ADAM ANT: STRIP (1983)
Normally, we prefer to keep our «smart» rock music on one shelf and our «horny» rock music on the other. There is, after all, something unusually perverse about exercising one's brain and one's groin at the same time — at the very least, the two aren't supposed to enjoy direct benefits from combined interaction. Adam Ant, in 1983, decided to experiment and see if he couldn't prove that point wrong — and, in addition, make some money out of it.
Strip is a solidly conceptual album about getting some, dressed up as a commercially-oriented late New Wave record and seriously downplaying Ant's «rock» side: although Pirroni is still listed as co-producer, co-writer, and credited with most of the guitar work, his trademark innovative riffs rarely show through, overwhelmed by both standard fare such as keyboards and electronic drums, on one side, and unusual touches such as swooping orchestration, on the other. And tons of vocal overdubs, all over the place.
The November 1983 date of release makes me strongly suspect that Goddard could have been influenced by Madonna's debut: at the very least, Strip can be very easily read as a «male answer» to the lady's tramp classics such as 'Burning Up'. Besides, he'd been admired by teen girls for so long for obscure reasons — wouldn't it be high time to give them a real reason? Adam Ant, The Ladies' Man?
Any computer running on a twenty-year old processor could have easily concluded that, for these reasons alone, Strip couldn't be as efficient an album as Friend Or Foe. More keyboards, less guitars, intelligence sacrificed to lustful innuendo — and, try as hard as he could, Ant could never hope to become the new Bon Scott — and, on top of that, to produce their new singles, they brought Phil Collins into the studio. How could this be good? Most critics probably never even gave it a serious try.
Which is too bad, because the singles are hilarious. 'Strip' does work as sort of a semi-parodic answer to the Madonna approach: the sex drive is not so much worshipped as it is being poked fun at, and who could take seriously a song whose chorus goes "We're just following ancient history — If I strip for you, will you strip for me?" «Seriously», of course, as in «sexually seriously», because music-wise, it is terrific, especially when those disco-era strings, remodelled for the new decade, emerge in the chorus. It does sound a bit like stuff from Phil Collins' solo albums, but the good one, not the boring one.
'Puss'n'Boots' is almost just as much fun, and if 'Strip' trashed the sex culture from within it, then this here tune assaults it from without: sticking needles in mannequin bodies of "Pussycats going to London, looking for love and love for fame" may not be a very demanding job ("I wish somebody had told her / City folks ain't the same"), but it's a very satisfying one, especially when set to such a catchy melody and that ridiculously appealing light strings arrangement.
In general, ideas seem to run a little thin by the end of the second side, but there is still enough to cover our basic needs. Gypsy flourishes on 'Spanish Games' — synth-pop straightforwardness on 'Playboy' ("What do you wear in bed? Some headphones on my head") — cheesy Bowie-style decadence on 'Vanity' ("She says she likes the accent, she thinks it's so polite") — and my personal favourite, 'Montreal', whose melodic essence is simply undescribable: rockabilly, Brit-pop, psychedelia, and disco all rolled in one, with a harmonic chorus to die for.
I find no significant reasons to write the whole thing off, other than, perhaps, «not quite fitting with the times» — but this would be wrong — or «way too campy» (did that ever stop anyone from loving Bowie's Let's Dance, which is just as questionable from the artistic point as these oddball Ant records). Stock this in your «sex'n'brains» category of albums, next to all those Sparks albums, even if, arguably, Strip has dated more quickly. This prevents me none from calling it underrated. Maybe it does try so hard to be smart that it ends up being silly, and for some, this sort of «silly» may fit in with their conception of «awful». I don't know. 1983? I think Rod Stewart was «awful» in 1983. Adam Ant was OK by me. Thumbs up.
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