Thursday, May 26, 2016
Adam and the Ants' Kings of the Wild Frontier
Adam and the Ants' Kings of the Wild Frontier first came to my attention shortly after its North American release by Epic Records in February 1981 and instantly became one of my favourite albums.
Its popularity soon spread among my peers and by that fall it formed part of the dressing room soundtrack for my high school football team. In retrospect, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that our team repeatedly went down to defeat at the hands of schools from small farming communities whose players got pumped up before games listening to heavy metal while my new wave teammates and I tried to do the same via Adam and the Ants, Jona Lewie and Landscape.
The face lost on the gridiron was (in my mind at least) more than made up for in musical taste, especially when it came to Kings of the Wild Frontier.
As its song lyrics suggested, this was "a new flavour" and "music for a future age." That future, however, arrived quickly in 1981 with a big and colourful splash after 1979's Dirk Wears White Sox debut fizzled commercially and a major lineup change ensued.
The arrival of percussionist Chris Hughes (using the pseudonym Merrick) and guitarist Marco Pirroni was key in the transformation of Adam and the Ants, as Hughes produced Kings of the Wild Frontier and Pirroni co-wrote all of its songs with lead singer Adam Ant.
The use of two drummers to propel the "Burundi beat" tribal rhythms, heavily reverbed guitar and Ant's unique vocals and lyrics made Kings of the Wild Frontier as innovative and refreshing as any album of the era. The vinyl was spun steadily on my turntable and my self-taped cassette version still received play in my former car until I finally had to junk it a few years back.
Now I finally have a digital version, as Sony Music/Legacy Recordings is releasing a deluxe Kings of the Wild Frontier on June 3 that includes the original album, B-sides, previously unreleased demo recordings and rough cuts, a previously unissued 1981 Chicago concert recording and rarities. Everything has been fully remastered from original tapes by Ant and Walter Coelho, and a vinyl LP version has also been pressed.
My advance digital copy also includes a short "Ants Invasion" video documenting the band's first American tour, the "Antmusic" and "Kings of the Wild Frontier" videos, a Top of the Pops performance of "Dog Eat Dog" and an Old Grey Whistle Test appearance. A DVD that I didn't receive includes a 1981 Tokyo concert and a few extra videos.
The songs still sound fresh 35 years after the fact and the remastered studio versions show how important Hughes was behind the mixing board when those tracks are listened to alongside the more sparse live renditions. The band became known for its visually impressive and charismatic performances, and energy is always evident even if musical virtuosity isn't.
I never saw Adam and the Ants and only caught Ant once with different backing musicians when he was well past his prime three years ago at Toronto's Phoenix Concert Theatre. Still, hearing some of the songs from this reissue performed live still gave me a thrill and had me singing along.
I was also impressed by the package's inclusion of B-side "Fall In," which was new to me and appealed with its blend of punk and power pop elements and a Beach Boys-like vocal hook.
The Chicago concert recording also offers some non-Kings of the Wild Frontier material in "Cleopatra" and "Cartrouble" from Dirk Wears White Sox as well as early single "Zerox" and "Cartrouble" B-side "Kick!" There's also the previously unreleased and playful "A.N.T.S.," an entertaining parody of The Village People's "Y.M.C.A."
Anyone of an age where Kings of the Wild Frontier was a new and cherished discovery when it came out will be pleased to know that their enjoyment of the album can only be enhanced by this deluxe edition. And for those who may not be familiar with what the "Antmusic" craze was all about, this is a great way to discover a sound that may have been relatively short-lived but still deserves to be heard and enjoyed today.