ADAM ANT: WONDERFUL (1995)
Maybe it was a good thing, after all, that by 1995 the world had all but forgotten Adam Ant and certainly had little basic need for his presence. After another five-year gap spent wasting his life on a miserable acting career that still did not take off — although maybe he enjoyed all of it, I have no real idea — and after suffering the humiliation of having an entire new record rejected by his label, he eventually reteamed with Pirroni as well as Morrissey's guitarist Boz Boorer and managed one more album, his last solo offering to date.
Wonderful isn't all that wonderful, but it is certainly a huge leap in sense and quality over its predecessor — more than that, it is a notable first for Ant: the first album on which, most of the time at least, he seems to be impersonating himself rather than somebody else. There are no attempts, be they forced or natural, to sound hip to the times or to wring out a hit record at any cost. There are no stereotypes to be adhered to, no genre conventions to respect. (Granted, much of this could have been motivated by the commercial success of new Brit-pop acts like Blur, but there are no specific «Blurrisms» that I could refer to). Even the album sleeve, first time ever, shows us simply «the man» without any special attire or makeup.
Obviously, since Adam Ant is no Paul McCartney or Neil Young, great songs do not come to him easily, and few, if any, of these songs overwhelm other than through the mere realisation that the man has finally decided to talk to us unmasked (or, at least, pretended to be talking to us unmasked — you never really know with that breed of chameleons). But this new approach, which comprises a heavy reliance on acoustic guitars, folk-pop harmonies, and bits of retro psychedelia, at least ensures that when a song's hooks are well written, the song is a marvel, and when they're badly written, it is at least enjoyable.
The title track still managed to hit the charts, but I do not remember it nearly as vividly as the opening number, 'Won't Take That Talk', which by all means should also have been a single, but they probably chose 'Wonderful' over it because of the danceable rhythm. Too bad, because the hooks are sharper and more emotional on 'Talk', a song that may be reflecting that one major change in Ant's attitude: "Got to stop treating people / Like they have no feelings, / Stop treating people / Like they have no meaning". An excellent folk-rocker with good acoustic and electric parts, crescendos, and that weird overall feeling of honesty that makes it such a unique opener in the history of Ant LPs: there is something in the way he softly, but firmly pronounces the line "I won't take that talk from no one" that makes you understand he really might mean it.
Second runner-up, and one of the finest Brit-pop creations of the decade, is '1969 Again', with a guitar sound too juicy to reject and vowel harmonies too gorgeous to forget, even if the lyrical message is not quite clear (looks like someone in the big leagues made Adam a bit unhappy). There is also the dreamy neo-psychedelia of 'Yin & Yang', the fast bouncy pop of 'Gotta Be A Sin', the Hunky Dory-style folk-rock exhuberance of 'Vampires', and other little things that only come to one's attention through successive listenings, quite warranted.
At the end of the road, Wonderful might turn out to be wonderful: it is, so far, Ant's only album whose meaningfulness may want to unravel itself slowly, an album that shows there is more to the man than just the image far better than even a compilation of his very best stuff from the «classic» years. The fact that he still has not come out with a new studio offer has more to do with accidental causes — primary among them all the psychic health problems he's been dealing with — but who knows, maybe it's better that way: Wonderful is an exquisitely tasteful and wise choice for a career swan song, and in time, when the number of people for whom the name «Adam Ant» still has a musical meaning dwindles to about ten or fifteen, will be sure to hold its rightful place alongside Kings Of The Wild Frontier and Friend Or Foe as an equally worthy album. Thumbs up; track it while it's still in print.
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