Donning war paint, a 17th-century waistcoat and leather pants, Adam Ant
is back to remind us that he’s still a showman and stylistic insurgent.
The performer born Stuart Goddard emerged with his Ants in the post-punk scene of the 1970s but didn’t cross over to mega-stardom in the U.S. along with peers like the Clash and Blondie. Ant’s songwriting was too literate and eccentric for our mainstream; too baroque for the punk elite. Critics preferred the detached appeal of the Talking Heads, even if Adam and the Ants was no less eclectic and syncopated. “I was just a kid from a council flat that grew up watching films about cowboys and Indians,” Ant said in an emailed statement. “Somebody gave me a book called The Gospel of Redman
. It was a kind of Edwardian publication, which explained the philosophy of Native Americans, and I felt that their attitude towards nature and towards everything appealed to me more than any orthodox religion. I liked their ideas of honor … We were critically slaughtered when we started — we were the band you loved to hate. I felt we were outsiders and we had to come out fighting like warriors.”
Songs about S&M and Cleopatra’s “wide mouth” added kinkiness to his band’s 1979 debut, Dirk Wears White Sox
. Kings of the Wild Frontier
followed in 1980, garnering critical praise and charting a No. 2 hit in the UK with “Antmusic.” The milestone ushered in a new pop amalgam with its hybrid of tom-heavy Burundi and Native American tribal rhythms — and a flourish of guitarist Marco Pirroni’s Link Wray-esque glissandos and Wild West riffs. Prince Charming
, the Ants’ third and final album, followed in ’81 with “Stand and Deliver” peaking at No. 1 on the UK charts, but didn’t match the critical success of Kings
. “Prince Charming” itself repeats a mantra for Ant’s misfit indignation: “Ridicule is nothing to be scared of.”
Ant broke up the band in 1982 and enjoyed some solo success with hits like “Goody Two Shoes” — his first single to land in the American Top 40 — and “Strip.” In the late ’90s he went on hiatus. A publicized bout with mental illness and a rift with bandmate/collaborator Pirroni followed, but Ant is back guns a-blazing with a heady 2013 release, Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter
, and all-new co-ed band, The Good, The Mad & The Lovely Posse. They headline the Palladium in St. Pete this Friday.
“I’ve noticed women coming up to me who said I was their idol when they were teenagers, and now they’re bringing their teenage daughters,” Ant said with a laugh during a recent phone interview. The singer was warm and cordial but tended to stick to talking points about Hussar
The biographical double album is as busy in styles as its name is toothsome, at times head-scratching in its eclecticism, but impressive nonetheless as it culls from bluegrass, pop and punk while conjuring Adam and the Ants’ signature tribal beats, delivered with a double-drum attack. Lead-off track “Cool Zombie” reflects upon Ant’s brief marriage to the mother of his daughter in rural Tennessee. “I’ve gone back to Kings of the Wild Frontier
and thought, ‘What would the young Hussar look like 30 years later, if he’s been through the wars?’”
“‘Marrying the gunner’s daughter’ is archaic nautical slang for being tied across a cannon and flogged,” he explained. Nowadays Ant doesn’t let the record companies whip him into shape. He runs his own label on a conservative budget — “I’m a cottage industry and that suits me fine.”
Ant’s disapproval of the mainstream hasn’t changed. “I don’t go in for the current phase of pop music, rap and R&B — it’s not my cup of tea. The top singles today are in the hands of people performing karaoke live, singing over sampled tracks.”
Ant is also frank about his struggles with bipolar disorder, which nearly derailed his career. Ant and other British celebrities, such as Ab-Fab’s Joanna Lumley, have been involved in SANE’s Black Dog Project, erecting personalized black canine sculptures throughout London to foster awareness of mental illness as a medical condition.
Symptoms of bipolar include excessive, attention-grabbing behavior and an uncontrollable sex drive. The 58-year-old pop rebel who once jumped on tables and made scenes — like the arrest that involved a hold-up with a toy gun 10 years ago — takes his meds now and is more subdued. During his September 2012 concert at Tampa’s Hard Rock, he moved about the stage a good deal less than in his younger years — the mixed blessing of being a saner, older and more mature Hussar.