New Wave lives. One of the primary worries of music fans is the prospect of a favorite artist releasing new material after a significant absence from the music scene. Not only because it might suck, but it could be so bad that it consequently tarnishes the great works for which someone holds genuine love and nostalgia. Kind of like the music equivalent of George Lucas releasing new Star Wars and Indiana Jones films. Today, Adam Ant has released his first new studio album in 18 years. Characterized as autobiographical, the lengthy title – Adam Ant is the Blueback Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter – raises more questions than it answers. Thankfully, the music is fantastic; while true to the Adam Ant signature sound, it is definitely not merely a reimagining of what has already been done.
Some of the questions about the title and the image on the album cover are revealed in the official press release about the new work:
The first part of the album’s enigmatic title also pays homage to Adam’s iconic “Kings of the Wild Frontier” persona who wore the trademark white stripe. Although this persona never had a name, Adam now refers to the character as The Blueblack Hussar, a reference to the cavalry hussar units that originated during the 15th century throughout Europe. Many units were known for their characteristic dress that included distinctive hats, elaborate braided jackets and, in some groups, pants with a yellow vertical stripe – three signature items that Adam adopts on stage.
The second part of the title, “Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter” is linked to an old naval term that refers to being punished. Or, metaphorically speaking, his feelings about being signed to a major label for so many years. Now, Adam has released this album on his own label, Blueblack Hussar Records.
The mysterious cover girl wearing the Nelson hat is Georgie Hobday, the subject of two oil paintings by BP portrait-prize recipient Mary Jane Ansell. Georgie also appears in the video for “Cool Zombie”.
A collaboration with long-time writing partner Marco Pirroni as well as Boz Boorer (well known for his work with Morrissey), the lead single, “Cool Zombie”, is a fusion of old and new. The familiar Adam Ant-style chorus (though sans chatting and war drum beats) but featuring a decidedly non-Antish American southern drawl, the lead vocals have a Dylanesque style and delivery. The song was released as a preview last month, along with an official music video (produced and directed by Adam And and Adam Ross) on the adamantdotnet channel on YouTube:
The video was filmed at Hoxton Hall in London, and is meant to portray his return to the UK after living in Tennessee. Adam Ant explains:
I lived in Tennessee for a couple of years. My daughter, Lily Caitlin, was born there. I decided that I was going to be like a house husband, so I was with her and changing nappies. That’s the hardest work I’ve ever done, the child-rearing thing. But as Lily got older, I started to think about music. I missed it – the creative process and the live side of it.
Adam Ant’s current touring look is also reflected in the new video – another contrast to be drawn between the image of Adam Ant circa the early 80s that we all remember, compared with today. While back in the day he had soap opera / fashion model good looks, today he appears a bit more larger than life – like some kind of other dimensional pirate conqueror, who maybe sees the world a bit more clearly than the rest of us.
Clocking in at 17 tracks, the album offers quite a bit of music to explore.
The second track, “Stay in the Game”, is definitely one of my favorites. It has a bit of a throw back groovy riff and distorted vocals – kind of like Adam Ant meets The Doors, with a bit of post-punk twist. Really an awesome song.
“Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter”, for me, sounds quite different from Adam Ant’s past work. But it doesn’t really sound like anyone else at all, either. Really an interesting song (interesting in a good way), and it goes through more changes than most of the songs on the album.
Like “Stay in the Game”, “Vince Taylor” has a bit more of a groovy, 60s throwback sound to me – with really nice guitar riffs, and simple structure that really works.
Compared with the best songs on the album, “Darlin’ Boy”, “Dirty Beast”, “Punkyoungirl”, and “Sausage”, are the less interesting tracks for me, and don’t really stand out in any specific way – consistent with the overall sound and direction of the album, but not the stand out tracks.
“Cradle Your Hatred” is a song that does stand out for me, and like “Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter”, it goes through more changes and has a more dynamic sound going on. It has more of a ballad element as well, which Adam Ant always pulls off in such a unique manner.
“Hardmentouchblokes”, instrumentally, really sounds like it has a much stronger Boz Boorer rockabilly influence to me… comparing with Morrissey, the equivalent to his catalog would be the Your Arsenal sound with tougher, distorted guitars that feature more prominently. This more aggressive sound pairs nicely with “Shrink”, which follows, though it has a much more contemporary sound, faster beat, keyboards, and electric guitar. I can imagine Trent Reznor covering this song. Another highlight of the album – definitely one of my favorite tracks. Totally new and different sound for Adam Ant, and it works brilliantly.
“Vivienne’s Tears” sounds like something that I can imagine could be influenced by The Beatles. Much softer and slower with gentle acoustic guitars, following the more aggressive electric guitars of the previous two songs.
As one might hope from the title, “Who’s a Goofy Bunny?” is one of the more fun and light songs on the album, and serves as a foundation for a different song style and vocal delivery for Adam Ant. The singing on this one has more of a spoken word quality to it. Apparently this is an 80s song “resurrected” and a tribute to his late, former manager Malcolm McLarent and Vince Taylor.
“How Can I Say I Miss You?” has an unusual mix of genre – opening with some record scratching, preparing you for more of a rap/R&B sound that actually never materializes, as it shifts into more of a folk sound consistent with the “Cool Zombie” opener. The more modern sound follows soon enough with “Bullshit”, which for me is slightly Blur-esque, though the vocals are very much Adam Ant on many fronts.
Clocking in at over 1 hour, the album closes out with “How Can I Say I Miss You? (Reprise)”. Of all of the songs, I think this one in many ways offers the most succinct microcosm of the album as a whole, drawing from the variety that it all represents; even though it completely lacks vocals, it captures the vibe and attitude of what is going throughout.
All in all, it’s a very impressive work from an artist who has not released a new full album for such a time. My only critique is that a few of the songs in the middle section are a little sonically “flat”, lacking some of the dynamics and changes one might expect from Adam Ant of old. And it definitely is not a retread of what’s been done before. There is no “Ant Music 2013” or anything of the sort. It’s a new work by an old artist with something new to say, but squarely in the New Wave style he played a part in defining decades ago.
Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come, and more will not take 18 years.
It is expected that Adam Ant and his band, “The Good, The Mad & The Lovely Posse” will promote the new album with more live concert dates in the UK in the Spring and a return to North America later in 2013. I can’t recommend enough checking out his live shows. You can read about one of the shows I attended last year here on the Rock Subculture Journal.
You can learn more about Adam Ant at his official website, www.Adam-Ant.com. The new album can be found on iTunes, Amazon, and other retailers. Today Adam Ant also published his Q&A with fans on his official site here.