Ah, good ole Adam Ant – the Prince of New Romanticism. His records got me through some of grunge’s more overbearing periods in the mid-90’s when I needed a break from the distortion and angst.
Kings of the Wild Frontier, released in 1980, was the second and penultimate album by the UK New Wave/Post Punk act, Adam and the Ants (though the first after the original ‘Ants’ went off to form Bow Wow Wow). It also served as their major label debut with CBS Records (and Epic in the US, who would then repackage their first album, albeit slightly ‘butchered’).
Before we get into the sounds, special mention needs to go to the album cover. CBS decided to go with the “just take a picture of a video still and call it a day” approach. They did the same thing with the aforementioned reissue of Dirk Wears White Sox and Ant’s solo debut, Friend or Foe. I supposes it’s sufficient, but remains about as exciting to look at as a spoiled banana.
The majority of this album is dominated by a stampede of percussion (what you may call a “Burundi beat” if you were editing Wikipedia). Employing two distinct drum tracks for selections such as “Dog Eat Dog” and the title track gave them a delightfully ferocious feel about them, as if I was about to be trampled by their music. It’s all wonderfully barbaric.
Lyrically, Adam & The Ants focus on themselves for inspiration on a number of tracks, but particularly for the album’s third and most celebrated single, “Antmusic”. I forgot how enjoyable this song is: the hypnotic clacking of the drumsticks, the amusingly boastful lyrics (“unlpug the jukebox and do us all a favour, that music’s lost its taste so try another flavour”) and the deft guitar work of Adam’s forever collaborator, Marco Pirroni. Take a listen:
More of the high points of this album include their silly ode to Clint Eastwood, “Los Rancheros”, their contribution to science fiction with “Ants Invasion”, their goofy ‘dance’ number “Don’t Be Square (Be There)” (which name-drops the title of their previous album, Dirk Wears White Sox, numerous times), Adam’s criticism of tabloid journalism, “Press Darlings” (summing up with “and they tell fibs”) and the bizarre pirate shantey, “Jolly Roger”.
It’s notable to point out that the second-to-last track “Physical (You’re So)” was later covered by Nine Inch Nails for their 1995 EP Broken. I was never that into this song. It’s a brutish bit of hard rock, that’s for sure. But, standing in contrast to the rest of the album, it never grabbed me like it should. Apologies to NIN fans.
It’s odd I didn’t give this album more attention back when I was embracing the Adam Ant discography. It may possibly be the best one. Combining the outstanding production, the unique implementation of the Burundi Beat (thanks again, Wikipedia) and lyrics that teeters back-and-forth between silly and clever yields an album that everyone must hear at least once (but preferably more).