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Back to the Cat

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Album Review

Throughout his solo career, Barry Adamson has relentlessly pursued a muse that appeared on his first full-length solo offering, Moss Side Story, released in 1989 — six full years before David Holmes' This Film's Crap, Let's Slash the Seats. At that time, Adamson began composing and recording his influential "soundtrack in search of a film" strategy. He's composed scores for a number of cinematic works as well; most notably David Lynch's Lost Highway. Adamson's seven previous full-lengths approached notions of noir, lounge, rock, funk, soul-jazz, and blues, with a gleefully morose, playfully grotesque, and comic book-like sense of violence, in a new mythology. With 2006's Stranger on the Sofa, Adamson took to handling many instrumental and sound sculpting responsibilities without much help. Back to the Cat is, in some ways a full-circle return to the motivating factors behind Moss Side Story — named for the violent part of Manchester he grew up in — and the EP that preceded it, The Man with the Golden Arm. The previous records were both deeply referential composed works indulging cinematic obsessions Adamson has held all his life. Here, he gathers those experiences as a composer, and adds the depth and breadth of an accomplished songwriter as well. Here, Adamson plays a slew of instruments, does most of the arrangements, and produces, creates, and edits his own samples. He also recruited some excellent help: a four-piece horn section, and a rhythm section with Nick Plytas on B-3 and piano, bassist Iain Ross, and swinging drummer Johnny Machin.Back to the Cat is a collection of delightfully sleazy songs and interludes that meld lounge jazz, Rat Pack pop, roots rock, and spy movie/noir thriller film themes. We get to accompany his protagonists through an aural cinema comprised of obsessive yet likeable if odious archetypes: guttersnipe hustlers, spies, junkies, sexual predators, victims, and musical, literary, and cultural heroes.

The brooding synth and drum kit, the slow, West Side Story-esque finger pops, and the snaky little oboe-like phrase introduce the opener, "The Beaten Side of Town." Adamson's narrator appears here too. His voice is a decadent cross between Scott Walker imitating Jacques Brel and interpreting Frank Sinatra singing Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht! What's so utterly beguiling about Adamson's vocal ability is that he delivers a terminal hipster's cool in the heart of darkness in a dirty, smoky, dingy and dangerous blind pig. His last words in this raucous jazz number are ironic: "The beaten side of town/And I'm goin down." They're almost a growl, as this keeper of the netherworld — a low-life Orpheus — opens the gates to a nocturnal adventure where everything's turned on its head. Adamson's protagonist knows the way even if he can't predict the outcome. "Shadow of Death Hotel" has funky, loping rock guitar meets Memphis soul in a heat-seeking B-3, bass, drums, and horns going on. Halfway through it becomes a balls-out garage rocker helmed by an evil, Elvis worshipping hepcat, before it shapeshifts again into a flute-driven soul-jazz groover. But it's a really a broken crooner's love song! "Walk on Fire" contains fat, funky, wah-wah guitars and stinging horns; they advertise brazen sexual neediness in the lyric. It sounds like Duane Eddy playing with John Barry with Lux Interior on vocals. The acid-drenched Serge Gainsbourg-esque jazz of "Psycho_Sexual," brings the bleary-eyed dawn in the aftermath of a night's wild excess; it signals the end of Adamson's orgiastic journey of a night on the beaten side of town. Back to the Cat is a mind-blowing work of musical sophistication. Adamson is a startlingly gifted storyteller — in sound, word, and mythology, both arcane and contemporary. His achievement is worlds beyond what most songwriters/composers could accomplish in a career, let alone a single album.


Born: June 01, 1958 in Moss Side, Manchester, England

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Barry Adamson's work as a bassist for Magazine and Nick Cave's Bad Seeds gave little indication of the complex, cinematic works he has composed as a solo artist. After leaving the Bad Seeds in 1987, Adamson decided to follow the path of film composers like John Barry, Ennio Morricone, and Bernard Herrmann, whose work had intrigued him since childhood. His first full-length album, 1989's Moss Side Story (he had released one previous EP in 1988), was a tour de force, blending post-punk, industrial,...
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