Thursday, November 19, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Adam & The Ants - "Kings Of The Wild Frontier" (1980)

It's a fairly straightforward recipe:  mix a handful of twangy spaghetti-western guitar riffs with a pair of rumbling Burundi Beat drummers, toss in assorted yips, yelps and yodels, and wrap it all up in gooey wad of time-tested bubblegum hooks.  Now, tilt the whole works just off-center, and voila - you've got Antmusic.

A strange concoction in many ways when you think about it. It's a light, airy kind of ear candy that threatens to evaporate into the ether upon first listen.  Yet, it demands repeated listenings, and seems to get better, grow stronger, with every revolution of of the turntable. The dual rhythms both compete with and complement one another, and the whole sound sinks into your brain and makes a home there.

For a few years, Adam & The Ants' Kings Of The Wild Frontier was my favorite album (eventually losing that crown to the Violent Femmes' debut LP); 35 years later, it's still a Top Ten pick.  Adam would eventually go on to a solo career that could be described as spotty at best, with the occasional shining gem glistening among some pretty dire dreck.  The early Adam & The Ants stuff from the late 1970s showed a lot of promise, but had not yet found the right balance of ingredients.  By the time the band invited us to "try another flavor" on Kings, the recipe was just right.

The album opens with a stunning one-two punch: "Dog Eat Dog" and "Antmusic" are simply classics of the New Wave era and probably the strongest tracks on the album, but to let them overshadow the rest is to miss out on some truly outstanding songs.  "Press Darlings," "Feed Me To The Lions" and "Los Rancheros" each are catchy, hook-filled confections that could have been hit singles themselves. But all is not just bouncy fun here in Antland:  "Ants Invasion" strikes an eerie sci-fi pose, "Killer In The Home" ups the creepy factor, and "Physical (You're So)" is much darker here than even Trent Reznor could make it when he covered it years later.

It was with the first single after Kings Of The Wild Frontier that Adam & The Ants hit their absolute pinnacle, but "Stand And Deliver" would have to wait until Prince Charming to appear on an album, and by then The Ants were starting to lose steam.

Kings Of The Wild Frontier belongs on anyone's short list of defining New Wave albums and still sees fairly regular airplay around these parts.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Richard Hell & The Voidoids - "Blank Generation" (1977)

With its defiant opening lyric,"I was saying 'Let me outta here!' before I was even born," "Blank Generation" (the song) immediately defines the ground rules under which Richard Hell is playing: "It's fascinating to observe what the mirror does, but when I dine it's for the wall that I set a place." Similar themes of undefined alienation, social misalignment, and Life as constant irritant run through the entirety of Blank Generation (the album), Hell's stunning and startling debut album with his own band, The Voidoids (Ivan Julian, Bob Quine and Mark Bell, who would soon thereafter become Marky Ramone).

Richard Hell had been in the young NYC Punk scene for some time already, having been a founding member of Television and doing a stint as one of Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers.  Hell was a musician, a poet, an artist and a confrontationalist.  Hell skulked around CBGBs in a t-shirt festooned with a bullseye and the words "Please Kill Me," and is often pointed to as the originator of the razor cut spiked hair and safety-pinned clothes look that the Brit Punks quickly appropriated.

While the title and lyrics of "Blank Generation" may seem on the surface to be the perfect representation of the expected "no future" mindset of many of  his contemporaries, Hell saw it as hopeful.  As he explained in a 1978 interview with Lester Bangs, "To me, blank was a line where you can fill in anything ... It's the idea that you have the option of making yourself anything you want, filling in the blank. And that’s something that provides a uniquely powerful sense to this generation. It's saying 'I entirely reject your standards for judging my behavior.'"

That anthem is the clear centerpiece of the album, but the rest of Blank Generation is much more than simply an undercard to the main event.  Quine's sharply angular guitar carries Hell's painfully honest lyrics into the dark underbelly of after hours rock and jazz clubs, careening through dark passageways and pushing past sweaty, overpacked crowds of faceless onlookers.  The vocals howl and shriek and plead and cajole; the overall sound is insistent if inconsistent; the lyrics are brilliant.

The opening track, "Love Comes In Spurts," might just have a been a snickering double-entendre in anyone else's hands.  It turns out to actually be a painful realization that relationships are not always what the appear to be: "Love comes in spurts/In dangerous flirts/And it murders your heart/They didn't tell you that part."  That painful realization is expanded upon later on the track "Betrayal Takes Two," leads him to question its purpose on "Who Says?" ("Who says it's good, good, good to be alive?/It ain't no good, it's a perpetual jive."), and finally brings him to the album's closer, "Another World," in which he decides, "I could live with you in another world...but not this one."  Elsewhere, Hell calls out the fakers ("Liars Beware"), indulges in "New Pleasure," interprets Credence Clearwater Revival's "Walking On The Water" and invites us all to meet up "Down At The Rock And Roll Club."

Start to finish, Blank Generation is as solid an album as you could possibly want, filled with surprise turns and unexpected moments.  Simply put, it's a must-have. However, avoid the 1990 CD reissue, which inexplicably opts for completely different recordings of some tracks and chooses to replace the original artwork.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Hell In My Head

The dull pain behind my eyes has been nearly constant for almost six hours now.  Tears want to roll down my cheeks but I cannot seem to summon them, even though I am crying on the inside.  The back of my neck is tight, and  my stomach feels as though it has clutched into a tight little ball .  I feel trapped within myself, and utterly, utterly alone.

I am directionless, floating propelled by a current I am unable to fight, and am too tired to fight if I could.  I'm tired of always fighting.  I'm tired of always fighting.

I am drenched in paranoia. I feel unable to trust anyone; eventually everyone will turn against me if they haven't already.  They talk about me behind closed doors; they snicker at me behind cupped hands; they are setting me up for a fall.  They laugh at me.  They're setting me up.

Family and friends with the best intentions tell me it's OK, try to give me positive affirmations, try to help me see the bright side.  I know they are trying, but they are doing it wrong.  The more they tell me how good I am, the more I know I am not.  I can never be what they see.  I am a fraud.

I'm not looking for "oh it's going to be OK," or "I am here for you," or "let's talk about it." They are well-meaning, but they don't fill the gaping empty hole.  I am trapped inside my my own head, locked in, screaming.  Can't they hear me screaming? Can't you hear me screaming?

The inevitable question I cannot answer: "What's wrong?"  The cruelest question you could ask me. The question itself taunts me; it is asked knowing I cannot answer.  What's wrong? If I knew I could fix it, change it or leave it.

I can never stop fighting, yet I am too tired to fight anymore.  I don't want to feel like this anymore.  I don't want to have to fight this anymore.  Yet, I must.

Somewhere, echoing inside my hurting head, a sliver of a sane voice tells me to hang on; this storm will pass, like all the others have passed. But why must I suffer the storms, again and again?

I am tired of always fighting. I will cry myself to sleep tonight.  The demons have won this battle; the war rages on.