Wednesday, 4 June 2008

BARRY ADAMSON: Civilization

It's rather hard to equate the deceptively charming fellow that is Barry Adamson with the psychosexual omnivore who consumes his trail in the course of Back To The Cat, his newest album. Like all of his previous ones, this story seems to unfold - and then fold back into itself, and not always in the expected order - in a darkness which might be physical night or the end of the rope of his soul. But here, Adamson - mainly featured as a subtly extrovert, skilfully breathing, manically curling vocalist - ups the rhythmic and emotional ante. As ever, there is a circularity to the story; the record begins and ends in the "Beaten Side Of Town"; he has woken up from a "crazy" but clearly bloody dream (as evidenced by the red print in the CD case), but has he? That blood and death are involved is beyond question, but whose blood, and what sort of death?

As the title of an earlier Adamson album had it, this is in part about "soul murder" and in other part an extended exercise in seeing just how far Adamson can get away with exploting and mutating standard memes of song; "Straight 'Til Sunrise" sees him fleeing the end of an affair, but what were those words he put in her head, and why does he feel like the slain one? Despite the cheerful Talk of the Town horn-driven thrust of the song and Adamson's merry delivery, the scene is not free of threat - "If I get high, all your assets are mine"...

The memories and present all seem jumbled up; the split occurs on track five, "I Could Love You," a staggering post-"Faithless" (the Scritti one) deconstruction of the torch ballad which methodically works its way up to a terrifying and piercing extended scream of "CRY" (the most frightening "Cry" in pop since Godley and Creme's), but track three, "Spend A Little Time," finds him digging up the garden and quoting Schopenhauer, Freud and Jung. Similarly, "People" is a leisurely gospel tract which finds Adamson, possibly already engulfed in an apocalyptic fire of his own making, concluding that "people are dumb" and preparing to jump into the ocean - only to find, in the concluding "Psycho Sexual" (pounded along by Tobias Mudlow's extraordinary free guitar commentary), that he might have woken up, but the dream is a loop and he ends up running into himself again.

Nothing here quite ends as it starts; pieces like "Shadow Of Death Hotel" and "Flight" create their own traffic jams, much aided by the excellent playing of the horn section, including long-term Westbrook associate Peter Whyman on alto, begin comfortingly but end up asp-needled. The key track, though, is the seemingly joyous "Civilization," which starts in apt hallelujah style as Adamson gleefully sings of his wish to bring light to the world if only he can get home to "meet my baby's needs." But nothing goes as it plans; he strolls into town and is immediately arrested and beaten by the police (shots ring out, but their purpose or shooters are not identified); he ends up bitter, in prison, with a pack of cigarettes to keep breathing, having killed someone else in apparent self defence...and thus the mechanism of creating a terrorist: now he wants to darken the world for rejecting and subjecting him to this uncalled for (from his perspective) state of affairs, when all he was simply trying to do was meet his baby's needs rather than wanting to be this "hybrid of the beautiful and damned." Unsettling, quixotic and aleatoric - business as (un)usual, then.