Adam and the Ants

Antbox (Columbia Records, UK)

Stuart Goddard's been out of sight for so long it's tempting to let him remain there--good-bye, good rubbish, good God, does anyone still care? Last anyone heard from the bloke he was in the hospital, fending off rumors of depression and suicide attempts; hell of a way to ring in the new year, trying to convince a world that's forgotten about you that you haven't quite finished with it. Imagine the headlines had he offed himself: "Adam Ant squashes self" or, better yet, "Antmusic for dead people." Worse still, imagine the obituaries that surely would have dismissed Goddard as a king of the wild frontier long ago dethroned and banished to the where-are-they-now hinterlands. Maybe there would have been a few mentions about how, in recent years, he was claimed as an influence by the likes of Nine Inch Nails (who invited him onstage and covered his "Physical (You're So)" on its 1993 BrokenEP) and Elastica (who likewise nicked "Cleopatra"); maybe there'd have been a few mentions of his acting career as well, for the completists who recall those Equalizerand Northern Exposureepisodes. But one imagines a brief send-off for the man best known for proclaiming himself a dandy highwayman who spends all his cash on looking flash. History's treated musicians far better than him far worse. And maybe Goddard deserves his piss-poor rep: How does one trust a man who, within only a few years, goes from headlining a bill featuring up-and-cummers the Sex Pistols to working with Phil Collins? One good betrayal deserves another.

So how, then, do Adam and his Ants merit a three-disc boxed set, featuring among its 64 tracks some 27 unreleased songs and all 22, ahem, hits? (It's a UK-only release, but easily purchased through amazon.co.uk and other Internet music retailers.) Maybe he's got pics of Sony execs leathered and lathered; maybe it's a cry for help. Or maybe it's his way of proving there was depth to the shallow product he and cohort Marco Pirroni churned out during the late 1970s and early '80s. Think of it as his reclamation project, a stab at salvaging whatever respectability Prince Charming can dredge up from the bottom of history's dustbin. Shockingly, it does the job: It's hard not to listen to Antbox, at least its first two discs, without wondering why history never treated Adam and the Ants with more respect. Must have been the makeup.

Disc One proves Goddard was no dilettante, not just another art-school flunky playing glam-rock dress-up for the punk-rock poseurs. If the history books never took him seriously, perhaps it's because Goddard and his early Ants never fit in: They were too musical and melodic for the punks, too freaky and fetishistic for the pops. Goddard wanted to be Johnny Rotten andBryan Ferry--a punk in eyeliner, a romantic in bondage pants, a heartbreaker singing about the rubber people (they're "lovely people...charming people") and S&M freaks (carrying a "Whip in My Valise") and chubby chasers (on the lookout for some "Fat Fun"). The band sounded like its pals in X-Ray Spex (beloved icons, at least among those who've never heard Poly Styrene), even now conjures fond memories of Entertainment-era Gang of Four (or is that Wire? or Stiff Little Fingers?), and had a good laff despite the fact tin-eared cynics knocked their no-wave as no-fun. (Goddard does a smirky Perry Como impression on "Lady/Catch a Falling Star," the single Decca wanted but couldn't have, and "Lou" is either an homage to L. Reed or L. Costello.) But somehow only George Gimarc took them seriously pre-Kings of the Wild Frontier, meaning by the time the Ants invaded the top of the pops, they already had an expiration date: day after yesterday.

The second disc, top-notch start to near-finish, contains all the hits: the Burundi-beat, Morricone-manic singles ("Antmusic," "Dog Eat Dog," "Los Rancheros"...fine, pretty much all of Kings worth keeping); "Stand and Deliver" and "Prince Charming," not to mention the cotton-ball, horny-horns likes of "Friend or Foe," "Place in the Country," "Goody Two Shoes" and "Strip," the latter of which was banned in England, presumably because listening to it causes hoof-and-mouth disease. (Disc Two's been released about three times under various monikers, all alleged best-ofs.) Notable are the "Rancheros" and "Stand" demos, the previously unreleased "A.N.T.S." (an homage-knockoff of "Y.M.C.A." that proves, once and for all, how close to disco this "punk" always was), and at least two songs that sound like something imported from New Orleans via Hong Kong (very cool).

But it all collapses come Disc Three, which collects singles and outtakes from Vive Le Rock(ironically named, likely), Manners and Physique(never heard it, never heard ofit) and Wonderful, which isn't (though the single's likable, if you go for twee and dull). Too bad MCA wouldn't fork over anything from the unreleased 1992 Persuasion (the album Goddard recorded with Cameo and Chic members), but maybe it's a favor considering he recorded it with Cameo and Chic members. There's no denying, though, that Goddard was, for a brief moment, kind of a genius: the punk idol who wrote catchy pop songs, the performance artist who spent millions to make millions, the boytoy who made makeup macho for but a moment. Spend the cash for discs one and two, toss out the third and wonder if history isn't too hard on everybody.

 
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