ADAM AND THE ANTS: KINGS OF THE WILD FRONTIER (1980)
1) Dog Eat Dog; 2) Antmusic; 3) Los Rancheros; 4) Feed Me To The Lions; 5) Press Darlings; 6) Ants Invasion; 7) Killer In The Home; 8) Kings Of The Wild Frontier; 9) The Magnificent Five; 10) Don't Be Square; 11) Jolly Roger; 12) Physical (You're So); 13) The Human Beings.
Soon after the release of Dirk, at the instigation of evil genius Malcolm McLaren, «the Ants» segregated from Adam in order to form Bow Wow Wow. This never bothered Adam in the least, since, after all, he wrote most of the songs himself (or, at least, mostly had them credited to himself), and besides, since when has it ever been difficult to collect any number of ants? If anything, his new batch was even trickier than the first, led into action by guitarist and songwriter Marco Pirroni, who had formerly played a bit with Siouxsie & The Banshees as well as a few other lesser bands. And not only that, but he had two drummers now — and a brand new set of ideas, including African music influences that McLaren originally offered his former band, but which he had the opportunity to nick all to himself.
The result is Adam & The Ants' confusing masterpiece, an album that either justifies Adam Ant as a unique ant-stituion, or clearly shows the ridiculous, parasitic nature of modern art, whichever way you want to face it. «New Wave Rock Theater» would be a good call, implying that the music is very modern-sounding by the standards of 1980, but the creative ideas behind it owe far more to the absurdist/futuristic strains of early Seventies' glam rock than to the gritty streetwise ideals of the post-1976 era. Certainly Adam's picture on the front cover will make you think David Bowie, rather than Elvis Costello.
The «concept» behind the whole thing is rooted both in the past and in the future. It presents Adam and his buddies as «The Ant people», a.k.a. «The Sex people», a new race of humanoids who seem to take a lot of pride in their deep tribal ancestry — because they play African-influenced music while singing about Native American tribes — but have also chosen to resign from the norms of ordinary human life, mutating into ant form in order to achieve spiritual and sexual liberation. They still preserve their fierce warrior hearts, though.
If any of this were funny, we could say that, finally, Monty Python have met their match. Unfortunately, it isn't; when you get around to hearing the album, all of it will sound just as stupid as it probably seems to you from reading that last paragraph. Bowie's futuristic constructions may have served as inspiration, but only a ten-year old retard, to put it mildly, could have taken this stuff seriously. Plenty of ten-year old retards in the UK did, though, sending the LP to the top of the charts and launching an «Antmania» craze, comparable in form and scope to the teenage delirium around Marc Bolan a decade earlier — except, of course, that, compared to Bolan, Adam Ant would hardly register on a larger-than-petty-dwarf scale.
But on the bright side of life, Kings Of The Wild Frontier really sounds like nothing else. Music that is equal parts punk pop, glam rock, and random surprises (from the «Burundi drum sound» to spaghetti-western surf muzak), lyrics that alternate ridiculous slogans like «No method in our madness / Just pride about our manner / Antpeople are the warriors / Antmusic is the banner!» with clever puns like «We depress the press darlings», and plenty of raw rock energy to keep things from becoming too artsy — you don't have to love this kind of creativity, but there is at least no shame in acknowledging it.
Plus, these songs are just damn catchy. Senseless, unfunny, but still, somehow, «fun». 'The Magnificent Five' is infectious punk pop, 'Don't Be Square' exploits contemporary dance rhythms but infuses them with Zappa-style craziness, 'Los Rancheros' is one of the boppiest, most memorable tributes to the cartoonish alter ego of Clint Eastwood, 'Feed Me To The Lions' finds a perfect way to voice the question "Too emotional, are we?", and so on, right down to the unforgettable chant of Indian tribe names in 'The Human Beings' (highly recommendable to everyone taking a basic course in American ethnography, for sheer mnemonic power). One should not underestimate the talents of Pirroni, either, coming up with high quality riffs at least as frequently as your average riffmeister in your average great punk rock band of the era ('Ants Invasion' may be his one single defining moment, but certainly far from the only one).
It is hard to say that some of Adam Ant's albums have dated worse than others — the whole conception of «Adam Ant» had become irrelevantly alien even before the man quit the musical business — but at least in terms of perceivable involvement, vigour, and catchy songwriting, the common opinion that Kings Of The Wild Frontier was Stuart's finest hour is hard to beat. The album is well worth getting to know, even if its inclusion in the «1001 Albums You Have To Hear» list is hardly justified: more like, «10,001 Albums» (what kind of sucker would be satisfied with a measly thousand and one records these days anyway?). Thumbs up.
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