Friday, March 19, 2021

Overthinking Adam & The Ants!


For all that he accomplished during the '80s as a member of MTV's first wave of music video mega-stars, Adam Ant was perhaps the most prolific of them all, both musically and visually'.

Who else, in five years, Ant gave us just as many albums and, with each one, a stark visual transformation; from bondage den pin-up to Native American chic to swashbuckling rake and so on, until the only role left to play was ...(checks notes)..."space cowboy"? 

By the time Bob Geldof's mammoth concert endeavor Live-Aid took place in the summer of 1985, Ant's star was still perched high atop pop's Mt. Rushmore, yet the man was permitted only enough stage time to perform one song.

(As an aside, the Hooters got more songs than that despite Geldof' openly wondering how the Philly band even got on the Philly bill in the first place.)

Adam Ant couldn't very well tweet his displeasure, now, could he? No, he had to swallow his pride and gladly accept this opportunity to reach one BILLION people, 


We've all seen our fair share of exhausted musicians, but Ant was the first performer to ever look so desperate in that moment that, if he'd had the chance to pull the string on the bus, this writer is 100% sure Ant would have gotten off his Rock & Roll Rocket Ride at the very next stop.

After all, this was a man, who, in five short years, had already delivered a career's worth of music, lavish outfits (for not just himself, but the entire band), music videos, and extravagant live shows.  

Duran Duran were in much the same boat, with the added bonus of being sick of the sight of each other after a grueling five-year schedule of their own, but, for Ant, things had all begun so innocently:

1979: Bondage-obsessed punk band cutting tracks for a no-name indie label only to have Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren steal your whole band. What will become of young Adam Ant now?

1980: Lone copies of Kings of The Wild Frontier begin popping up in Kmart and Montgomery Ward record bins right next to AC/DC's Back In Black, yet somehow finding their way into the hot little hands of savvy suburban teenagers looking for fresh kicks.

What we savvy kids in the sticks heard was obviously punk-adjacent, but with a lyrical and rhythmic slant that no other band had gong on at the time. On that basis alone, Kings of The Wild Frontier proved be, for many, the perfect gateway to the wonderful world of punk rock, whereby dozens of other bands, both past and present, benefitted greatly from the association.

Let's be honest, why else would anyone own a Monochrome Set record?


Simply by re-tracing the many branches of Adam's musical "Family Tree" (info gathered and hand-written by the legendary Pete Frame), anyone could quickly find their way from Adam's Ants to Siouxsie's Banshees, Billy's Gen X, those dastardly devils in Bow Wow Wow, and ultimately to the Sex Pistols themselves.

Kings Of The Wild Frontier not only provided the gateway to punk that we rust belt rebels were seeking, but also introduced an entire generation of new wave kids to African Burundi drum rhythms - pretty heady stuff to be conversant about in eight-grade Algebra, if we do say so ourselves.

You see, beneath the period-specific Native American garb stood a preening, attention-grabbing singer/songwriter/bandleader with ambitions of absolute chart domination, but also a preconceived desire to attain such rare heights "his way" and with a flair for the unexpected.

Little did we know that, while we were devouring our first serving of "Ant Music for Ant People", Adam had already moved on to an entirely different musical phase first introduced via the music video for the UK-only single "Stand And Deliver", which was suddenly popping up daily on the brand-new MTV cable network.

While Kings had been just the album for the times - a mix of lo-fi angst and kink-based lyrics for the punk crowd and bubblegum hooks for the pop kids, nobody could have expected that the band's follow-up would be such an absolute work of art.

Revisiting Prince Charming all these years later only heightens the impact of the material, which marches to nobody's drum but its own from start to finish. Thankfully, the band's drummer was a crack producer as well, but, when forced to choose between the Ants and his burgeoning production career, Hughes (Merrick) found himself producing Tears for Fears' The Hurting and Songs From The Big Chair, among others.



Fortunately for us, the Prince Charming sessions occurred just as all involved were hitting their stride and, with the eyes and the expectations of the world upon them, actually surpassed all expectations.

Whereas the band could only reference Clint Eastwood on Kings, on Prince Charming, they were giving Herb Alpert a run for his money on the album opener "Scorpios" and, moments later, adding Ennio Morricone to the mix on the album's title cut and a song this writer suspects Wall of Voodoo wishes they'd written: "5 Guns West".

If there was any misstep on the album, one would have to argue that it was Ants' foray into rap on the aptly named "Ant Rap", which inexplicably became a Top 5 hit in the UK.

What such songs reveal now is just how driven Ant was to jump on any bandwagon that wasn't already crowded with poseurs and, in 1981, rap was still very much underground. While it remains the album's least essential track, its existence proves just how willing Ant was to experiment rather than deliver exactly what the fans or label execs wanted from him.

In that sense, there are very few superstar albums of the time as brave as Prince Charming. Even braver was Ant's decision to break up the Ants while at the top of their game.

Looking back, Ant's solo career was little more than a Cliff Notes version of the Ants for the millions of new fans whose full attention he had as MTV infiltrated more and more living rooms across America.

Friend Or Foe's cover art even sought to imitate the "captured video still" aesthetic of Kings while songs like "Goody Two Shoes" and "Desperate But Serious" seemed oddly familiar on first listen to Ant fans. In a way, it was almost as if Ant was trying to break the news of the break up to fans as gently as he could by proving that their absence would be almost undetectable.

This was made easier by Ants guitarist Marco Pirroni continuing to write, play, and co-produce while drummer Merrick would co-produce "Goody Two Shoes" before leaving the Ant family to produce the first two Tears for Fears albums (and co-writing "Everybody Wants To Rule The World").

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