Adam Ant is the only artist to successfully straddle the punk, post-punk and pop landscapes with the latter becoming his wondrous kingdom for two years (1980 -1982).
Second LP Kings of the Wild Frontier released in November 1980 was notable for many things, for one the deployment of two drummers, inspired by the ‘Burundi Beat’. (Along with appropriating the Ants Mark I Malcolm McLaren would also ‘Zerox’ this idea for the nascent Bow Wow Wow).
Piqued, he retreated, reinvented and retaliated by applying a white stripe across his nose and feathers in his hair, distilling the spirit of the warrior/outlaw. His next move was to enlist ex-Banshee Marco Pirroni, together they set about producing this game-changing album, kick-starting the ‘Antmania’ that would enrapture girls and boys alike making Ant the biggest ‘pop’ star since Bolan (and arguably the last).
Meshing the drum-twosome with Morricone-twanging guitars the effect is mesmerising, an order to believe in a panoramic technicolour future instead of monochromatic mundane present (then as now). In one fell swoop Ant had arrived, cult outlier no more, the ‘Ant Invasion’ spearheaded by this new King.
Tonight is theatre as spectacle, pop as artifice, art as populace, image and innovation, dreams and desires realised as Ant, effortless style and enduring substance, (reminding Johnny Depp where his affected raffishness emanated from) commanding adoration and demanding attention. Fine of voice and expertly backed by the extraordinarily coiffed Jola (‘an albino Coldstream Guard’ was heard quipped) on one drum kit.
Featuring the lacerating and searing ‘Antmusic’ this self-referential manifesto is a powerful reminder of when music used to disdainfully look at its history, the generational urge to ‘rip it up and start again’. Ant’s instruction to ‘unplug the jukebox’ (with its anachronistic 1950s association) ‘and do us all favour, that music’s lost its taste so try another flavour’ at odds in these genreless and contextless hyper-consumptive times.
The prescient neo-liberalist anthem ‘Dog Eat Dog’ with its ‘succeed at all costs, do ANYTHING to get to the next level’ socially atomising mantra is depressingly topical. Sounding like The Shadows on peyote the titular ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ proclaims ‘a new Royal family, a wild nobility, we are the family’, 35 years on if only that was the case. The song seeks identification with the plight of the indigenous Native Americans, the last stand against the oppressive colonialist Uncle Sam super-structure, underneath the pale face we are all ‘red-skinned’. The (I)PC brigade would go ape with this nowadays.
‘Press Darlings’ is the barbed riposte to the cultural gatekeepers and vultural tastemakers that dared to question his ideals and vison, their pithy words keeping him at arms’ length from his expanding public. He who laughs last …
Hits follow: ‘Christian Dior’, ‘Goody Two Shoes’ and the ever outstanding ‘Car Trouble’ (from 1979’s Dirk wears white sox) with its (sexually metaphorical/metaphorically sexual) claim that ‘you don’t need anything after an ice cream’. Quite.
In due course the dynamic duo appear, 1981’s ubiquitous ‘Prince Charming’ with its ever reassuring refrain to society’s refused of ‘ridicule is nothing to be scared of’ and the dandy-highwayman anthem ‘Stand and Deliver’ both inspire a unanimous sing-along, still exquisite postscripts to the Kings LP, seamless and timeless.
The enigmatic figure on stage remains the pin-up that graced millions of walls. For ‘antmaniacs’ memories are made of this.