ADAM ANT: VIVE LE ROCK (1985)
For their next album, Ant and Pirroni were teamed with the legendary producer Tony Visconti, probably a great confidence boost to Adam given how David Bowie, one of Visconti's veterans, had always been his major idol. At that time, Visconti's reputation as a rock'n'roll producer was pretty much impeccable — serious lapses of taste would arrive only later in the decade, when, instead of saving The Moody Blues, he happened to only contribute to their artistic ruination. But in 1985, he was still capable of rerouting Adam's energy to the correct channel, that of smart, sarcastic rock'n'roll instead of the smart, but cheesy pop direction of Strip.
The result is an album much closer in spirit to Friend Or Foe, and perhaps even more consistent overall, although the individual highlights never approach the intensity level of 'Goody Two Shoes' or 'Desperate But Not Serious'. The title track is, after all, merely a generic piece of boogie — but, throught the collective effort of Ant, Pirroni, and Visconti, elevated to the status of monster glam rock suitable for the Eighties; not the cheesy hair-metal kind of glam rock, no, just a modernized version of the same Bowie / Bolan vibe that owed so much to Visconti a decade earlier. Perhaps 'Vive Le Rock' is too smart for its own good to pass for a general good-time rock'n'roll anthem, but for a freak subculture rock'n'roll anthem ("Look out," cries the man, "Rockers going Star Wars!") — why not?
Song after song is steady, healthy, hilarious rockabilly fattened with Pirroni's post-punk guitar sound and Visconti's thick, glutinous production. They get away with nearly everything — such as ripping off Carl Perkins' descending intro riff to 'Honey Don't' for 'Hell's Eight Acres'; turning Chuck Berry's 'Memphis Tennessee' into 'Rip Down' by adding extra bite to both the melody and the now completely inscrutable lyrics; and invoking the spirits of both Gene Vincent and the entire lineup of Sha-Na-Na for the foot-stompin' rock'n'roll march of 'Mohair Lockerroom Pin-Up Boys'. And no serious review of the album could be complete without mentioning 'P.O.E.', arguably the cheerfulest, drunked-est song about the nuclear threat ever written (I'm sure there must be a reason why the song namedrops Khrushchev instead of more up-to-date Soviet leaders, but then Mr. Ant was eight years old at the time of the Caribbean Crisis, confirming the old idea that most art is stimulated by one's childhood memories).
The album's big single was somewhat different: 'Apollo 9', actually released one year before, was Ant's rather pretentious attempt to invent a new type of «space rock» that would merge classic rock'n'roll, New Wave, and synth pop all in one and make it all fun, in contrast with the astral gloom of the New Romantics. The record buying public was confused, and sales were low both for the single and for the ensuing LP. And this is, paradoxically, its biggest flaw: Vive Le Rock was clearly tailored for hit status, but in between its 1985 release and 1982's Friend Or Foe, public tastes had changed so much that this approach could no longer chart. Which means that only if songs like 'Apollo 9' didn't try so hard to be commercial... they could be even better!
However, this is all merely cold post-factum reasoning that should in no way denigrate the album's pure entertainment value. The naked fact is that Vive Le Rock means little, if anything, but it brightens up your day in no less vivid a manner than, say, a good Paul McCartney solo record. Sadly, never again would an Adam Ant album be that much fun; its commercial failure threw Adam off the tracks completely, and when he returned five years later, he was never quite the same. A hearty thumbs up.
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