(Central Control International)
Barry Adamson has had a long, distinguished career walking
on the conceptualized side of post-punk rock ‘n’ roll – stints with
Magazine (as the bassist) and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, working on
adventurous soundtrack music, releasing beautifully atmospheric albums that
sometimes are imaginary soundtracks (Moss
Side Story), refiguring “These Boots
Are Made for Walkin'” as a slinky but weird electro-tinged duet with Anita
Lane. He’s as adept as an
instrumentalist/producer/arranger as he is at crooning like Iggy or Cave or adopting a more exuberantly jazzy, hipster-inflected
buoyant vocal tone for his post-Britpop take on rock. But as good and varied as
his work has been, by turns romantic and ominous, the Manchester-born Adamson
largely remains unknown here, even among the sizeable audience for the kind of
boundary-defying rock he makes.
Maybe the new I Will
Set You Free will correct that – especially if he puts together a band and
tours behind it, as he is promising. He’d be great with the reunited Pulp. He
wrote, produced and mixed the album’s ten songs and plays bass, piano, some
percussion and guitar. After more than three decades of recording, he knows how
to create tunes that are both brainy and catchy, full of life. He’s also internalized his key influences –
Cave, Iggy, Bowie, Morricone, Roxy Music, Curtis Mayfield-style funk and soul,
and bands like Magazine and Buzzcocks that kept
punk’s spirit intact but moved it beyond formula. At the same time, he’s a guy
who has spent a lifetime listening to records, radio and jukeboxes. You never
know what he will reference from song to song.
This album opens with the solar-powered zip and zing of “Get
Your Mind Right Baby,” which takes off like a Ziggy Stardust anthem yet also
cleverly quotes the Stones’ “Street Fightin’ Man.” The music soars while what
could be autobiographical lyrics keep you listening to Adamson’s suave voice,
which alternates growling and forthrightness. Also of note is the interplay
between the guitar (Adamson or Bobby Williams) and the organ (Nick Plytas),
which recalls the 1960s-era psychedelicized rock of Manfred Mann or Alan Price.
The song is one big rush, a gas.
Adamson’s own piano playing applies tart jabs to the
hipsterish and sexy “Black Holes in My Brain,” which also allows the triumphal
horn section to bloom. Lest one think Adamson is too jaunty, he shows his
interest in sound-collage atmospherics in “Trigger City Blues,” which
incorporates breaking glass and ringing telephone into the dark, noirish
narrative. “Stand In” starts out as if a familiar dance-pop construction with
anthemic overtones, like Jesus Jones’ “Right Here Right Now,” but then the
unexpected twists begin. Plytas starts offering offbeat runs between choruses;
vocal harmonies and flourishing horns arrive like a fanfare, and you feel like
you’re hearing the Beatles in 1967. You’re aware at how adept Adamson is at shifting moods (and expectations)
within a song.
Adamson also delivers an outstanding ballad, “If You Love
Her,” whose lyrics are memorably, tragically descriptive
(“this velvet suit could never hide the
bruising”), but whose melody is so majestically enveloping (like
Bacharach/David) that it makes your spirits soar despite its gloomy imagery.
Adele ought to be covering it right now.
DOWNLOAD: “Get Your Mind Right,” “If You Love Her” STEVEN ROSEN