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Adam Ant - Adam Ant is The BlueBlack Hussar In Marrying The Gunner's Daughter

There's no doubt Adam Ant is The BlueBlack Hussar In Marrying The Gunner's Daughter, Adam Ant's first album in 17 years, is a sprawling and unpredictable affair. The BlueBlack Hussar in the title is the grown-up dandy highwayman 30 years on, battle scarred, while Marrying the Gunner's Daughter is a metaphor for his unfair treatment at the hands of the music industry. If the title is a strange one those familiar with Adam Ant's solo work will recognise some of the directions the album pursues: there's the ballads alongside some punky fifties inspired tracks, but there's also some hard as nails industrial rockers, as well as some rather off-the-wall moments.

His heyday as a pop superstar which brought "antmania" is unsurprisingly absent from most of this. At times, it's like listening to a compilation of unreleased material. There's a rawness and roughness to many of the recordings, which I suspect is due to the use of demo material, especially in the contributions from Morrissey's sideman (and Wonderful collaborator) Boz Boorer and long time writing partner Marco Pirroni, who shared in most of Adam's pop success. While a polished studio sheen is sorely missing from ...Gunner's Daughter, there's a flagrant honesty especially surrounding his ongoing battles with bipolar disorder. The Ants were always about breaking taboos and ...Gunner's Daughter tackles the "black dog" with brazen and disarming candour. The other thing that ...Gunner's Daughter shares with early Antmusic is in its infatuation with sex. Years of medication may have dulled the Ant's libido but it's clear it's back here and it runs rampant.

Things start well enough with the bluesy guitar twang of 'Cool Zombie', with Adam in fine form recalling his stay in Tennessee where in a curt admission he claims he was "not playing with a full deck". It's followed by the wiry post-punk mannerisms of 'Stay In The Game' which reminds of early Ants and the stark production of their debut album Dirk Wears White Sox. From then on it's an uneasy ride through some audacious and alarming territory.

That's most true of 'Marrying The Gunner's Daughter' which jerks along to a curious blend of frantic fuzz guitar and electro stabs with a rhythmic vocal delivery. The best I can say is that it features the first real roll of the double drummer sound that underpinned the Ants early chart success.

'Valentines' and 'Darlin' Boy' are some of the ballads co-written with Boz Boorer that feature on ...Gunner's Daughter. The stripped back arrangements ensure they don't reach the glossy heights of Adam's ballad work with Boz Boorer on Wonderful or even the Marco Pirroni tracks on Manners & Physique. Elsewhere, the twisted country of 'How Can I Say I Miss You?' captures the yelping warrior cry and guns-a-blazin' guitars of something like 'The Magnificent Five' from the Kings era, while 'Cradle Your Hatred', written with Chris McCormack, appears to speak of how his illness fucked up a past relationship.

...Gunner's Daughter makes reference to other musicians plagued by mental health issues too. 'Vince Taylor', which has featured in recent live sets with The Good, The Mad and The Lovely Posse, marks a highpoint in ...Gunner's Daughter but even here it lacks the punch of the live show or even the version performed on the Jools Holland BBC TV show. With a sleak sound that clashes fifties rock'n'roll with Adam's own 'Vive Le Rock' it pays tribute to the ill-fated, drug addled rock'n'roller, whose songs have been covered by groups as disparate as The Clash and Nurse With Wound. It appears Adam Ant has found an affinity with Vince Taylor: Taylor's 'Rock'N'Roll Station' has even figured as the intro music to Adam's live shows. 'Dirty Beast', meanwhile, speaks of Marvin Gaye on another ballad, amidst cooing tones and shimmering guitars with its "Think of Marvin and weep" lyric obliquely referencing the Motown legend's untimely end - shot dead by his father.

A stream of "pure sex" runs through 'Punkyounggirl' and the bizarrely titled 'Sausage'. With Marco's ringing distorted guitar, Adam's lo-fi vocal on 'Punkyounggirl' carries salacious sentiments - "lift up your skirt, let me lick the alphabet" - in relation to Kate Moss, the enduring Brit model. Both, however, never reach their full potential; with cheap drum machines and a production on a par with a demo tape it's a real missed opportunity. These could have been really good. The same is true of 'Hardmentoughblokes', a sneering garage rocker with Adam's Cockney barb taking a swipe at movie hardmen. It's good stuff, though, like early Ants crossed with the Stooges.

Well aware of his punk lineage, in recent interviews Adam Ant has been referring to himself as a punk, and ...Gunner's Daughter pays tribute to his punk mentors. His early friendship with fashion designer Vivienne Westwood is recalled on 'Vivienne's Tears', a plaintive styled ballad, co-written with Marco - who at one time could be found skulking around Malcolm and Vivienne's SEX shop on the Kings Road. It's followed by 'Who's A Goofy Bunny?' an affectionate tribute to the late Sex Pistols maverick manager Malcolm McLaren who provided Adam with valuable advice and an education, whilst simultaneously stealing his band for his next musical project, Bow Wow Wow. A demo version of 'Who's A Goofy Bunny?' can be found on the Prince Charming remaster, while an entirely remodelled version with horns appeared as 'Libertine' on Adam Ant's solo album Strip. This one is a loose, meandering jam as bewildering as the title which pokes fun at McLaren's protruding front teeth.

And while those tracks look back to the nascent days of the Ants, both 'Shrink' and 'Bulls**t', cowritten with Chris McCormack, take Adam Ant into new territory. From pulsing electronic throbs 'Shrink' bursts into surging industrial riffing. This is Adam Ant meets early Nine Inch Nails, "A fist in the skull worth two in the bush, You're feeling lucky right now, Or does your brain need a push? Is it just me or is it just medication?" he screams. It's fantastic stuff. By the end the old Ant audacity returns on the rollicking 'Bulls**t', where Adam Ant dusts down the warrior cry to take today's technological progress to task.

...Gunner's Daughter fills in the blanks between Adam Ant's last album and his well documented battle with bi-polar disorder. Sure, as a whole, it's incoherent and under produced but there are some good if not great moments. It also manages to place Adam Ant in a back-to-basics approach, on his own label, free of record company interference, with an unpredictable, intriguing set of tracks that sit closer with the work of pre-fame Ants rather than in the lineage of solo Adam Ant records. What he needs to do now is to follow this up with another album with his six piece band The Good, The Mad and The Lovely Posse harnessing the quality of his recent live shows - that play the hits alongside b-sides and other unreleased pre-fame classics such as 'Fat Fun', 'Rubber People', 'Lou' - with a producer capturing a consistency that is sorely absent from much of this. Don't get me wrong though, this is a worthwhile album and much better than expected. I'm more comfortable with ...Gunner's Daughter than most of the post Ants solo releases but I know, from the live shows I've seen, there's better to come. For more information go to www.adam-ant.net