Rediscovering New Romantic Adam Ant and his journey over the sands of time 

Uncle Ant

Uncle Ant

Adam Ant plumbs new depths of rock-star alienation and redemption on his new full-length, Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner's Daughter — the record sounds better than David Bowie's latest, The Next Day, though the two song collections share a fascination with texture and a rueful sense of time's ravages. Blueblack Hussar makes reference to Ant's time in rural Dayton, Tenn., where he hung out with the locals for two years before returning to England to make his new record. Ant seems attentive to detail throughout the album — he notices Dayton's friendly people, and their dungarees, and mentions the town's claim to fame, 1925's so-called Scopes Monkey Trial, which pitted evolutionary science against religious belief.

If that seems like a convoluted explanation of what Adam Ant's new record is all about, it's because the record itself is convoluted. His first new effort in 18 years, it's a comeback for Ant, who was a big star in the '80s. Personally, I've never understood that decade — its post-Roxy Music, post-Bowie obsession with silly costumes, stupid dances and white guys who thought it was hip to be square never interested me. But Ant made some of the era's more commercial music, and being a typical product of an English art school, he could draw storyboards for the videos that helped sell him to Americans — Americans who were enthralled by the costumes and makeup English groups favored back then.

Born Stuart Goddard in London in 1954, Ant saw The Sex Pistols play in the mid-'70s, and determined to follow them down the path of highly lucrative outrage. After making a rather arty debut album, Dirk Wears White Sox, Ant and his band (first known as The Antz) recorded 1980's Kings of the Wild Frontier. This album established Ant & Co. as New Romantics — I believe I've already mentioned the silly costumes and all the angst derived from obsessive listening to Roxy Music and Bowie albums.

After becoming a star in England, Ant conquered America — Huey Lewis simply couldn't compete with Ant on a visual level, though I believe Lewis provided the decade with its definitive anthem with his epochal "Hip to Be Square." In America, Ant hit with 1982's "Goody Two Shoes," a modified Ray Davies-style indictment of conformity. Ant also covered The Doors' "Hello, I Love You" on his Friend or Foe full-length, which proves the '80s really wanted to be the '60s, but wore the wrong kind of makeup.

From there, Ant's career went somewhat downhill — perhaps the best thing he did in the late '80s was play a heavy in Wayne Wang's 1988 post-film-noir movie Slam Dance, which features the slam dancers of the title paying homage in dirty Los Angeles to Ant, Bow Wow Wow and every other English post-punk musician who thought rock 'n' roll's Bo Diddley beat needed a little updating. It's not a bad movie — Tom Hulce plays a cartoonist, John Doe plays a corrupt cop, and Virginia Madsen looks great as Hulce's side woman.

Ant acquits himself well in Slam Dance — it's a minor entry in the list of '80s films about silly, misguided white guys in love with the seamy side of life that includes the great Street Smart and Something Wild. In 1990, Ant released a pretty good full-length, Manners & Physique, which he cut with former Prince associate André Cymone, and continued to record into the decade.

He came to Dayton in the late '90s, and married Lorraine Gibson there. Dividing their time between East Tennessee and London, Ant and his wife presumably soaked up Southern ambience during their two years in the Volunteer State.

Ant's new music is a super-eclectic advance over his old, and Blueblack Hussar references his time in Tennessee, his career and the proto-Bryan Ferry-style '60s rock star Vince Taylor — as Ant tells us, Taylor "never acted his age." It's better and more experimental than anything either Bowie or Shooter Jennings has done lately, and will provide plenty of subtext for anyone left today who still thinks it's hip to be square.

Email music@nashvillescene.com.

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