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Barry Adamson - Back to the Cat

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Artist: Barry Adamson

Album: Back to the Cat

Label: Central Control

Review date: May. 7, 2008

If there's a common thread to what Barry Adamson has brought to music over the last 30 years, it's a sense of drama. Stylistically, he's all over the place – Back to the Cat, like the last few, ranges between jazzy IDM and ornate pop productions. His earliest band, Magazine, distinguished themselves from post-punk crowd with their theatrical take on paranoia. Tensely funky like many of their peers, they were far more dynamic. Their knack for sweeping riffs allowed them to create panoramic crescendos in a style known for claustrophobia. He's continued to elaborate those skills. Working with Nick Cave, his one-and-a-half note bassline for Tupelo achieved the same theatricality by being utterly static. There's a sense that his defining moment of his musical education occurred as a little boy, watching James Bond in a darkened movie house: the realization that the thrill of Bond's escape is utterly heightened by twangy guitar.

For all the genre hopping on Back to the Cat, it's less meandering than Adamson's last few records. He bookends the record with tracks that share a drowning bassline and a spoken narrative, so there's still the implication of an imaginary film. But flipping the situation from his wordless debut, Moss Side Story, Adamson only tacks on two instrumentals, instead opting for a set of adroitly crafted songs that act like a "music from and inspired by" sort of soundtrack, the kind where they salt the list with a few standards. "Straight 'til Sunrise" is such a dead ringer for a Bacharach/David composition, so loaded up with fruity strings and chirpy brass that it's only missing Paul Newman violating bicycle safety laws. "Spend A Little Time" is a seemingly blasé exercise in swing, with lyrics celebrating sobriety, of all things. Then somewhere around verse three, he mentions something about committing murder, and way in the background, between the horn punches and woody bass, someone mumbles "aw, fuckin' hell." He's not so sure he's happy to be so happy.

As always, Adamson seems both disconnected from trends and supremely on top of them. The opening to "Flight,” wouldn't sound out of place next to Burial on a dubstep mix. By the end it's a swirl of hard bop, Mingus in an aquarium. "Shadow Of Death Hotel" is mostly Blaxploitation grooving, but there's a jarring guitar break right out of a ’90s baggy pants rave hit. He can’t resist adding layers, be it a layer of sound, a shade of meaning or a musical reference. That's the conundrum of his work – he makes background music that demands close listening. Maybe that's why he hasn't gotten more work doing actual Hollywood soundtracks. Naturally, David Lynch has taken advantage of his work. The two share a knack for making sunshine as unnerving as the shadows.

By Ben Donnelly

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