Barry Adamson – Oedipus Schmoedipus/Stranger On The Sofa/Back To The Cat/Steal Away Re-issues (Mute)

Barry Adamson is the king of sleaze. A man of mystery who has crept stealthily through the past few decades wearing many masks, lending his multi-faceted talents to many disciplines, as musician, band leader, soundtrack composer and arranger he has nestled secretly at the heart of many innovative creations, from the post-punk explosion of Magazine and the Buzzcocks, through the dark gothic invocations of Nick Cave, to the strange Hollywood flip- sides of David Lynch, and his own sample- heavy John Barry inspired noir soundscapes. Not only that but he’s always so dapper, and can warble his way through a fair few decent tunes, his rich honey voice dripping with humour and irony, with a good pun always at the ready. His back catalogue, which extends as far back as 1989’s “Moss Side Story”, is getting a well-deserved re-issue treatment, with all the coloured vinyl gloriousness, and here we have 4 of his finest, stretching from his breakthrough Oedipus Schmoedipus from 1996, all the way up to a 2019 EP Steal Away. Expect much in the way of finger clicking, jazz infused feculencesleaze from the city’s back street haunts, and soundscapes of rich intensity always delivered with a knowingly amused drawl. 

Oedipus Schmoedipus from 1996 was the album that, for me, established Adamson as an artist in his own right, and not just a shadowy figure behind the curtain of some of the greatest music to have come out in the previous two decades. His previous album “Soul Murder” (1992) was nominated for a Mercury music prize (whatever that means), but despite that “Oedipus Schmoedipus” remains the one that stands out amongst his earlier work, not least because of the heavy-breathing talents of one Jarvis Cocker on “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Pelvis”, and the completely James Bond/John Barry inspired “The Big Bamboozle”, but every song has some establishing of what have become his trademarks. Vibes and saxophone ooze sleaze on “The Vibes Ain’t Nothing But The Vibes” and “In A Moment Of Clarity”. Big funky dance slabs light up “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Pelvis” and “Achieved In The Valley Of Dolls”, with beautiful guest vocals by Billy Mackenzie, and the song “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, with its sixties inspired organ grooves, featured in David Lynch’s “Lost Highway”. Add in the Nick Cave co-written and sung  “The Sweetest Embrace” and this album has pretty much got it all. 

The opening track on 2006’s “Stranger On The Sofa”, featuring the award-winning actress Anna Chancellor reciting a strange science fiction inspired voice-over on a chilling string/sample, opensing the way for a broader approach to his work, which pivots between the modern glitch soundscapes of songs like “Free Love”, pointing to the fact that before Massive Attack and the Bristol sound there was Mr. Adamson with his atmospheric film noir, through to the Dylan-like “The Long Way Back Again”. Elsewhere the songs veer between the creeping jazz stylings to up-tempo filth- pop, sounding like early Eno, especially in songs like “Officer Bentley’s Fairly Serious Dilemma”, which features some exemplary bass playing, as one would expect from someone who used to play in Magazine. Finger clicks and big Hammond organ, flute and sax are on display again on “Who Killed Big Bird” and “Dissemble”, and the very gorgeous “The Sorrow And The Pity” and “Inside Of Your Head” show why he is so much in demand as a film composer. 

The opening track on 2008’s “Back To The Cat”, with its prowling upright bass, was used on the soundtrack to the computer game “Alan Wake”, complete with car horns blaring and muted trumpets “The Beaten Side Of Town” sets out his stall early, as we are treated to the playful pop side of the man, though obviously still sleazy and tramping very much the wild side of town, as it crawls up back streets looking for a beat-up dive to drown its sorrows, it does so with a swagger. The swagger is very much to the fore on “Straight Till Sunrise” and “Your Front Garden”, while the blaring trumpets and funky soul of “Shadow Of Death Hotel” and “Walk On Fire” push the slime of a dark city-scape into the foreground. Songs like “I Could Love You” and “Civilisation” are classic soul tunes complete with blaring brass sections and church organ refrains, and along with the dirty growls of “Psycho Sexual”, this is not only an album for everyone, and his most “commercial”, but possibly the most cohesive listen of all his albums. 

That leaves us with the 2019 EP.  “Let’s Steal Away” and “The Climber” almost venture into country, albeit more Johnny Cash than Dolly Parton. However, they are saved by the fiery shuffle of “Sundown County”, and “Broken Moments” is just sublime pop, the kind of song it would be so easy to fall in love too. 

I hope these re-issues go some way to establishing Barry Adamson as one of our greatest artists, and one who has so much depth and many strings to his bow. A great musician, artist, writer, singer and arranger. A real renaissance man and a national treasure. God bless the old sleazebag! 

Andrew Wood / /

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