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Barry Adamson - I Will Set You Free

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Artist: Barry Adamson

Album: I Will Set You Free

Label: Central Control

Review date: Apr. 6, 2012

Barry Adamson, formerly of Magazine and The Bad Seeds, has released his most commercial-friendly album to date. We should not hold that against him. At this point in his career, he hardly needs to experiment.

Aside from his self-deprecating sleazeball persona and dangerous, sexxxy adventures, Adamson has always been distinguished by his encyclopedic affinity for all forms of pop music, from mid-period Marvin Gaye dark-night soul to AM gold piano balladry to garage-rock crunch to cheeky rat-pack swing. It’s all here on I Will Set You Free in force. And his multi-platform mastery lets him explore his gnarly psyche without souring the mood. It’s a neat trick — you think you’re listening to an arty, expansive Euro-pop disc well before you realize you’re listening to the tales of an agonized hedonist.

The stomper “Get Your Mind Right” gets things off to a downright festive start, with Adamson leaning into his exclamations and sounding more excited to be here than he has in years. He keeps that swagger going throughout, even as the grandiosity, paranoia and self-destructive lust kick in.

“The Trigger City Blues” is the only thing on I Will Set You Free that sounds particularly weird, beginning as a wocka-wocka cop-show theme and dissolving into a mix of sound effects. But Adamson the film composer is less interesting this time than Adamson the troubled lounge singer. The most openly conservative arrangements (“The Power of Suggestion” could almost be a goddamn Right Said Fred cut) invariably pack the most alienated lyrics (“My friends don’t bother me / Don’t even call at all / They’re busy whistling dixie and packing cocaine.”)

There is freedom in maturity. When you’re seasoned enough to assemble pitch-perfect Bacharach ballads (“If You Love Her”) and even laid-back California country (“Turnaround”) without sounding at all postmodern, you can get away with some very dark humor (“If I look like a fool / I’m just an icon of cool”) and mixed messages (“Looking to Love Somebody”) without compromising your consummate professionalism.

By Emerson Dameron

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