When London art-school escapee Adam (Stuart Goddard) turned up with the Ants on the awful Jubilee movie soundtrack in 1978, you’d never have guessed he’d amount to anything. Like much of the record, his two cuts were just ordinary meatgrinder punk. Nor was the ambitious Dirk Wears White Socks all that encouraging, despite the considerable effort Adam obviously expended on it. The self- produced LP’s word-heavy tunes examine sexual excess (“Cleopatra”), bizarre visions (“Day I Met God”), alienation (“Digital Tenderness”) and the like. Adam’s dour, uncomfortable vocals find compatible backing from his band, which sounds nearly dead and far too slow. It’s as if the nastiest portion of Ziggy Stardust had come to life full-blown. After he’d made it big, Adam obtained the rights to the record, remixed and resequenced the tracks — replacing “Catholic Day” and “Day I Met God” (is there a theme to this revisionism?) with “Zerox” and “Kick” (from 45s) and exchanging the album’s “Cartrouble (Parts 1 & 2)” for the far better second version — and had it reissued with a new cover.
Adam’s old Ants subsequently left for the employ of Malcolm McLaren, transmuting (more or less) into Bow Wow Wow. In their place, Adam teamed up with guitarist Marco Pirroni (who proved to be a significant collaborator) and recruited drummer/producer Chris Hughes (aka Merrick). A re-recorded single of Dirk‘s “Cartrouble” b/w “Kick” got Adam’s new era off the ground in the mid-’80. (The exploitatively titled Antmusic EP, issued by Do It to cash in on Adam’s success elsewhere, contains remixes of the original two-part “Cartrouble,” an outtake of “Kick” and two other early rarities.)
Adam found his groove with Kings of the Wild Frontier. Goodbye heaviness and failure, hello hit parade. Dressed in flamboyant pirate gear, Adam and his merry crew bounce through a delightful program of modern bubblegum with shrewd underpinnings. “Dog Eat Dog” uses the rampaging pseudo-tribal drums Adam picked up from McLaren. “Antmusic” shamelessly self-promotes (as do many of Adam’s early lyrics) to the accompaniment of an irresistible stop-start melody. The sourness of Dirk survives on Kings, but there’s so much exuberant fun on the surface that it’s hard not to have a good time.
Prince Charming is a letdown. “Stand and Deliver” offers more percussive entertainment à la “Dog Eat Dog,” and the title track is florid melodrama, but much of the LP seems forced, ill-tempered and silly. Adam hits bottom on “Ant Rap,” an embarrassing stab at rap filled with braggadocio.
After dumping all the Ants except for Marco, Adam went solo and came up with the neat Friend or Foe, an LP with plenty of energy and variety. Adam and Marco try a little of everything — soul, rockabilly, his usual weightless pop — with convincingly joyful results. Highlights include “Goody Two Shoes” (a spirited, cheeky self-defense) and the Doors’ “Hello, I Love You.” This may be junk, but it’s classy junk.
Following that triumph, it was time for another bad album, and Strip is pathetic. Adam’s attempt to grow up was recorded at Abba’s state-of-the-art studio in Stockholm and features two cuts produced by Phil Collins. (Richard Burgess, Adam and Marco co-produced the remainder.) By taking a less sensational approach, Adam exposes the weakness of his melodies and the inherent silliness of his sleazoid attitudes. Best suited for emotionally stunted Playboy readers.
Adam pulled in his horns and, with the production suss of Tony Visconti, made a big-league pop album even a mother could endure. Vive le Rock‘s spirited title track is a perfect send-up of ELO’s Dave Edmunds phase; “Rip Down” likewise recalls Marc Bolan. Other songs (“Razor Keen,” “Miss Thing”) proffer Bolanesque lyrics but suffer from characterless backing. “Apollo 9,” a wonderfully gimmicky single (also included in an a cappella version), proves that the old boy’s still got it, whatever it may be. “Yabba yabba ding ding,” indeed!
Monsieur Ant spent a few years concentrating his energies on an acting career. His best role was in 1987’s stylish Slamdance, but he also appeared in Trust Me (1989) and Nomads (1986) as well as on television and in the theater. In the meantime, his British label issued Hits, a compilation of his biggest singles, from “Kings of the Wild Frontier” through “Vive le Rock.”
In 1990, Adam resurfaced in Los Angeles with the confident and entertaining Manners & Physique, diving into electronic dance music without drowning in synthesized rubbish. Marco contributed to the songwriting (as did ex-Dexys leader Kevin Rowland, surprisingly enough) and plays guitar; producer/co-writer André Cymone did everything else but sing. Walloping techno beats and monotonous funk-rock grooves occasionally dislocate the album’s pop spine, but Adam’s melodic vocals and ridiculous lyrics remain a reassuring constant.
As Adam took a lengthy studio powder to concentrate on acting, his former label brought out a trio of compilations, leaving the band name behind in the billing. Drawing five tracks from Kings of the Wild Frontier and selecting notable tracks from each of Adam’s group and solo albums prior to Manners & Physique (plus “Beat My Guest,” from the B-side of “Stand and Deliver”), Antics in the Forbidden Zone compiles 21 tunes with precious few serious lapses in taste. (Four songs from the American Dirk is, however, at least two too many.) B-Side Babies is a 16-song collection of flipsides and bonus tracks from the same period. Some copies of the English-only Antmusic came with a bonus live disc. Historically interesting if not exactly entertaining, the ten-song Peel Sessions documents the Dirk-era band (which included future Monochrome Set bassist Andy Warren) in January and July of 1978 and March 1979, doing “Animals and Men” and “Never Trust a Man (With Egg on His Face)” from the LP, along with “Zerox,” “You’re So Physical” (later a B-side) and otherwise unwaxed material.
Making good on his lyrical ant-threat — “You cut off his head, legs come looking for you” — Adam found a third professional life in the 1990s with Wonderful. Whatever convinced him to exchange the walloping funk grooves of Manners & Physique for the quiet balladry of Wonderful, it didn’t change his obsessions any: songs about sex (“Beautiful Dream,” “Gotta Be a Sin”), prickly personal irritation (“Won’t Take That Talk”), cultural observation (“Vampires”) and narcissism (“Image of Yourself”) are topically familiar, even if they’re wrapped in soft, fuzzy bundles. While the lyrics are loaded with provocative bits — the waterlogged “Wonderful” alludes to domestic violence, the pop-rocking “Alien” touches on English nationalism and the solitude of “Very Long Ride” requires pistol possession — much of the music is intrinsically dull and soporifically produced. Patently contrived errors like the gentle calypso bounce of “Beautiful Dream” and the rap verses of “Very Long Ride” point to a hack’s lack of stylistic conviction and leave a sour taste. Permanent sidekick Marco Pirroni plays a lot of acoustic guitar on the album; outside of the merry old-style “Gotta Be a Sin” and a couple of T. Rexy impressions, Adam sings in a quiet voice extracted from the yipping joy of his early hits. Wonderful won’t wake the children, but neither could it arouse the ants.