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Barry Adamson - Back To the Cat

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I love Oedipus Schmoedipus.

And this new one got one helluva review at AMG:



4.5 Stars

Throughout his solo career, composer and multi-instrumentalist Barry Adamson has relentlessly pursued a muse that appeared with his first full-length solo offering, Moss Side Story, released in 1989 six full years before we heard David Holmes' This Film's Crap, Let's Slash the Seats. On that album he began composing and recording his "soundtrack in search of a film" M.O. and has, with almost each successive release -- with the notable exceptions of As Above, So Below and King of Nothing Hill, which were more explicitly song collections but still had that cinematic element at their core -- gone deeper down the rabbit hole; he's even composed scores for a number of cinematic works, most notably David Lynch's Lost Highway. Adamson's seven previous full-lengths approached notions of noir, light, dark, lounge, rock, funk, soul-jazz, and blues, with a gleefully morose, sleazy, and violent sense of the dramatic and dynamic. In some ways, Adamson was able to incorporate some of the work he's done as the bassist for Magazine, and even more so for Nick Cave's Bad Seeds, as further reference points in his journey into sound and texture. With 2006's Stranger on the Sofa, Adamson displayed his capacity for handling many of the instrumental and sound sculpting atmospherics without the help of others. He furthers that capacity here with a most delightfully sleazy, lounge-sodden blend of jazz, pop, rock, and spy movie/noir thriller film themes with this collection of songs and interludes, which make for the most dramatically enjoyable recording of his career thus far.


And even if it is the next logical step in a journey of surprises, it goes further than anyone -- save himself -- could have ever expected. The title 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. That said, those were both deeply referential (inside) works to the cinematic obsessions Adamson has held all his life, and this recording gathers the inspiration from those records, adds the heft, depth, and breadth he displayed on the songwriting albums mentioned above, and has created a far more welcoming project for new listeners. Evidence to support this is that he is actually fronting a band and touring behind it -- something he has never done before as a solo act.


Despite playing a slew of instruments, doing the majority of the arrangements, and producing, creating, and editing his own samples, Adamson recruited some excellent help here: there's a killer four-piece horn section, and a rhythm section featuring no less than Nick Plytas on Hammond B-3 and piano, bassist Iain Ross, and a swinging drummer who goes by the name Johnny Machin. The brooding synth and drum kit, the slow, West Side Story-esque finger pops, and the snaky little oboe-like phrase that commence "The Beaten Side of Town" also introduce its narrator: some back alley cross between the young hipster Scott Walker doing his best Jacques Brel doing his best Frank Sinatra singing a tune written by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, arranged by Nelson Riddle. It's a scene set in a smoky, back alley blind pig written by Colin MacInnes if he were really Hubert Selby, Jr. Uh huh. Now we're rolling. What's so utterly beguiling about this cut is that despite Adamson's obvious attempt to deliver that kind of swinger's cool in the heart of darkness as a vocalist, there isn't a thing that reeks of artificiality or artifice. It's got a wallop both musically and lyrically, especially when the reverbed guitars and the horns erupt in the bridge, or when a trumpet and some vibes are laid in the cut with only a snare, hi hat, and walking upright bass to accompany them. His last words, after a completely raucous jazzed up blues that celebrates the all the perceived lowlifes in an urban locale are: "The beaten side of town/And I'm goin down." It's a low thrum, almost a growl, as the keeper of the netherworld opens the gates to the real nightlife for the journey ahead. Adamson's protagonist is going ahead whether you accompany him or not. He knows the way, after all, even if he can't predict the outcome. But after this entrance, how can you help it?


It's not all lounge, jazz, and pop, however; the staggering creep of "Spend a Little Time" announces an Elvis-worshipping hepcat's rock & roll into the mix as it careens jaggedly into the killer "Shadow of Death Hotel." Here funky, loping rock meets soul guitars, and a heat-seeking B-3 with bass and drums in tow challenges the horns for dominance. Halfway through it becomes a balls-out garage rocker worthy of Sticky Fingers before it shapeshifts again into a flute-driven soul-jazz groover. Who the hell needs words when you have music like this? It's a crooner's busted love song that melds Adamson's obvious appreciation of James Carr's and Memphis soul arrangements with the poetry of his old boss from the Bad Seeds, Nick Cave. The bottom line is that there are no losers here, nothing tepid, nothing less that enchanting or worlds beyond what most songwriters and/or composers are capable of these days. Check "Walk on Fire" with its fat, funky butt, wah-wah, chunka-chunka guitar line and stinging horns married to brazen sexual neediness in the words, and you have a hit single that nobody would dare play. Think Duane Eddy meets John Barry with Lux Interior on vocals. "Flight" is a wonderfully nocturnal instrumental with elements of Latin funk in the criss-crossing rhythms, channel-shifting sound effects, and a full-on interlude into the psychosis at the heart of three a.m. decadence.


"Civilization," with its break-ridden jungle backbeat atop a gospel piano horns is simply genius. The boasting narrator knows where redemption and heaven lie, but it may be in the same place you've been taught in church, y'all. The acid-drenched Serge Gainsbourg-esque trippy jazz of "Psycho_Sexual" brings the horror of a breaking, bleary, gray day after the end of a night of singular excess right to the narrator's doorstep. It also signals the end of our orgiastic musical journey with Adamson through his aural cinema of obsessive archetypes ranging from guttersnipe hustlers, spies, junkies, willfully brutal and needy sexual predators and their victims to musical heroes too numerous to mention. It is presented with wry and delightfully steamy nastiness to be sure. But make no mistake, this is a truly mind-blowing work of musical sophistication. And Adamson is a startlingly gifted composer who is also a brilliant storyteller in sound, word, texture, and mythology both arcane and contemporary. He is at the absolute height of his powers on Back to the Cat. It is among the best records of 2008 and is singular in its achievement.


Anyone else heard his stuff?

He's pretty great. Also worked with Nick Cave.



Streaming audio at his web site here:


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  • 6 months later...

I'm surprised that there hasn't been more talk about this one as the end of the year approaches.

Anyone have this?



I have yet to pick it up; I need to remember to do so.

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  • 4 months later...

So... to resurrect an old thread:

Still haven't picked up Back to the Cat, but I just bought As Above, So Below for $0.01.


Pretty psyched about that one.


AMG review:

Barry Adamson is playing quite the "jazz devil" on As Above, So Below. The album sees the dark noir guru taking a detour from the more experimental electronica of Oedipus Schmoedipus into a cool, brutal concept album of aggressive, ominous rock-jazz. It seems that a great deal of Nick Cave's cinematic themes have rubbed off on Adamson from his days as a Bad Seed. Where Cave deals mostly with vampiric goth ballads, Adamson creates his art under a moody, effective jazz noir cloud. Many of the songs shuffle about with a determined sense of cool, as Adamson utilizes deep crooning vocals; he often sounds remarkably like a more sane Nick Cave, especially on "Come Hell or High Water." Perhaps Adamson's work on David Lynch's Lost Highway soundtrack inspired the tales of dead detectives and shady women detailed on As Above, So Below. One can easily imagine these songs coming from a younger, rocking, and more sinister Angelo Badalamenti, a frequent Lynch collaborator. The album's high points include "Can't Get Loose," "Still I Rise," and "The Monkey Speaks His Mind." "Can't Get Loose" sees Adamson cooly cooing over keyboards reminiscent of New Order, with a fun, suave xylophone sound and a sample of "Can't Get Used to Losing You" by legendary songwriters Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. The song operates under a pleasant, humorous atmosphere, while still displaying ample doses of Adamson's warped, dark vibes. "Still I Rise" is monumentally cool. Adamson sounds quite angry and defensive, sing-screaming "still I rise" repeatedly, alternating that mantra with verses of autobiographical, stream-of-consciousness lyrics. The final cry is as punishing and entertaining as it is crass. Barry Adamson has yet to release an album that isn't entirely compelling. As Above, So Below is a strong, winning mix of style, emotion, and rock-jazz noir power. It's a bold, satisfying vision from an artist who shows no fear in expressing the seedier sides of life.
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  • 3 weeks later...

Man, the more I listen to this guy, the more I really dig him!

I sense another Nilsson-like obsession coming on...


For fans of:

Ennio Marcone, Nick Cave, Tom Waits

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He is also back with Devoto in Magazine now isn't he?


I don't know.

I forgot that he was in Magazine. Damn. Now, I'm gonna have to go and buy all of their stuff, too.

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I don't know.

I forgot that he was in Magazine. Damn. Now, I'm gonna have to go and buy all of their stuff, too.



Oh man, I was a massive fan of Devoto and Magazine back in the day. I would love to see them play on this current tour they are gonna do.

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  • 11 months later...

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