I Will Set You Free
(Central Control International)
Review from www.blurt-online.com; 3-6-12
By Steven Rosen
Barry Adamson has had a long, distinguished career walking on the conceptualized side of post-punk rock ‘n’ roll – stints with Magazine (as the bassist) and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, working on adventurous soundtrack music, releasing beautifully atmospheric albums that sometimes are imaginary soundtracks (Moss Side Story), refiguring “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” as a slinky but weird electro-tinged duet with Anita Lane. He’s as adept as an instrumentalist/producer/arranger as he is at crooning like Iggy or Cave or adopting a more exuberantly jazzy, hipster-inflected buoyant vocal tone for his post-Britpop take on rock. But as good and varied as his work has been, by turns romantic and ominous, the Manchester-born Adamson largely remains unknown here, even among the sizeable audience for the kind of boundary-defying rock he makes.
Maybe the new I Will Set You Free will correct that – especially if he puts together a band and tours behind it, as he is promising. He’d be great with the reunited Pulp. He wrote, produced and mixed the album’s ten songs and plays bass, piano, some percussion and guitar. After more than three decades of recording, he knows how to create tunes that are both brainy and catchy, full of life. He’s also internalized his key influences – Cave, Iggy, Bowie, Morricone, Roxy Music, Curtis Mayfield-style funk and soul, and bands like Magazine and Buzzcocks that kept punk’s spirit intact but moved it beyond formula. At the same time, he’s a guy who has spent a lifetime listening to records, radio and jukeboxes. You never know what he will reference from song to song.
This album opens with the solar-powered zip and zing of “Get Your Mind Right Baby,” which takes off like a Ziggy Stardust anthem yet also cleverly quotes the Stones’ “Street Fightin’ Man.” The music soars while what could be autobiographical lyrics keep you listening to Adamson’s suave voice, which alternates growling and forthrightness. Also of note is the interplay between the guitar (Adamson or Bobby Williams) and the organ (Nick Plytas), which recalls the 1960s-era psychedelicized rock of Manfred Mann or Alan Price. The song is one big rush, a gas.
Adamson’s own piano playing applies tart jabs to the hipsterish and sexy “Black Holes in My Brain,” which also allows the triumphal horn section to bloom. Lest one think Adamson is too jaunty, he shows his interest in sound-collage atmospherics in “Trigger City Blues,” which incorporates breaking glass and ringing telephone into the dark, noirish narrative. “Stand In” starts out as if a familiar dance-pop construction with anthemic overtones, like Jesus Jones’ “Right Here Right Now,” but then the unexpected twists begin. Plytas starts offering offbeat runs between choruses; vocal harmonies and flourishing horns arrive like a fanfare, and you feel like you’re hearing the Beatles in 1967. You’re aware at how adept Adamson is at shifting moods (and expectations) within a song.
Adamson also delivers an outstanding ballad, “If You Love Her,” whose lyrics are memorably, tragically descriptive (“this velvet suit could never hide the bruising”), but whose melody is so majestically enveloping (like Bacharach/David) that it makes your spirits soar despite its gloomy imagery. Adele ought to be covering it right now.