By Chris Willman
Although three decades ago he was Britain’s biggest pop star, Adam Ant hasn’t put out an album in 17 years—an unproductive streak that comes to an end with a comeback album this week.
The inevitable “whatever happened to…” questions produce a more interesting than usual answer in Ant’s case: Several times, he’s been admitted to a psychiatric hospital—either of his own accord or by being “sectioned,” as they call involuntary commitment in England. “I’m a bit of a nutcase,” he told the Quietus this month.
His comeback album has an almost Fiona Apple-esque title: Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter, which frankly sounds like the kind of thing that someone might come up with during a manic episode. It’s a combination of naval/nautical slang phrases that, in their way, hark back to the new-wave days when Ant dressed up in glam-rock pirate regalia on the covers of albums like Kings of the Wild Frontier, the top-selling British record of 1981. Nowadays he tends to look like a more aged, but no less dapper, Johnny Depp.
Ant believes he’s doing a public service by openly discussing his mental illness as part of the new album’s publicity campaign. “They call it bipolar disorder—that’s the modern term,” he told the Telegraph. “It only means up and down; it used to be manic depression, black dog, whatever. It’s a subject surrounded by a lot of ignorance and taboo. Where I come from, there’s the poorhouse–and worse than that is the madhouse. You should never feel ashamed of it, but you do. A lot of the time you can’t take these problems even to close family because you fear that you’ll alienate them. So anyone in the public eye that comes forward and discusses it, I think it helps.”
Reviews in the UK press for Blueblack Hussar… have been mixed. The Independent gave it four out of five stars, opining that the album is “sprawling, overdue and not for everyone, but at least it's not a play-it-safe comeback with the hot producer of the day. And for that, the Hussar should be saluted.” A less pleased Contactmusic.com wrote that “17 tracks really is too long, particularly when those tracks are largely an uncoordinated mish mash of lo-fi punk throwback, drippy acoustic balladry, Casio keyboard industrial music interpretations and spaghetti western guitars.”
In a three-star review, the Guardian said, “The 17 tracks offer a rickety but entertaining mix of the best elements of his imperial period: tribal glam stomps, razor-slashed T Rex guitars, two-drummer Glitter beats, knowing homages to cult icons (Vince Taylor and Vivienne Westwood) and sex... While nothing quite reaches the dizzy heights of 'Antmusic,’ ‘Shrink’–a perhaps autobiographical romp about a man who needs medication to feel normal–is as riotous as he's sounded in three decades.”
In 1995, he released what looked for a long time like it might be his final album, Wonderful, whose title song peaked at an unremarkable No. 32 in his home country but did make it to No. 7 on the modern-rock chart in America.
He published an autobiography, Stand & Deliver, in 2006. Several spates of touring in Europe (and, briefly, America) in recent years resulted in mostly positive notices. And there is a forthcoming documentary, made by Jamie Reynolds of the Klaxons, which Ant describes as “quite raw and brutal... It culminates with me playing with Rod Stewart in Hyde Park in front of 100,000 people."