Barry Adamson: The Murky World of Barry Adamson

Barry Adamson
The Murky World of Barry Adamson

IN THE POST-DANCE world, imaginary soundtrack has become a ubiquitous term used mainly to describe what is, in most cases, simply ambient music. It's often tempting to dismiss it altogether. That is, unless the imaginary soundtracker in question has both the comic sensibility and wide-ranging musical sensibility of Barry Adamson. Former bassist for Manchester's late-'70s punk outfit Magazine, Adamson has long nurtured his dominant noir gene, most famously during an extended engagement with Nick Cave as bassist in both the Birthday Party and the Bad Seeds.

Yet while those bands offered wildly melodramatic versions of dark, post-Doors gloom, Adamson's solo projects--which have been appropriated, and, occasionally, commissioned, by the filmic likes of Allison Anders, David Lynch, and Oliver Stone--are much cheekier than his rock work. The pieces compiled on this '90s best-of were inspired by stylists as diverse as Bond soundtracker John Barry, spaghetti Western whiz Ennio Morricone, and Mission: Impossible theme composer, Lalo Schiffrin. And they brilliantly blur the visual associations that come with those legends' different aesthetics. When this record is at its best, you can practically see Sean Connery striding purposefully through a Sergio Leone Western.

In a sense, Adamson beat Portishead's Geoff Barrow to his game by almost a decade. Yet, unlike the singing of that group's Beth Gibbons, Adamson's hokey vocals hardly enhance the music he sets them to. The Murky World features too many examples of a deep, resonant growl that seems to work only when he's laying on the cheese. So while the mischievous "Jazz Devil" basks in lines like "You can play the instruments and I'll play the buffoon....You can call me Agent double-0 666," the crooning on "Can't Get Loose" sounds like a misguided stab at a lounge hit.

Fortunately, though, the album's heart lies in funny, bombastic cuts such as "Man with the Golden Arm" and "The Big Bamboozle," which deploy swaggering horns, pounded tympani, cocktail organ, and shredded guitar, for that "decadent" touch. If you're intrigued by the sounds of intrigue, you can do a lot worse than to begin here.

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