Album By Album: Adam Ant
From punk to mature acoustic moods via funk and visionary pop, the nine official (and one unreleased) Adam Ant albums have been a wonderful ride… By John Earl
Dirk Wears White Sox
Label Do It
Chart positions UK No.16 US –
In some ways, Adam And The Ants’ Dirk Wears White Sox is a classic punk debut album. From other viewpoints – including Adam Ant’s – it’s not really punk or even a debut album at all. It was released on indie label Do It, founded by Pop Muzik hitmaker Robin Scott (aka M) and future Yello manager Ian Tregoning, who were more used to working with dance musicians than fiercely single-minded punks like Adam Ant.
The fact that Dirk didn’t emerge until 1979 is the biggest clue at how many punk anthems didn’t make its tracklisting. By then, the Ants had been on the verge of signing to just about every record label in town, writing all the time. It meant their early cult tales of eroticism such as Rubber People and Beat My Guest were left behind, eventually emerging either as B-sides of the hits or on obscure compilations including The Peel Sessions and Antbox. As Adam put it in our Classic Albums feature on Dirk Wears White Sox, “It’s my second album, really. We didn’t want to go back and record punk songs from 18 months ago.”
Adam had grown disillusioned by punk audiences becoming hostile and – towards Ants drummer Dave Barbarossa – openly racist. Instead, Adam’s love of science-fiction and the art history he’d studied at Hornsey College Of Art became the subject of complex, murky stories of alien invasion such as Never Trust A Man (With Egg On His Face) and Italy’s 1910s futurist art movement (Animals And Men).
Adam ended up producing the album by default. Robin Scott left Do It before production talks got serious. Having produced the Zerox single, Adam and Do It decided he might as well take it on.
The production style lent the album a proto-industrial rock edge that saw Trent Reznor become a fan, but it certainly hides Adam’s original aim. “Dirk is me trying to make a Donna Summer record,” he told us.
“I know it doesn’t sound like that, but check out Dave’s drumming. We weren’t interested in being a cult, we wanted hit records.”
Foolishly dismissed by NME writers Paul Morley and Nick Kent on its release, Dirk Wears White Sox is a wonderfully strange, distinctive record, which marries the original Adam And The Ants’ punk energy with a genuinely menacing atmosphere and a wealth of evocative novelistic lyrics.
You’re far more likely to hear Cartrouble and Catholic Day at Adam’s current live shows than the commercial-era album tracks.
“Every single kid wants to get Dirk Wears White Sox signed before a show,” summarises Adam. “That can be shocking, considering it’s such a dark and sexy album.”
Kings Of The Wild Frontier
Chart positions UK No.1 US No.44
As if the critical panning of Dirk Wears White Sox wasn’t enough to contend with, Malcolm McLaren stealing the Adam And The Ants lineup to form Annabella Lwin’s backing band in Bow Wow Wow really should have finished Adam as a cult hero. It did. Instead, Adam decided to become the biggest pop star in the country. Despite having his band hijacked, Adam credits McLaren with advice from their brief working relationship: make your sleeves colourful, put yourself in the artwork and would it hurt to dress up a bit?
The expanded 2016 boxset edition showed just how prolific Adam was as soon as CBS offered him a seemingly unlikely deal. It helped that Ants II featured both a dream writing partner and the ideal producer. Marco Pirroni was already a veteran, part of Siouxsie And The Banshees’ first ever live lineup
and early 4AD signings Rema-Rema. Bassist Kevin Mooney and second drummer Terry Lee Miall successfully auditioned at the Ants’ rehearsal studio in Waterloo.
Adam’s plans for a second drummer, to achieve a Burundi rhythm, led to Jon Moss being the session player at their first demos. Then producer Chris Hughes mentioned he could drum a bit. Duly nicknamed Merrick, Hughes’ skills meant that Moss was free to join Culture Club instead.
Pirroni introduced a twanging Duane Eddy guitar style and a love of film soundtracks to accompany Adam’s vision of mixing tribal elements with early rock and rollers like Tommy Steele. If that mixture doesn’t sound commercial, Adam also streamlined the songwriting to the essentials. Brilliantly, he insisted that the Ants’ singles started with something memorable, so that DJs couldn’t talk over the intro.
As proper underdogs, their new pirate image was perfect for Adam’s manifesto to take over the charts. That vision was front and centre in the lyrics. Antmusic, the title track and Ants Invasion were the most obvious examples of their self-mythologising, but the ferocity of that belief was also at the core of the snarling Killer In The Home and Don’t Be Square (Be There). It sent the album to No.1 in the UK and, 40 years later, Mark Ronson still plays Dog Eat Dog to new artists he produces as an example of what their music needs to live up to.
Chart positions UK No.2 US No.94
Having conquered the nation against all rational laws of pop, Adam Ant wasn’t about to let stardom fall from his grasp. The trouble was, CBS’ brutal contract meant an album absolutely had to be released every year. His head giddy at the reality of stardom, it was a minor miracle that Adam was able to hone the Ants’ image and music, changing the piratical image of Kings Of The Wild Frontier to the higher status dandy highwayman of Stand And Deliver.
The Ants’ lineup changed slightly, too. Much the same as Kevin Rowland was doing with Dexys Midnight Runners, Adam Ant was a hardline bandleader, wanting absolute discipline from his troops. This saw the headstrong Kevin Mooney leave and in his place came sensible session player Gary Tibbs, a versatile enough musician to have played with Roxy Music, Hazel O’Connor and eventually Aztec Camera and Brian May.
In truth, so long as Marco Pirroni was there as co-writer and Chris Hughes as producer/drummer, the Ants were golden. Adam himself has reservations about Prince Charming, believing it sounds as rushed and patchy as the reality of its making. It’s the only one of his first four albums he hasn’t recently toured in full. True, there’s some Carry On panto raunch such as Mile High Club and S.E.X. that a band with more time would have removed. But, alongside its three perfect singles and videos, the album also houses continuations of its predecessor’s restless energy in Five Guns West and incendiary opener Scorpios, as well as the extraordinary psychedelia of Picasso Visita El Planeta De Los Simios.
As torn as he was about the disposable side of being a pop star, the reality at the time was an Adam And The Ants album would only practically be judged on its singles. In that regard, despite stalling at No.2 behind Queen’s Greatest Hits, Prince Charming was successful.
Written in six minutes backstage before a gig, Stand And Deliver finally gave Adam his first No.1 single. The title track soon followed, and Ant Rap was so infectious that any pop fan aged 45-55 can still recite the Ants’ lineup in seconds.
Friend Or Foe
Chart positions UK No.5 US No.16
There’s no great drama behind Adam And The Ants’ split. Prince Charming was rushed, yet there was no let up in needing another album a year later. There was no time for a break, so they had to end when Chris Hughes was offered to produce Tears For Fears and Gary Tibbs wanted to return to sessioning. Marco Pirroni stayed as co-writer and the pair also produced Adam’s debut solo album.
When Adam toured Friend Or Foe in 2019, he told Classic Pop the album was about showing what was happening under the Ant warpaint. Bored of questions about his personal life, Adam answered them in lead single Goody Two Shoes. This was no Hotel California-style whinge about fame, instead delivered here and on Here Comes The Grump with a self-effacing cheek. As Adam told us: “I’d got nothing to complain about, as I was getting paid for a job I love.”
Adam’s new-found love of zydeco and Cajun music was everywhere, a horn section adding extra intensity to the already full-on Crackpot History And The Right To Lie. His love of early rock and roll meant Made Of Money and Try This For Sighs swung wildly.
The title track’s message calling out the doubters was, Adam admitted, more of a self-confidence boost than really wanting to maintain his crown. It was time to experiment, and Friend Or Foe paid off.
Chart positions UK No.20 US No.65
The moment where CBS’ hamster wheel fell off its moorings, Strip is the weakest Adam Ant album. Whereas early Adam And The Ants explored alternative BDSM sexuality and recent albums had deployed a seaside postcard humour, Adam’s love of Benny Hill went into overdrive on Strip. Songs like Libertine and Baby, Let Me Scream At You felt leery and uncomfortable rather than playful, with the music similarly perfunctory. It was written while Adam recovered from a knee injury sustained during a US tour, and you can sense his discomfort in the frustrated atmosphere.
Adam and Marco again self-produced, alongside Richard James Burgess. Despite producing Spandau Ballet’s first two albums, Burgess failed to bring any New Romantic exploration to the overly polished sound, trying too hard to maintain Adam’s mainstream momentum.
The title track was also lyrically icky, but given intrigue by production from Phil Collins and his associate Hugh Padgham. The female spoken-word passage on Strip is an uncredited Anni-Frid Lyngstad of ABBA, after Collins and Padgham had produced Lyngstad’s debut solo album Something’s Going On.
If only the pair had produced the rest of the album, Strip just might have been saved: they helmed the highlight, Puss ‘N Boots, the record’s one moment of proper bona fide Adam Ant eccentricity.
Vive Le Rock
Chart positions UK No.42 US No.131
There’s a large sense of injustice surrounding Vive Le Rock for most Adam Ant fans. Strip had stalled at No.20 in the UK and No.65 in the US. Finally given a relatively long break, Adam released Vive Le Rock in September 1985, 22 months after Strip. Having tried a dance-pop sound there, Vive Le Rock effectively saw Adam return to his punk roots.
The astronaut image was drawn from watching NASA missions as a kid, but the music was earthy, the climax of three years with the same backing band. Marco Pirroni was on guitar, of course, but here was the studio debut of bassist Chris Constantinou and drummer Bogdan Wiczling, who had been Adam Ant’s live band since the Friend Or Foe tour.
The live sound had the perfect producer in Tony Visconti, who hailed Adam as “a creative ball of energy”. Of course, Pirroni had joined Adam And The Ants after Dirk Wears White Sox and it was fascinating hearing him inject his own idea of punk into Adam’s style. The result, aided by Visconti’s glam background, was a retro futurism which ushered in Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s own dayglo cartoon punk for the following year. As a calling card, Apollo 9 was unbeatable with its nonsense rallying cry of “Choochalaben dollaley!”. Even the cassette/CD-only bonus track Human Bondage Den was superb, a glam stomp Adam would have loved in 1977.
Of course, the album was overshadowed by Adam’s performance of the title track at Live Aid two months earlier. Adam was justifiably frustrated at having his performance cut to just one song, and it’s unfairly tainted the album’s reputation to the public since. Forget that. Miss Thing and Hell’s Eight Acres were Adam back on top, teasing and alluring like very few pop stars before or since. A 2005 reissue added a wealth of demos, including the future title track of Manners & Physique.
Wiczling and Constantinou left after the Vive Le Rock tour ended in December ‘85, Wiczling soon left the music industry while Constantinou eventually joined Pirroni in his post-Ant band The Wolfmen. Although their names aren’t as familiar as many Ants, they were key in Adam’s most live-sounding album.
Manners & Physique
UK No.19 US No.57
Although it was five years before Adam Ant released another studio album after Vive Le Rock, half of Manners & Physique was written immediately after its predecessor, which explains the familiarly punky, pugilistic air of Anger Inc and USSA.
The delay was due to Adam becoming an actor. Wanting to learn his craft to avoid simply being another “singer tries acting” gadfly, after working with Sylvia Sims on a production of Joe Orton’s play Entertaining Mr Sloane at Manchester’s Royal Exchange in 1985, Adam stopped music for five years.
He appeared in staple US television shows of the era including The Equalizer and Sledge Hammer! and took on dual roles as the lead in horror film Spellcaster, directed by B-movie king Roger Corman’s protégé Rafal Zielinski. Tragically, Adam’s acting agent Ann Marie Dollard died in a riding accident in 1988, with the album dedicated to her memory.
If a major breakthrough role eluded Adam, he was well respected by the time he teamed up with former Prince bassist André Cymone for his comeback album. Cymone joined Adam and Marco Pirroni on the writing team, playing everything on Manners & Physique except guitar. The album isn’t quite the full-on bassy Minneapolis sound Adam envisaged, but Cymone proved a useful foil in offering a slicker alternative to Adam’s trademark punk.
Even when indulging in self-mythology, recounting an Ants trip to Berlin in 1978 on Bright Lights Black Leather, there’s a discernible tension coiled within Cymone’s keyboards and drum programming.
The pop side worked best on lead single Room At The Top. Lyrically, it was a familiar story of overcoming the doubters, but the soundbed was perfectly in tune with Fine Young Cannibals, who were produced by fellow Prince alumnus David Z.
Praising Marco and Andre’s ability to keep him buoyed in the studio, Adam insisted there was no additional pressure despite the long break. “Every album feels like a comeback to me,” he told LA radio station KROQ.
Chart positions UK No.24 US No.143
In which Adam Ant decides to grow up for a bit… Although Wonderful arrived five years after Manners & Physique, the unreleased Persuasion was influential in between on the genesis of Adam’s eighth official album.
Former Ruts drummer Dave Ruffy, a friend of Marco Pirroni from touring together in Sinéad O’Connor’s band, had played on two songs on Persuasion. The album’s more mature acoustic pop style had also been roadtested on a couple of Persuasion songs.
Intriguingly, Kings Of The Wild Frontier bassist Kevin Mooney co-wrote the languid single Beautiful Dream and the typically cheeky closing track Very Long Ride. Joining them on both songs was John Reynolds, another Sinéad O’Connor musician friend of Pirroni. Reynolds drummed instead of Ruffy on Very Long Ride and the melancholic Angel.
Although Rooney was back as co-writer, bass on the album is by Bruce Witkin. Then at the start of his session days, Witkin has since played with Tim Burgess, Glenn Tilbrook and the Hollywood Vampires supergroup. The title track was, for the first time, a straight-up love song – an admission to an ex-girlfriend that he was still in love with her. At the time, Adam said: “A lot of my previous songs have been at arm’s length, but this is very personal. I sent her the demo, but it was still very awkward between us at that time.”
For the first time, songs were written on acoustic guitar, with Morrissey sideman Boz Boorer joining the sessions – demos were recorded at Boorer’s house, before the album itself was made at Abbey Road. It was produced by David Tickle, whose biggest productions,
I Touch Myself for Divinyls and What’s Up? for 4 Non Blondes, were a handy mix of sauce and melodrama perfect for working with Adam Ant. “Before, my voice had been part of the sound,” said Adam. “David told me he wanted my words and voice right upfront.”
Released in 1995 at the height of Britpop, Adam approvingly said of the scene: “It reminds me of punk without the violence.”
The album fared respectably, charting at No.24 in the UK, while the title track was Adam’s final Top 40 single, reaching No.32. Happily, the Wonderful tour also reunited Adam with Dave Barbarossa, who joined Dave Ruffy as second drummer.
…Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter
Label Blueback Hassar
Chart positions UK No.25 US –
It was 18 years after Wonderful before a new Adam Ant album in 2013. Adam took five years out to raise daughter Lily, living in the Tennessee mountains. On returning to England, his mental health suffered. Adam felt flatlined by drugs prescribed for bipolar disorder, before a sympathetic GP helped him off medication. “If you’re a creative person, those drugs are a disaster,” Adam told Classic Pop of his experience. “You feel flat all the time, like a zombie.”
Around 2008, Adam began gigging again, initially playing guerrilla shows at tiny London venues, notable for their intensity. With his uncompromising attitude back, Adam turned down a £2.5 million offer to reform the Ants for an arena tour.
The success of playing on his own terms gave Adam the confidence for his most ambitious project – a double album, proposed as the first in a series as The Blueblack Hussar, who Adam described as “The dandy highwayman, back all these years later like Terminator 2.” The title Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter came from naval slang for corporal punishment. The 17 songs were themed across its four sides; some light, some heavy.
It was the first album since Dirk Wears White Sox that was finished without Pirroni on board. The pair haven’t spoken since Malcolm McLaren’s funeral in 2010, Adam explaining his former sidekick was happier to front his own band The Wolfmen and no longer wanted to play live. Five songs finished before the split are on the album. Instead of Pirroni, Adam produced the record with guitarists Boz Boorer and Chris McCormack. Adam insisted that AAITBHIMTGD wasn’t designed as a commercial return, but the public still welcomed him back, sending the album to No.25 in the UK charts.
Although he was giving little away in CP’s most recent encounter about its style or release date, Adam is working on a new studio album. If rumours are true, his return will be, well, wonderful…
Chart positions UK – US –
A sad tale of record company stupidity, Persuasion remains unreleased 30 years after it was recorded as the follow-up to Manners & Physique. Going through financial difficulties, MCA refused to release Persuasion in 1992 because Manners & Physique hadn’t gone gold. OK. So why has MCA stubbornly refused to licence it back to Adam ever since? First, they denied its release on 2000’s Antbox boxset, and again in 2010. Adam told Classic Pop in 2019 he still hopes to release it eventually, with new artwork from Jamie Hewlett of Gorillaz.
Persuasion really is a lost classic, incorporating the glam of Vive Le Rock on the title track, Manners & Physique’s funk on Headgear and predicting the romantic power-pop of Wonderful on the stupidly catchy All Girl Action. Produced by Chic’s Bernard Edwards, it features original Ants bassist Leigh Gorman, Cameo’s Larry Blackmon trading a verse on the Kings-style chanting Little Devil and drums by Chic’s Tony Thompson.
You don’t have to search too hard for a bootleg, but it’s disgracefully petty how Persuasion has been denied an official release for so long. It’s as good as Friend Or Foe and Vive Le Rock as Adam’s best solo album, and his most varied in bringing together the various threads of what makes Stuart Goddard Adam Ant, thanks to prime Ant/Pirroni songwriting and Edwards’ fluid production.