Best known for his tenures in Magazine and the Bad Seeds, bassist Adamson proves himself an adept composer and arranger on his own records, which are more orchestral works than conventional solo discs. Beatniky jazz, surf- rock and industrial sturm und drang are just a few of the manifold genres he enters to produce rich aural tableaux. His voluptuous, ambitious soundtracks to non-existent films noir made him an acknowledged influence on such higher-profile trip-hoppers as Portishead.
“Directed and produced by Barry Adamson,” the 54-minute Moss Side Story has a strong aura of ’60s mod London. It’s an exquisite assemblage of sampled newscasts, period sound effects and a great, throbbing version of Elmer Bernstein’s “The Man With the Golden Arm” (which was previewed on a four-song 1988 EP). A stellar cast of performers (including the Fall’s Marcia Schofield, possessed diva Diamanda Galas and assorted Bad Seeds) contribute to this odd and inventive project, which surely has no correlative in most “alternative” record collections.
Limited to EP length, the four fascinating new pieces on Taming of the Shrewd are nowhere near as cohesive or satisfying as the LP. With twangy guitar and thick polyrhythms dominating one side and full-bodied bebop on the other, Adamson teases with stylistic complexity that deserves to be fleshed out in a full-length effort.
The producers of 1991’s witty American neo-noir Delusion were wise to secure the Mancunian to compose its actual soundtrack. Revealing a playful side mostly lacking from his previous records, Adamson drenches the grooves with menacing organ, flamenco guitar and spaghetti western sass that perfectly evokes the film’s double dealings. Also included: the recording debut of Miranda Sex Garden (whom Adamson discovered) on “Il Solitario” and a twisted, chugging rendition of “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” featuring petulant vocals by Nick Cave cohort Anita Lane.
Returning to his movies of the mind, Soul Murder is a sketchbook of often brilliant ideas — crime jazz, sinewy dance, smoky bossa nova — all peppered with strange samples (including one from the TV prison documentary Scared Straight) and spoken-word bits (the Fall’s Marcia Schofield narrates “A Gentle Man of Colour,” the gruesome tale of a young black man falsely accused of raping a white woman). For all the inventiveness on display, it’s surprising that the highlight is a reinterpretation of the 007 theme that alternates between rock-steady ska and big-band attack. (Cinema Is King collects one track each from all the preceding releases save for the first and offers a concise sampler of Adamson’s movie music.)
The six-track, album-length The Negro Inside Me is Adamson’s most accessible recording yet. The Hammond- heavy jazz-funk of “The Snowball Effect” reiterates his gift for innovative sampling-in this case, an answering machine message left by his publicist. On the porno- dance “Je T’Aime…Moi Non Plus,” he tackles the work of Serge Gainsbourg two years before fellow Bad Seed Mick Harvey recorded a tribute album to the steamy French crooner.
Adamson shared scoring duties for Alison Anders’ debut film Gas Food Lodging with J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. Amid a diverse set of vocal and instrumental tracks from other Mute artists, Adamson subtly sets moods with simple keyboard orchestrations in a half-dozen short pieces that aren’t as discernibly Latin as several Spanish titles might imply.
Cinema Is King and Movieology are both collections of excerpts from Adamson’s soundtrack work.