Adam & the Ants: That’s Antertainment

ANT MUSIC for sex people: what a snappy catechism, what a sly ad for an act, and what an act it is. Adam & the Ants have all Britain under sway and are now in contact with thrill-starved Americans roaming the sidewalks in Sony Walkman bliss. Ant music is the self-promotion of a 26-year-old half-Romany ex-artschool flamboyant renamed Adam Ant. Ant music is reverently gimmicky, pseudo-primitive, decked out in original nuggets and artyfacts, fashion, and novelty. Ant music is an alibi, an excuse for a spectacle. Blindfolded, you could still hear its pictures.

It’s also the heart of Adam & the Ants’ second LP, Kings of the Wild Frontier, a technicolor adventure whose ambition only narrowly exceeds its loosely congealed concepts. In sum, Kings rejects reality as pointless and pushes romance as the last vital vestige of self-love. It has about as much to do with the western Indians it supposedly glorifies as ticket scalping. It’s also partial to pirates, and mind that piracy is the bane of the record industry — it’s also the bane of Adam’s career. With six lawsuits pending against various record-bizzers, Adam Ant is a victimized plaintiff one minute and a triumphant swashbuckler the next, enthralling wayward minds wherever he goes. I say bless his bouncing braids; at least he’s something to talk about.

Kings is also about ants, those ominously militant colonized insects who sacrifice the individual for society’s sake. But ants are also disorganized, sexless on occasion, excellent extras in horror movies, and quite tasty fried if you dare, and Kings could care less. An incorrigible stylishness is its reason for being, a sartorial potpourri of myth, video, fairy tale, Remington/Pyle paintings, silk, filched riffs, silver skull rings, and heedless rhythm-heavy hypnotics. You could fault the product for making mountains out of anthills and you might not be wrong, but what fun is there in being right?

Adam Ant’s got one great gimmick apart from being gorgeous and having nicer nipples than Ted Nugent: his costume. Adam’s music is a valid and logical extension of shoulder pads. Music as jewelry, as warpaint, as an inventory of archetype. Adam is everywoman’s romantic fantasy of man and everyman’s mirror-image ideal. With an act like this, his press will be permanent. Adam sings what he wears, wears what he sings, even in apparent contradiction. He’s a dandy in the underworld, like Bolan, Bowie, Glitter, and Ferry before him. Aural props feature warwhoops, whistling, falsettos, yodels, tom-toms, and the sound of four hands drumming. Kings is as drugless as Disney, as smartly foppish as Gilbert & Sullivan (of Pirates of Penzance fame), as salaciously lizardy as J. Morrison, and as totally narcissistic, measured, and manipulative as credulity allows.

All of this is a radical departure from Adam’s first LP, Dirk Wears White Socks, a harshly persuasive swan song to postpunk anomie. Dirk embalmed forever the buzzwords of a disaffected generation: acne, guns, God, outer space, spastics, cartrouble, VD, 10,000 Germans, the Pope, diagonal hair, and after-dinner mints. Dirk‘s deathless poetics, polemics, and packaging were starkly black-and-white, living in “a world whose facts are so untrue.” The leap to Kings is brave and ballsy; it signifies the death of cool. Kings is hot, lathered ritual, provocative and optimistic. Within the idiocy of its framework, it’s a noble scam.

Last week the Ants hit New York after appropriate ballyhoo. The Ritz was rife with near-riots, ambulances, and the usual crummy managerial tactics outside, Pete Townshend and less stellar fans inside. Antmusic was seamless, evenly intense, clocked in at one hour exactly plus encores, and fell prey to debut overkill. But the ant act is pat — if not spontaneous, then mesmeric; if not subtle, then committed. Marco Pirroni (ex-Banshee guitarist) was an ably passive pink-clad foil to Adam’s rigorous workout and the two drummers made a suitable Soldiers of Fortune pinup. It was a satisfying gig, even if Adam’s apparent lack of irony and humor confuses some people, alienates others, and wears thin.

Let’s give him some perspective. Adam Ant far surpasses in risk his English pop competitors the Psychedelic Furs as well as underlings like U2, the Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, and the Teardrop Explodes. He’s a long way from global dominion and too vague about his plans once he achieves it. But Adam is more about fashion than music, and more about music than hype. Kings is a feather in his cap, his boot, or wherever he sticks it. I think he’s headed for the bigtime, like it or not. He exists to be enjoyed.

© Susin ShapiroThe Village Voice, 15 April 1981

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