Adam and the Ants – ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’: Round 30 – Rob’s choice

This is the first record I ever bought. I was 9.

I may not have made many retrospectively cool choices as a child, teenager, adolescent or, to be comprehensive, adult, but I think having ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ as a first record and Public Image Limited as a first gig both stack up. Perhaps I should have quit back then. My cache was never higher and has been worn away gradually but relentlessly by a string of poor hair choices, ridiculous jumpers and, most recently, lyric-heavy choices for Devon Record Club. But enough about me.

The backstory is reasonably well known, but bears repeating. After a dark, sexy first album ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ which failed to make a commercial impact, Adam Ant hired Malcom McLaren to help his band break through. I guess they had a few conversations about pirates and then Malcolm, bless him, persuaded the entire band, minus Ant, to jump ship and form the backbone to Bow Wow Wow. Cheers!

It’s worth noting that very few of the horses McLaren backed during his time as a svengali actually romped home to victory. Even so, what happened next is delicious. Bow Wow Wow went on to middling success marked by bluster and controversy, mainly rooted in McLaren’s apparent willingness to exploit 15 year old Annabella Lwin’s sexuality to promote their records. Ant recruited a whole new band including, crucially, Marco Pirroni (briefly a member of Siouxsie and the Banshees), wrote a bunch of new songs and recorded ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ which went on to begin one of the oddest and most wonderful crossover smashes in pop history.

If you weren’t there it really is hard to grasp just how big Adam and the Ants were around the release of ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ and its follow-up ‘Prince Charming’. More noteworthy than just the fact of their success was the impact they had in the playground. In 1980/81 no school disco was complete without a small clique of lads wearing Adam Ant’s trademark white line across the nose. The pirate image clearly struck home with a younger audience, but when you factor in just how chart-unfriendly the material was, both musically with its aggressive, alien drumming and heaving vocals, and lyrically, all sex, death and insect invasions, we can only imagine what that generation of parents must have been thinking as they listened in outside our doors, and can only speculate on just how many youngsters had their musical and cultural outlook completely radicalised by this apparently throwaway bunch of pop dandies.

And now? The album’s high points still stand up. The clatter of ‘Antmusic’, the clubbing war cry of ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’, the creeping horror of ‘Ants Invasion’ and ‘Killer in the Home’. There are some tracks which seem clearly to have been written just to match the new image, step forward ‘Jolly Roger’, but in all it’s a pretty good listen and one which  can hold its own pretty well against some far more renowned albums of the first phases of post-punk and new wave.

Perhaps its main achievement was to show that genuinely challenging and downright weird music really could cause a breach in the fabric of pop. I can’t think of many acts to have equalled Adam and the Ants in this regard since. Frankie Goes to Hollywood? Eminem? Slipknot? Any more suggestions?

Tom Listened: Much like Simple Minds (see round 29) I came to Adam Ant at precisely the wrong time. Unlike Simple Minds and their turgid Dad rock, Adam Ant’s problem was an ever greater reliance on gimmicky imagery and style over substance. So having narrowly missed out on Stand and Deliver, my first exposure of him on returning from three years of life in the Antmusic free zone of the South Pacific was, if I remember correctly, the vapid self-parody of Puss in Boots. I was not impressed, even though my new found mates seemed to lap it up…if you’ll excuse the pun.

But Kings of the Wild Frontier sounded wonderful at DRC…fun, obviously, but much less throwaway than I had expected. Dog Eat Dog is a brilliant opener and having just watched a TOTP performance of it from 1980 it is easy to see why the band became so massive – there is a conviction of purpose and an edge that makes it totally captivating viewing and listening, these guys really do seem to think they’re…pirates!?! Whilst the album Rob brought (of course it’s not true that this was his first record, he just chooses not to count those Nolan Sisters albums) picked its singles wisely, there was surprisingly little filler and it offered an unexpectedly (to me) enjoyable end to the evening, although the cover of Antmusic by Hyno Love Wheel (?)  didn’t really add much to the experience!

Nick listened: Adam Ant was one of the first pop stars I was ever aware of – Stand And Deliver and Prince Charming are pretty indelibly burnt into my brain. But I don’t think I knew anything from before that (to be fair, I was only 2 years old when the Prince Charming album came out), and certainly wasn’t aware of his postpunk roots or involvement with Malcolm McLaren and the whole Bow Wow Wow saga. I’ve only heard Antmusic consciously in the last few years, but it’s a great piece of music, and Stuart Goddard was definitely onto something, as this whole album (bar the ostentatious pirate song towards the end) was great fun and impressive. Wasn’t so fussed by the cover after the original was so good, though!

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