Bad, Bad Barry Adamson
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this artist distills multiple generations of cinematic and musical cool into one slick oeuvre.
By Eugene S. Robinson
Cool’s a funny thing. Madison Avenue is obsessed with marketing it, we’re obsessed with buying it and, if we’re going to be even a little bit truthful about things, it’s what guides a hell of a lot of what we do here on planet Earth between the ages of 8 and 80. Not specifically being cool but chasing it. True cool, though, isn’t something you work at: It’s the beauty of effortless élan. Which may be why musician Barry Adamson’s total disregard for “cool” is one of his more endearing qualities.
Adamson was 10 years old when he produced his first song in his hometown of Manchester, England, 10 years before punk rock moved him to London. Over 46 years, seven bands, 16 solo records and eight soundtracks, this musical polymath has poured a lot of hard work into his coolly structured sounds, whether he’s been on bass, drums, keys, percussion or vocals. Commenting on his career from backstage on Nick Cave’s European tour, where Adamson has retaken his spot as one of the Bad Seeds, he says that even as a kid, “I was immersive. All in.” No matter how many instruments or genres he’s tried on, the commitment was always the same. “Whether I was dressed as the Beatles or Batman,” he says.
He’s an added ingredient in the chemical chain.
Steve Gullick, photographer
Music journalist Stevie Chick says Adamson sees “the world sonically,” in terms all “widescreen, Panavision, sweeping and grand and dramatic, pock-marked with post-punk sensibility, squall and sleaze, infecting the grandiose with a little personal sickness.” When you listen to almost anything he’s written, played on or produced, it bristles with this same wide sense of sonic completeness, the songs slinking into a distinctly Adamson quality that melds sound with the suggestion of image. Consider his redux version of “The Man With the Golden Arm,” drawn from the great 1955 Frank Sinatra flick about junkies, or his 2014 short film The Swing The Hole and The Lie, a self-described golf-noir thriller. Both play at the meeting point of visual and aural.
It’s a vantage point that’s been distinctly useful in Adamson’s work with directors such as Derek Jarman, Danny Boyle, Oliver Stone and David Lynch, or even the video game designers he’s found common cause with. In late 2014 Adamson took on an art installation as the composer for an “imaginary screen version” of Berg, a rediscovered novel by Ann Quin. Photographer Steve Gullick says he has told people Adamson is his favorite subject. “Barry knew the camera and what it was thinking and made the camera see him right. He’s an added ingredient in the chemical chain.”
For this year’s Record Store Day, on April 18, Adamson has a sneak release teed up. Characteristically cagey, he says his photo project delving into American nooks and crannies, presently titled Know Where to Run, will pair with “Texas Crash,” a single from his as-yet-unnamed September album release as part of his “photo-album” idea.
For now, we’re obsessed with “Straight ’til Sunrise” off his Back to the Cat album (2008). It’s both a send-up and a loving tribute to the kind of lounge music that, once upon a time, people didn’t mock. Drink deep.