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.