Thursday, May 10, 2007

And keep your feet off the upholstery Ronnie

Adam & the Ants - Cartrouble (Parts 1 & 2)
Adam & the Ants - Never Trust A Man (With Egg On His Face)

I first came across the world of music blogging via this post here from the brilliant Simon at Spoilt Victorian Child. It was one of those “YES!” moments, where you realise that there are other people out there who think like you, and share your love of music, and are able to articulate it in a way that makes you feel included. Having felt completely disillusioned with and detached from the ‘popular’ music press for a long time, in discovering Spoilt Victorian Child and, via the list of links on the website’s sidebar, hoards of other wonderful music blogs, I had finally found something I could relate to - genuine and enthusiastic writing about music that was often close to my heart. In this instance, Simon was raving about Adam and the Ants’ ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ – one of my favourite albums of all time. It was an epochal moment, and a beautifully fated one for me, as I eventually became a contributor to Spoilt Victorian Child, and went on to start up The White Noise Revisited.

None of this would have happened if it hadn’t been for me feeling nostalgic (and bored) one afternoon at work, and googling Adam and the Ants - the first band I got into outside of my parent’s sphere of influence. Before Adam, it was all the Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks, Fairport Convention, Gallagher and Lyle, Decameron - all gems from my parents record collection, no question, but their choices, not mine. I was lucky that I had parents for whom music played a central role in their lives – be it cassettes in the car stereo on long journeys, or albums playing on the state-of-the-art Bang & Olufsen (their one real luxury) record deck on a Sunday afternoon. But then, round my best friend Ross’s house, after mucking about with his brand new remote-control robot, we went into his older brother’s room and he played me ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ and that was it really - from innocence and robots to the pervy world of Adam Ant, via the drop of a needle onto a piece of vinyl.

People tend to overlook ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ in the context of Adam Ant’s career as it was before the years of success, and the chart-topping collaborations with Marco Pirroni that turned him into a proper star. It was before the teenage girls (and boys) were squealing and wetting their knickers over the dandy highwayman; before the make-up stripes and the Red Indian obsession; before the military jackets and the shoelace skull giveaways with Look-In; before Diana Dors, sow-on patches and appearances on Swap Shop. That’s what most people think of when they think of Adam Ant or maybe even ‘Save the Gorilla’ and his subsequent struggles with mental illness. It used to massively piss me and my brother off that during the height of Britpop, when Damon Albarn was asked about his influences he’d reel off the cool ones – XTC, Wire etc – but never ever give Adam Ant any credit. If you listen to ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ (especially ‘Never Trust a Man (With Egg on His Face)’, with it’s oh so English lyrical references like the suit “bought from Marks”, and twirly riffing), you’ll be left in no doubt that Damon (and Graham) had definitely been listening too. So why would he not give him any kudos? Well, he was perceived as being rather naff by then. Ironic really, when you consider how similar Damon was to Adam in his desperation to become a bonafide POP star. They both succeeded, but it would have been nice for Damon to acknowledge his debt to Adam, from the stage school elements of his live persona to the faux-cockernee singing style. Elastica covered ‘Cleopatra’ on a giveaway flexi in 1995, so at least there was someone in the Albarn household saluting Adam’s genius. More recently, Bloc Party were decent enough to nod in Adam’s direction when they first burst onto the scene.

‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ is an incredible album. I now own three copies of it – two on vinyl (my original copy which crackles like a bowl of Rice Krispies I’ve played it so much, and a replacement copy I bought from eBay), and I recently purchased the remastered CD. The sonic improvement is so stunning that it sounds like a brand new album. In fact, I can’t believe how current it sounds. And as Simon at SVC said in his original post, this was without a doubt the best line-up of the Ants, before Malcolm McLaren nicked them all to form the backbone of Bow Wow Wow. It’s all genius, but ‘Cartrouble Parts 1 & 2’ is my favourite. It’s a song split into two or two songs in one - ‘Part 1’ is jerky, twitchy Talking Headsy new wave punk funk with David Barbe’s ratatat military drumming, angular riffing and Adam's yelping vocal, before it seamlessly morphs into ‘Part 2’; a melodic slice of raw punk pop.

Lyrically, ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ went right over my seven-year-old head, with its references to fetishism, religion, S&M, Hitler and JFK. I still have no idea what ‘Cartrouble’ is all about. ‘Part 2’ seems the more straightforward – probably about car worshippers who spend their weekends, “licking and polishing the beep beeps into shape”, but who the fuck is Ronnie? And what’s all this business about ice creams? ‘Part 1’ is even more obscure, with the fantastic opening couplet, “I’ve got a Pizzaland complexion, Bright green sox” and the immortal line, "I dreamt I was a spastic but my boots were clean”. At the time I thought ‘Cleopatra’ was just an innocent song about the Egyptian queen (we were doing a project about Egyptian history at school around that time, so it seemed quite apt!), but a grown-up ear tells me it’s about her orally pleasuring thousands of Roman Centurions, turning her into a “wide-mouthed girl.” But as a kid I was most impressed with the irreverence of ‘Day I Met God’, in which Adam reveals the most striking thing about our supposed creator was the “size of his knob” and the “streaks in his hair”. Cue plenty of Rik from the Young Ones-style fnarring at the back of Mrs Boyd’s classroom.

The remastered version is a must-buy. It is exquisitely packaged in a deluxe digipack with a 12-page booklet, and as I’ve stated before, it sounds absolutely fan-fucking-tastic. As well as the original 1979 Do-It Records album release, the CD features the singles 'Zerox'/'Whip in My Valise' and the remixed 'Cartrouble'/'Kick', alongside the exploitative 'Antmusic EP' of 1982, featuring remixed tracks from the same era, released by Do It to cash in on Adam's success.

Buy the remastered 'Dirk Wears White Sox' from Amazon
The official Adam Ant website
Adam and the Ants at Wikipedia
A great Adam and the Ants fansite
Search eBay for 'Dirk Wears White Sox' vinyl

I found loads of amazing Adam and the Ants stuff on You Tube, including this exclusive 1979 video for 'Cartrouble (Part 2)' by Stephanie Gluck -

And this later concert performance of 'Cartrouble' with the new Ants, when he's in full Kings of the Wild Frontier garb, looking cool as fuck -

And don't forget to visit Spoilt Victorian Child - without them, you wouldn't be reading this.