ADAM ANT: ADAM ANT IS THE BLUEBLACK HUSSAR IN MARRYING THE GUNNER'S DAUGHTER (2013)
1) Cool Zombie; 2) Stay In The Game; 3) Marrying The Gunner's Daughter; 4) Vince Taylor; 5) Valentine's; 6) Darlin' Boy; 7) Dirty Beast; 8) Punkyoungirl; 9) Sausage; 10) Cradle Your Hatred; 11) Hard Men, Tough Blokes; 12) Shrink; 13) Vivienne's Tears; 14) Who's A Goofy Bunny; 15) How Can I Say I Miss You; 16) Bullshit; 17) How Can I Say I Miss You (reprise).
In a fashion somewhat atypical of «has-beens», Adam's comeback actually culminated in a new album rather than started out with it — for about three years, since early 2010, he had been resharpening his teeth on stage, remembering old material, polishing the new one, and generally getting back into character. Actually, he'd invented a new character — the «Blue Black Hussar», which was also the name of his new private record label — but it really only signified a return to his old fetish with 18th / early 19th century styles and uniforms. A return to his trusty old self, really, the last signs of which we had glimpsed back in 1985, with Vive Le Rock arguably being the last «genuine Adam Ant» album.
Now, in 2013, Adam Ant has completed the comeback, and he wants us all to take notice — not only is the album title his lengthiest ever, offering some modest competition to Tyrannosaurus Rex and Fiona Apple, but the album itself is his lengthiest ever: seventeen tracks stretched over seventy minutes, taking full advantage of the CD format in an age when the average artist seems to have already outgrown that stage (and Michael Jackson is dead). Which means that there is a lot here to digest and assimilate — and it might take some serious time, because Adam Ant is not out there to make the job easy for you. The Blueblack Hussar is hardly his worst album, and it is most likely not his best, but it is the toughest nut he has offered for us to crack so far.
Even after five listens, most of the songs still feel emotionally alienated, but not emotionally empty. This is definitely the Adam Ant of Wild Frontier and Friend Or Foe, but acting his age: the songs are taken at slower tempos and stripped of superficial wildness (tribal drumming, lunatic yelling, martial parade atmospheres, etc.). Adam's character impersonation routine still puts a heavy «glam stamp» on it, but on the whole, his attitude nowadays is not unlike David Bowie's — that of an aged guru, striking a careful balance between the tastefulness of the arrangements, the impressionistic / symbolic / confusing nature of the lyrics, and the retro vs. modernistic production ratio that could keep both the old fans and the occasional new listener happy.
Clearly, such albums run a very high risk of being flat-out boring, and for many people Adam's latest offering — especially if they put it on with ʽGoody Two Shoesʼ on their minds — may well be the epitome of boredom. The melodies (most of which, strangely enough, have a folksy acoustic guitar foundation, with the occasional exception of a heavy electric riff only proving the general rule) are fairly routine — to get note sequences of this caliber, one certainly does not need to drag a sixty-year old New Wave freak out of the closet. And the «vibe»... well, it is not even clear if those particular audiences that did not grow up on Adam's classic records will get the sarcastic/absurdist gist of it all.
But I think that, according to Adam's own standards, the record is a success. Where, for instance, Alice Cooper remained unable to recapture the crassy horror-show temptation of Welcome To My Nightmare with his direct sequel, Stuart Leslie Goddard has managed to demonstrate that the good old Adam Ant is still alive, sharp-witted, and stubbornly independent. To begin with, he opens the record with ʽCool Zombieʼ, which uses a swampy, slide-guitar-based arrangement to sabotage and blow up the old «Southern rock» values — "for a time I lived in Tennessee, a pretty hillbilly, a cool Zombie", says the guy, ensuring that one place where this record will never get much airplay is any random Nashville radio station. It is not «great» or «catchy» — it is «sharp», and it pretty much sets the general standard for whatever is to come.
The individual songs are often slow, but steady growers. ʽStay In The Gameʼ eventually comes to life as a moody younger brother of the Doors / Joy Division vibe (with a squeaky, jarring guitar sound on the Joy Division side, and catchy poppy vocals on the Doors side). ʽVince Taylorʼ is a morose, but punchy tribute to an old, forgotten rock hero (Adam Ant's worst nightmare, eh?). The mock-sexy, mock-psychedelic aah-aahs of ʽValentine'sʼ have a sad, but decadent flavor that stops exactly midway between gallant prettiness and intentional self-parody (well, at least it stopped for me and hasn't moved an inch ever since). ʽCradle Your Hatredʼ has an anthemic R&B chorus that feels almost as sincere as the metallic breath of ʽHard Men, Tough Blokesʼ.
All in all, by the time we get around to ʽWho's A Goofy Bunnyʼ, a song allegedly dedicated to the memory of Adam's good friend and mentor Malcolm McLaren, you might want to start asking that question on your own. Is it Adam Ant who is a goofy bunny, putting on this retro show in slow mode despite having long since outlived his time? Is it the «public taste», symbolized by the likes of McLaren and churning out demand for silly rock theater? Is it us reviewers, wasting our time trying to sort out the meaningful from the meaningless and ending up with extra frustration on our hands? Maybe we're all just a bunch of goofy bunnys ever since we separated art from its pragmatic ceremonial purposes and started pretending that it has additional meaning...
...in any case, one thing is for certain: a record that gets one to ask these kinds of questions cannot be a total failure. Just like Adam Ant was teasing us in the New Wave era, challenging listeners to a winless game of «guess who's smart and who's dumb», he is efficiently doing the same stuff now, only with a little more restraint and age-related corrections. In other words, this is a confusing record — but it is a stimulating confusing record, which is the good kind of confusing, and I give it a thumbs up even despite not being able to say if I «like it» or even «understand it». You will just have to find out on your own; all I can say is, at the very least Adam Ant is not back for nothing — he is definitely back with something, whatever the heck it is.
Check "The BlueBlack Hussar" (MP3) on Amazon