It takes 65 minutes for Adam Ant to exorcise the near-18 years between this album and his previous, 1995's Wonderful - and we feel every last second of it. This was never going to be an easy listen; here's a man who has battled back and forth with mental illness - ultimately diagnosed as bi-polar - whilst, at the same time, struggled to stomach a music industry that had fallen out of love with him. Adam Ant - real name Stuart Goddard - was one of the most intelligent, adventurous pop stars of the 1980's, in a decade which wasn't short on a few innovators; but that word 'pop' was at forefront of his employers minds, and he was as disposable to them as anyone else, which meant that when the hits dried up, the relationship got bitter.
There are no hits here; the awkwardly titled Adam Ant Is The BlueBlack Hussar Marrying The Gunner's Daughter is also awkwardly written; it feels like a dam has burst in Goddard's mind pouring forth frustrations, regrets, anger and blame. The music industry is made a target from the off; 'Marrying The Gunner's Daughter' is a nautical phrase to describe being tied across a cannon and flogged, and works as a metaphor for how the artist felt he was treated at the hands of the business he once had 22 UK hits in between 1980 and 1985. He also has a pop at the English mental health support system on 'Shrink' - one of the better of the 17 tracks here, exploding into a delirious cacophony of sludgy synths and brass.
But there's plenty of introspection too; though you could accuse Goddard of bitterness at times, he does take a fair share of the burden himself. It's extremely hard for mental illness to be truly understood, with each case unique on the spectrum; no-one should blame themselves for the actions that it causes, but Goddard does admit that a lot of his problems were as a result of him struggling to grapple with his illness. The song 'Vince Taylor', for example, relates to an English singer who became more known for his public meltdowns than his music, whereas elsewhere on the album Marvin Gaye is also referenced. They are performers who had their own internal struggles, and who Goddard clearly feels he was headed the same way as. Thematically it's an album that performs exactly its creator's intention for it; it's a map of his mind that's cluttered, confused, but most importantly desperate to communicate honestly his furrow of the past couple of decades.
Unfortunately, where we can credit his candidness lyrically, the same can't be said for the musical aesthetic he puts around these confessionals. 17 tracks really is too long, particularly when those tracks are largely an uncoordinated mish mash of lo-fi punk throwback, drippy acoustic balladry, Casio keyboard industrial music interpretations and spaghetti western guitars. Far from the fantastical whimsy of his 80s output, a lot of the diversity on .Marrying The Gunner's Daughter feels somewhat po-faced, at odds with the larger than life character that he still enjoys portraying himself as in interviews. That means that the relatively straight-delivered tracks like the scuzzy 'Stay In The Game' and the spacious 'Dirty Beast' work the best, grounded self-depreciation evident in the latter as Goddard intones "treat me like the dirty beast I am." However as the minutes clock up things become denser and denser; 'Hardmentoughblokes' is a baffling listen, an apparent dig at self-chosen hard men that grinds and grates. 'Goofy Bunny' meanwhile is flat out awful, a cringeworthily repetitive five and a half minutes that should've been brought to a much more premature end.
That's the story for much of what's on offer here, a lack of quality control that sees all sorts of elements thrown in, but an increasingly vapid, grey paste of an effect the result. You can't fault Goddard for getting everything off his chest - Lord knows he's waited long enough to do it - but for all the diversity shown here, there's also a lot to be said for an artist who can fashion a cohesiveness from so many touchstones. The Adam Ant of old used to be wonderfully adept at such a skill; the one of 2013 - on this album at least - is not.
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