Song of the Week: Kings of the Wild Frontier, by Adam & the Ants

Song of the Week: Kings of the Wild Frontier, by Adam & the Ants

After a particularly difficult half of sophomore year at USC, I dropped out of college. The music education I had been receiving was challenging, inspiring, and led to some solid friendships that still remain rewarding, but the environment was not for me.  So I left, headed back to Boston, got an apartment on Commonwealth Ave. in Allston, and re-launched the band I had joined high school, this time with the objective of world domination on our minds.  We mostly just dominated Bunratty’s, and on Sunday nights at that, but we learned, grew, and eventually grew apart.

Kings of the Wild Frontier LP

Kings of the Wild Frontier LP

More importantly, those were the years when my limited teenage musical interests finally loosened their hold on my brain and I began greedily consuming music from wild and varied corners.  I was fortunate to live just down the street from a used music store called CD Spins and I would spend hours in the tiny basement shop on days off, scouring the racks looking to maximize the tiny remainder of my low-level cook’s paycheck.  The best way to do this at the time was with cassettes.  The little crappy-sounding rectangles were on the outs and most stuff could be had for $2 or less.  And so it was, one day, that I bought all three Adam & the Ants albums in one go.  The Ants’ videos had been revolutionary in the early days of MTV (here I go again, I know) and while not every song had grabbed me in my very metal youth, I had become obsessed with “Antmusic” and the band was playing it at our difficult covers gigs (good money, but were were usually not asked back because we played “hit bands’ music, but not their big hits.”).

As I drove around Boston in my secondhand Camry, I would crank these tapes and marvel at the unusual sounds pumping out of my tinny speakers.  At first I was drawn to Dirk Wears White Sox, with its more ragged punk flavor and curious lyrics, at one moment obliquely extolling the virtues of bondage and the next questioning (or mocking) God’s very existence. But it wasn’t long before the insistent Burundi-beat-driven genius of Kings of the Wild Frontier captivated my attentions.  Adam’s collaboration with then-new guitarist Marco Pirroni would prove to be an inspired union, with the pair delivering three great records before running out of steam.

While I never stopped listening to Adam & the Ants (I upgrade my collection to vinyl a few years after this deluge) I finally picked up the remastered CD last week and am finding the album to be as strong as it ever was.  I remember when the first of many (too many, really) Ants hit collections was released, a reviewer slammed it as sounding dated.  I wonder what century she thought it recalled because, funny thing about Kings of the Wild Frontier, it sounds like nothing else at all.  Sure, it has hints of influence – most notably Ennio Morricone – and shares some contemporariness with Siouxsie & the Banshees but as a whole, it is absurdly unique. Driven in part by Adam’s schizophrenic lyrical inspiration, the record presents a wild mash-up of cowboy & indian myths, regrettable elective surgery, sex, all wrapped in huge guitars and ceaseless polyrhythms and capped with the punk-rock war cry of “the past is dead.” And amidst all this it defies reason by being unstoppably catchy.  EVERY song on this album is a pop gem, and therein lies its uniqueness.  Kings of the Wild Frontier may well be the most original pop record of the 80s, if not ever.  Not the most original overall work, perhaps, but insofar as it is pop music with hit after hit and no clearly identifiable precedent OR antecedent, I think it is rather a wonder of the modern pop age.  Add to that Adam’s fearlessly flamboyant image and you had a band that defines the rise of the video age as much as Duran Duran does.

And so this week’s song of the week is actually an album of the week.  If you’re looking for one song, the title track is a good start (tied, perhaps with Dog Eat Dog and Antmusic), but I heartily recommend the entire work.  Longtime favorite.  Adam is apparently attempting a comeback of sorts, after spending most of the 2000s in mental institutions.  I wish him all the best.

Adam & The Ants - Kings of the Wild Frontier