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Friday, November 5, 2010

Adam Ant: Friend Or Foe


1) Friend Or Foe; 2) Something Girls; 3) Place In The Country; 4) Desperate But Not Serious; 5) Here Comes The Grump; 6) Hello I Love You; 7) Goody Two Shoes; 8) Crackpot History And The Right To Lie; 9) Made Of Money; 10) Cajun Twisters; 11) Try This For Sighs; 12) Man Called Marco.

The difference between an «Adam & The Ants» album and an «Adam Ant» album would seem to be minimal — in terms of sheer band members, there is actually more difference between Dirk and Kings, both «Ants» albums, than there is between Prince Charming and Friend Or Foe: Adam might have officially disbanded the Ants in the interim, but he did retain the writing and playing services of Marco Pirroni, the second and last major creative link in the Ants' career of 1980-81. Why the name change, then?

Well, I guess that the proper commemoration of the finest bunch of tunes ever assembled on a Stuart Leslie Goddard album deserves a proper name change. Kings Of The Wild Frontier may have been the most successful way of showcasing the hollow, but fun philosophy behind «The Ants»; Friend Or Foe dumps that philosophy altogether in favor of simple pop music — terrific pop music — and there is no longer any reason to pass it off for «Antmusic», since Goddard is no longer playing Bowie-like characters. Already Prince Charming didn't quite work that way, so the right thing to do was simply to try and concentrate more on the music, less on the image.

I strongly suspect that Pirroni was given a big chance here to write most of the music, since it re­tains most of the attractive elements of its predecessors and ditches most of its dubious ones. It is not at all easy to even call this stuff «New Wave»: it has the big bashing drum sound and echoey guitar tones that are typical for post-punk records, but the melodies owe far more to Sixties' Brit-pop, surf-rock, and rockabilly than the funky-punky stylistics of cool modern people from the late 1970s. In 1982, that wasn't exactly going against the grain — there are, for instance, clear inter­section points with the popular neo-rockabilly scene (Stray Cats, etc.) — but it wasn't the major trend, either: had Adam wanted to go fully commercial, he would, no doubt, have chosen the New Romantic image instead.

As it is, Friend Or Foe is an entirely unexpected case of rejuvenation after Prince Charming's slump. How could it even be possible to resist the mad thumping punch of 'Goody Two Shoes'? The combination of breakneck speed, pummeling drums, and exuberant brass fanfares may be as simplistic as a ty­pical Ramones tune, but it is also every bit as irresistible. Even if the song was not the epitome of fashion in 1982, it simply couldn't help becoming Ant's biggest hit — no one can remain indiffe­rent to this kind of thermonuclear blast.

The catch is that all of the album is bursting with the same kind of energy. For instance, the sequ­ence of 'Something Girls' (everyone loves a catchy power pop anthem — based on an unforget­table whistling riff, no less!), 'Place In The Country' (another breakneck brass-led piece of deli­riously poppy rock'n'roll — Ramones meet the Dave Clark Five?), and 'Desperate But Not Seri­ous' (a dark, ominous, sexy tune with Pirroni's trademark «spaghetti-western» overtones) is easi­ly one of the most breathtaking one-two-three sequences on any pop record of the decade: only the arrival of 'Here Comes The Grump', a nice, but lighter folk-rocker finally lowers the adrenaline level, serving as a breather before the upcoming senses-overkill of 'Goody Two Shoes'.

The second side is not nearly as consistent, with a couple less interesting, more restrained funk-rockers, but even that complaint is like a tiny glitch. The cover of Jim Morrison's 'Hello I Love You', although professionally executed, may seem superfluous — yet it is quite symbolic of the album: one of the Doors' poppiest, lightest (and, if one takes serious the Kinks rip-off accusation, least original) tunes that nevertheless contains an expected particle of the Doors' dark heart — and this is exactly what Friend Or Foe is all about, straightahead pop music with a bit of sense-deranging spice to each of the songs. Even the final number, a Pirroni instrumental conveniently titled 'Man Called Marco', contains plenty of uneasiness — think of a cross between Morricone and the Ventures, with spooky falsetto harmonies and suggestive whistling to boot.

Ant's obscure lyrics, making the songs' messages hard to decipher (with only a few straightfor­ward exceptions like the wife-bashing 'Made Of Money'), are the album's weak point: he is still unable to match the poetic heights of a Byrne or a Costello, yet refuses to go the «accessible» ro­ute all the same. So if these songs succeed in driving you wild, spooking, or just plain bedazzling your feelings, you may eventually find yourself wondering what the hell that bedazzling was all about. Really, though, it don't matter. Like I said, Friend Or Foe simply works on the level of a nuclear blast: by the time it hits you, it is of little use to wonder about its nature. Just a thumbs up, without much ado.

Check "Friend Or Foe" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Friend Or Foe" (MP3) on Amazon

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