artist that was as likely to draw you in as push you away. Such was the results of his career, only getting a brief look from the larger audiences of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Certainly for me, he was a huge part of my listening habits as a young teen, but as I got older my interest waned. After having listened to Kings of the Wild Frontier and Friend or Foe extensively I mostly ignored him until he resurfaced in the past ten years. It’s been a pleasure going back and rekindling my relationship with his music and discovering the hidden joys of albums like Vive Le Rock and Wonderful, and even deepening my affection for Dirk Wears White Sox. If this playlist and profile can do the same for you, then I’m glad to have obliged.
There is expectation of a new album this year, his seventh solo LP and tenth in total, so there will be more to add to Adam’s story soon. And by all means, go out and see him perform, since Ant still tours with regularity and is currently taking a celebration tour of Friend or Foe around the UK and North America. He’ll still put on the old pirate-warrior duds and help you remember a day when artists like him provided colour and energy to the 1980s music scene.