ADAM AND THE ANTS: DIRK WEARS WHITE SOX (1979)
1) Cartrouble (parts 1 & 2); 2) Digital Tenderness; 3) Nine Plan Failed; 4) The Day I Met God; 5) Tabletalk; 6) Cleopatra; 7) Catholic Day; 8) Never Trust A Man; 9) Animals And Men; 10) Family Of Noise; 11) The Idea; 12*) Zerox; 13*) Whip In My Valise; 14*) Kick.
With the New Wave squad fully formed by somewhere around mid-1978, Adam And The Ants caught the bus just a little too late to get their full share of the impact. Even though the band's first playing gig took place in May 1977 and their first radio show in January 1978, their first single, 'Young Parisians', was not released until much later in the year (already with a different lineup from that of the 1977 shows), and their first LP only came out in 1979, by which time this kind of sound was no longer shocking, although still trendy.
This little delay pretty much ensured that Stuart Leslie Goddard, a.k.a. Adam Ant, and his original pals would be forever branded with the unpleasant tag of «second hand artists» — something one might get to know, if one were so inclined, only after having done the obligatory homework on the Cars/Talking Heads/Police/Elvis Costello etc. school of pop music. Justified, perhaps, but behind this justification we might just lose the realization that Dirk Wears White Sox sounds nothing quite like any of these individual artists.
What Adam Ant, another in an endless line of half-intelligent, half-wild art college dropouts, had in mind at that early stage of his career was a synthesis of all sorts of Seventies-cool. Each of the tracks on the album, if you are at least superficially acquainted with the decade, will remind you of something, but nothing will sound like a complete rip-off. If you strike out the electronic obsessions of New Wave artists (note that the album is almost entirely keyboards-free), there will be a rather straight and strict logical line: from the proto-punk scene — on to the heavy guitar glam scene — on to the glam-shedding punkers — on to the whacky artsy New Wavers, and there is a little bit of everything on Dirk Wears White Sox.
At one point, I was inclined to call this whole thing «what would happen if The Sex Pistols misread Talking Heads» — since way too many songs employ tricky guitar melodies played in a blunt and dirty manner, and since the weirdness of the album's words and moods comes out as hilariously goofy rather than disturbingly paranoid. The definition would not, however, cover all of its flaws and assets, plus, it would sort of imply that Adam Ant was an idiot, and that would be sort of rude. He probably just dug David Bowie more than David Byrne.
Certainly, as 'Cartrouble' opens the record with its successive layer addition — a simple steady drumbeat, then an oddly flirting bassline, then a choppy ringing guitar riff, then some high-pitched whiny overdriven vocals — it is somewhat hard to fight the feeling that someone might have simply spun 'Psycho Killer' a few times too often. But as the song progresses, switching tempos and adding bizarre falsetto vocal harmonies, it begins to find a weak voice of its own, not thoroughly convincing, but at least mildly intriguing.
It helps that Adam Ant could write decent melodies and hooks, keeping the intrigue alive at the start of each new song. Little touches, such as the intro riff to 'Family Of Noise', for instance, or the little «ding-ding-ding» interludes between each line of the normally hard-rocking 'Day I Met God' are innovative and cool, and, what's more, they can be found almost all over the place, you just have to look hard. The band fares pretty well in terms of atmosphere, too — the brooding overtones of 'Tabletalk' are quite impressive (although I am actually grateful to them that there is only one song of that kind on the album, because these «early Ants» were really made for rocking your ass, not hypnotizing your brain).
That said, intrigue and fun, as essential as they are to the success of the album, cannot quite fully compensate for its overall lack of purpose. The ridiculous title itself — allegedly referring to Sir Dirk Bogarde, who did indeed wear white socks on occasion, but who the hell cares? — already hints at the possibility that, while Adam Ant was indeed a creative young man, his creativity may have been rather, shall we say, randomized. Dirk is neither a «socially conscious» piece of product, nor is it a focused hundred-miles-an-hour drive along Absurd Highway à la Wire. There are, of course, occasional stabs at satire and character assassination ('Nine Plan Failed'), and a few tracks emphasize the gross-out factor ('Cleopatra', focusing on the queen's oral skills; sacrilegious allusions to the size of God's knob in 'The Day I Met God'; 'Catholic Day', possibly the rudest song ever written on the JFK subject, etc.), but, for the most part, the songs just ring hollow.
Exciting, but devoid of substance — no big deal when you are dealing with unpretentious pop clichés, but a little embarrassing when coming from an album that is so clearly «Art Rock». Still, time and tolerance tell us that there's something to be said for empty shiny shells as well. In the mood for some mindless headbanging, but too proud to put on a KISS album? Out for some mildly intricate guitar work, but too dismissive of pretentious Heads-style «weaving»? Well, you happen to be in luck — it might be just for you that Dirk decided to put his socks on. Thumbs up, with at least one-listen guarantee from both the brain and the heart.
Customer notice: The album comes in a whole variety of versions. The original release included 11 tracks as listed above; the 1983 re-release, supervised by Adam himself, dropped 'Catholic Day' and 'The Day I Met God' (Adam was probably attempting to smoothe out his image to accommodate his armies of teenage fans), replacing them with three single-only tracks that I list as bonuses; and the 2004 remaster finally does us all justice by including everything, plus alternate single versions of some of the other tracks.