It’s the statement few in the Internet age expected to type: today, Adam Ant releases his first album in nearly 20 years. Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunnar’s Daughter (try saying that three times fast) features brand-new original compositions by Ant with longtime collaborators/guitarists Marco Pirroni and Boz Boorer, and is the first album on his new label, the eponymous Blueblack Hussar Records.
Early critical notes indicate an album that’s weird and urgent – fair descriptors of the best of Ant’s work. The man born Stuart Leslie Goddard in London back in 1954 has had a long, unpredictable and at times erratic career (all of which he’s been incredibly candid about as the years have gone on), but the five (now six) albums he’s released have been occasionally brilliant and always catchy. And fortunately for music geeks, there has been plenty of attention to his catalogue, so fans old and new have plenty to collect.
Goddard’s serious musical career began in November 1975, when, as bassist for the pub rock band Bazooka Joe, he watched in amazement a set by the band’s support act: The Sex Pistols. It was their first gig; so taken was Goddard that he soon quit his own band and pursued the punk sound. It was around the same time that, following a depressive episode that left him in the hospital with a pill overdose, Goddard declared himself “dead,” instead naming himself Adam Ant.
Forming a band with guitarist Matthew Ashman, bassist Andy Warren and drummer David Barbarossa, Adam and The Ants secured a management deal with iconic Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.
The rest, which is certainly history, is after the jump.
Adam and The Ants, Dirk Wears White Sox (Do It, 1979 – reissued Epic/CBS, 1983; expanded Columbia, 1995/2004)
The early work of Adam and his Ants was characterized by a bit less radio-friendly approach to punk and New Wave styles. Lyrics were often dark and fetishistic (a particular sticking point with the most vocal critics), and the music lacks the polish of later releases.
Of course, Dirk Wears White Sox – named for the English actor Dirk Bogarde – was notably the only full-length album released by the original incarnation of The Ants. Two months after its successful release (it topped the first ever installment of the British Independent Albums chart), manager McLaren plucked Ashman, Leigh Gorman (who’d replaced Andy Warren on bass) and Barbarossa out of Adam’s employ and into a new group, Bow Wow Wow, with singer Annabella Lwin. Adam would have to regroup – and regroup he did.
After Ant became a household name, he and guitarist Marco Pirroni reorganized Dirk for public consumption in 1983, dropping three original tracks and adding four – all previously issued non-LP tracks, including the shorter single version of lead track “Cartrouble” and the single “Zerox.” A 1995 CD release (on Columbia’s British reissue imprint Rewind) kept that re-ordered track list (along with the “Cartrouble” remix) but added the other two dropped tracks to the end of the disc. The expanded remaster from 2004 brought the orignal LP listing back to disc (including the premiere release of the original “Cartrouble Parts 1 + 2” on compact disc) and featured eight bonus cuts, including all the non-LP single material from that time period.
Adam and The Ants, Kings of the Wild Frontier (Epic/CBS, 1980 – expanded Columbia, 2004)
What do you do when your manager steals your band to create another? You make another, arguably better band. The masterstrokes of the new Ants were threefold: two drummers, including Terry Lee Miall and “Merrick,” the pseudonym for producer Chris Hughes (who went on to produce the first two Tears for Fears albums) – and, biggest of all, Ant’s new guitarist and writing partner, Marco Pirroni. His muscly rockabilly riffs recalled Duane Eddy and Link Wray, while the drums elicited a danceable, almost tribal feel. Combine that with Ant’s new style of dress – war paint and colonial/pirate wear! – and you had a bona fide hit record. The killer singles didn’t hurt, either; “Dog Eat Dog,” “Antmusic” and the title track were all British Top 5 hits.
The 12-track album became a 13-track affair in the U.S., with the omission of one album side (“Making History”) in favor of two B-sides (“Press Darlings,” off the “Kings” single, and the fan favorite “Physical (You’re So),” from the flip side to “Dog Eat Dog”). Certain copies came with a free single of “Stand and Deliver” (formally released on the next LP) backed with “Beat My Guest”; these tracks ended up on the cassette edition as well. The 2004 remaster featured six unreleased demos and alternate mixes as bonus tracks.
The follow-up to the Brit Award-winning Kings of the Wild Frontier (which would also become the best-selling British album of 1981) was a much anticipated one. Armed with a new bassist (Kevin Mooney was replaced by Gary Tibbs, formerly of Roxy Music) and a clutch of new songs (“Stand and Deliver” and “Prince Charming,” both British chart-toppers, and Top 5 hit “Ant Rap”), The Ants were still a force to be reckoned with in the pop world. (An added variable: the band’s increasing success on the fledgling MTV network; the Ants’ catchy hooks and Adam’s eye-catching looks made for a powerful combination on video.)
Stylistically, it was somewhat of a departure from its rhythmic-obsessed predecessor, and the album has a bit more filler. But it’s a great effort for what would turn out to be the proper band’s final album. Six unreleased demos were added to the expanded edition, including “Who’s a Goofy Bunny Then?”, a tribute to McLaren that was re-recorded for Gunnar’s Daughter.
Friend or Foe (Epic/CBS, 1982 – expanded Columbia, 2005)
Citing a lack of enthusiasm among the other members, Adam Ant broke up his band for 1982’s Friend or Foe, only retaining Marco Pirroni (who did not accompany him on tour). While this album may have been the beginning of Ant’s cooling-down period in the U.K., Friend or Foe is the album that gave him his most major taste of success in America, with U.K. chart-topper “Goody Two Shoes” peaking at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. Friend or Foe was also expanded with a clutch of demos and outtakes (and the single mix of “Goody Two Shoes,” mixed by Chris Hughes) – in all, there were as many bonus tracks on the disc as there were on the original album!
Strip (Epic/CBS, 1983 – expanded Columbia, 2005)
Strip was Adam’s least successful album thus far, only peaking at No. 20 in the U.K. and mustering only one Top 5 hit, “Puss N’ Boots.” It is notable, however, for featuring production by up-and-coming producer Hugh Padgham (fresh off that summer’s Synchronicity for The Police) and drum work by the inimitable Phil Collins. Ant’s ensuing American tour was also a major draw in 1984, with the singer using costume changes and big set pieces to entice his audiences. Eight demos, rehearsal takes and live cuts were appended to the expanded remaster.
Vive Le Rock (Epic/CBS, 1985 – expanded Columbia, 2005)
With a new producer at the helm (Tony Visconti), a new band (featuring Pirroni alongside bassist Chris Constantinou and drummer Bogdan Wiczling) and a new visual aesthetic (the colonial togs were ditched for a more sci-fi-inspired look), Adam gave Vive Le Rock his all – perhaps too much. Lead single “Apollo 9” peaked at No. 13 in the U.K., but the resultant album wouldn’t come out for another year, by which point all but the most hardcore Antfans had moved on. Bonus tracks on the expanded remaster focused less on demos and more on mixes; Ant and Visconti had very different ideas about the final mix, and many unreleased dance and single mixes appear as extra material.
What happened to Adam Ant in the five years between his last album for CBS/Epic and this, his first (and only released) LP for MCA? His performance at Wembley Stadium at Live Aid was one of his last major concerts for a decade, and he walked away from his longtime label the following year. In fact, Ant was largely absent from the recording studio in those years, opting instead for a burgeoning CV as an actor on stage, film (Love Bites) and television (The Equalizer, Northern Exposure). (He and Pirroni kept writing and demoing, however.)
Eventually, Ant decided to return to recording, recruiting singer/songwriter/producer André Cymone (known for his early work with childhood friend Prince and fresh off the success of girlfriend Jody Watley’s “Looking for a New Love”) to helm the project. (Cymone is actually credited alongside Ant’s vocals and Pirroni’s guitar with “Everything Else.”) Manners and Physique, which took many cues from the Minneapolis sound that dominated pop and R&B in the ’80s, spun off another worldwide Top 20 hit in “Room At the Top” and a Top 20 Dance hit in the U.S. with “Rough Stuff.” A 2009 expansion from Cherry Red’s Cherry Pop imprint included five bonus tracks from various singles.
Antics in the Forbidden Zone (Epic/CBS, 1990)
The first Adam Ant compilation was a rather thorough one, featuring not only all of his singles from the Epic/CBS years, but a handful of choice album cuts and “Beat My Guest,” the B-side to “Stand and Deliver.” An accompanying videocassette compiled 13 of Ant’s iconic videos. This might be the best place to get into Antmusic for the casual fan.
Persuasion (unreleased – recorded for MCA, 1991/1992)
Spurred on by the relative of Manners and Physique, Ant and Pirroni reconvened in the studio for Persuasion, Ant’s intended next album. Recorded in London and America and featuring the production work of CHIC bassist Bernard Edwards and Larry Blackmon of Cameo and even Leigh Gorman, bassist in the Dirk Wears White Sox-era Ants.
Despite the high energy and spirit Ant reportedly expressed during the recording sessions, the recent takeover of MCA by Japanese electronics giant Matsushita resulted in the dropping of all artists who’d not managed any gold albums recently. Manners and Physique sold just short of 500,000 copies, and so Ant was without an album or a label. What happened next was a breakneck series of events: Ant got a new manager (the iconoclastic Miles Copeland, manager for The Police and later Sting’s solo career), suffered a mental lapse when a stalker began pursuing him, recovered well enough to perform a well-received set at KROQ-FM’s annual Almost Acoustic Christmas and embarked on a tour to promote the nonexistent Persuasion.
While these events drummed up enough interest to find Ant a new recording contract, they were not enough to persuade MCA to change their mind about the album; worse yet, as Pirroni discusses in Dan Leroy’s great book The Greatest Music Never Sold, Universal has never allowed Ant to license some or all of the album for catalogue purposes.
Antmusic: The Very Best of Adam Ant (Arcade, 1993)
This rather intriguing compilation (not released by Epic/CBS but licensed by them instead) featured some genuine rarities, some making their CD debut. This included “Young Parisians” and “Deutscher Girls,” from the Jubilee soundtrack and released as the band’s first single. A double-disc edition also features the only full live disc by Ant, recorded on the Persuasion Tour the year prior. Interestingly, Antmusic is the highest-charting Adam Ant compilation in the U.K., peaking at No. 6.
Why weren’t Adam Ant’s original non-LP tracks included on those later remasters? Because they’re already available in one convenient place. B-Side Babies featured a lot of goodies for Antfans; half the tracks had never been released on any format in the U.S. (including some tracks dropped from American versions of his albums), and one track, an instrumental dub of “Vive Le Rock,” was a brand new vault track just for this set.
Wonderful (Capitol/EMI, 1995)
An absolute out-of-the-gate surprise, Wonderful is a more reserved, confident Adam Ant LP, bolstered by the title track, a surprise international Top 40 hit. Featuring the first of Ant’s collaborations with additional guitarist Boz Boorer, known for his work in rockabilly outfit The Polecats and, since 1992, Morrissey’s primary guitarist, Wonderful was a respectable hit, but the last we’d hear from Ant for a long time.
The 2000s were a time of occasional turmoil for Ant. Sidelined by failing mental health and legal troubles in the U.K. in the early part of the decade, by the start of the new decade he had righted the ship, so to speak, and began touring the world in advance of a perpetually-in-development new album.
While the world waited for Adam Ant to triumphantly revive his musical career, a series of catalogue projects appeared through the 2000s. The first was this U.K. career-spanning box set, featuring three discs of hits and unreleased demos, BBC sessions and other rarities, spanning the entire gamut of his career. (This included not only tracks released by Epic/CBS, MCA and EMI, but some of The Ants’ earliest recordings for Decca Records, as well.) Originally released in an oversized 7″ lidded box with matching liner notes booklet, in 2003 the discs were reissued in a simple jewel box.
The Essential Adam Ant (Epic/Legacy, 2003)
This single-disc compilation is the only one to feature both of Ant’s non-Epic hits, “Room At the Top” and “Wonderful.” While it sticks to the hits and doesn’t offer anything rare or underrated, it’s also not a terrible place to start an Ant collection.
The Adam Ant catalogue was greatly overhauled in 2004 and 2005, remastered by Marco Pirroni and expanded to fit all those great bonus tracks described above. In 2005, as the solo albums were given the deluxe treatment, fans had the option of buying another kind of Antbox which featured the expanded Friend or Foe, Strip and Vive Le Rock in one package, space for the Adam and The Ants remasters, and one further bonus disc, Redux, which featured another 14 vintage demos (plus one rarity from Ant’s long period of late ’90s silence – a cover of T. Rex’s “Dandy in the Underworld”).
Playlist: The Very Best of Adam Ant (Epic/Legacy, 2012)
The latest Ant compilation is arguably the poppiest, focusing mostly on those biggest hits from 1980 to 1983 in non-chronological order. It also features a relative rarity in a 12″ dance mix of “Apollo 9,” remixed by François Kevorkian.