King of the mild frontier

Adam Ant's back, so unplug the jukebox and do us all a favor

Stuart Goddard, like so many of his British brethren who would later choose careers in music, began his career as an art-school dropout, fascinated with punk because it was as much about the packaging of image--torn clothing, men wearing makeup, performance art creeping into concert, treating the audience like shit--as about the noise of three chords strung together randomly till noise coalesced into song into Statement.

Goddard became part of the London punk crowd, born again on the screaming punk-rock of the Sex Pistols. In the fall of 1975, while fronting a '50s-fetished American greaser-styled rock band called Bazooka Joe, Goddard even had the opportunity to headline a bill on which the then-unknown Pistols opened.

That small fact, and that he would later hook up with the Pistols' impresario, Malcolm McLaren, cemented his place in the punk-rock history book as, at the very least, a footnote. (Unless that book was written by Dallas DJ-turned-author George Gimarc. Then he'd be a leading man.)

Goddard's first outings as a musician proved him to be a rather talentless, hamfisted songwriter fascinated with religious iconography and sexual perversion. He often wore bondage gear on stage and attacked audience members, and he revered David Bowie and Marc Bolan as much as John Lydon, becoming fascinated with the way each man assumed a different persona through which to make music.

And so, as Goddard immersed himself deeper into the underground, he revised and revamped himself, molding his influences into his own guise--and so was born the man now known as Adam Ant, which, at 40, Goddard still uses as his moniker.

"There were people like Roxy Music, who presented a whole idea, a whole vision, a whole look, a whole sound, a whole attitude," Ant says now. "Or early Bowie or T. Rex or even Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, who, I think, made one of the best seminal albums for punk with the first Modern Lovers album that had 'Road Runner' and 'Pablo Picasso.' Or the Ramones, or Debbie Harry and Blondie. I saw the New York Dolls when I was young, and that really influenced me because I didn't know where that was from because they looked great and they sounded better. It was a life-changer."

After a series of singles, a starring role in Derek Jarman's punk homage/kiss-off film Jubilee, and an indie release (Dirk Wears White Sox, later reissued on Epic), Adam and his Ants hit paydirt with Kings of the Wild Frontier in 1980, which would knock the Who's Face Dances out of the Number One slot in England's pop charts. Built upon a series of clever gimmicks--two drummers pounding out a tribal beat, riffs and lines stolen wholesale from various spaghetti Westerns, war paint replacing the eyeliner of glam-rockers past--Kings of the Wild Frontier subverted punk's dangerous elements into something kinkier, sex and S&M imagery replacing politics at his manifesto.

"Antmusic for sexpeople, sexmusic for antpeople," Ant chanted, presumably ushering in a new sound to replace the old one. He led the charge of the lightweight brigade that was the second British Invasion, leading hordes of new wave bands that would storm American radio in the early '80s--acts like Culture Club, Flock of Seagulls, Gary Numan, Thomas Dolby, ABC, and so many more bands bred on punk's iconography (if not its sound) and images. The punk became the pop star, and in an instant, through such venues as MTV and its low-rent counterpart MV3 (available in 1982 to homes without MTV), Adam and the Ants and a whole host of British pop acts provided the sound track to an era, as inescapable on radio as commercials.

"MTV made music more accessible--people see music now as much as they hear it," Ant says. "I thought it was a time to exploit what MTV gave me to be theatrical, and the sort of work I was doing then was very focused on that. Video could capture some kind of fantasy world for people and make it very accessible."

Following Kings of the Wild Frontier, Ant released a handful of mediocre albums (Prince Charming, Friend or Foe, Vive Le Rock) and absolutely dreadful and dismissible records (Strip, Manners and Physique). With each successive release, Ant faded further from memory, an MTV creation forgotten as soon as the set was turned off. He became the dandy highwayman of which he sang, dolled up in puffy shirts and eyeliner and styling mousse, hiring Phil Collins as his producer and bringing in a string section. His career stalled quicker than a '53 Olds with a bad carburetor and old plugs, with Ant plunging into a series of B-grade film roles and a four-year period in which MCA Records killed a whole record (Persuasion, recorded with Cameo's Larry Blackmon and Chic's Bernard Edwards) and finally bumped him right off the label and onto his ass.

But, like Lazarus back from the dead, Adam Ant has been resurrected through the strength of one single, "Wonderful," which is in moderate rotation on modern-rock radio and on the cable dance-party station that made the former Stuart Goddard a very wealthy man more than a decade ago. And it's quite deserving, damn it all: the song is catchy and moving where Ant's most recent material has been lifeless and sterile, driven by the warmth of the acoustic guitar instead of the ice-cold dance beats of 1990's Manners and Physique. It may not set the world aflame, but it's hardly lethal.

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