9
Jan 09

ADAM AND THE ANTS – “Stand And Deliver”

FT + Popular125 comments • 11,113 views

#479, 9th May 1981

When it comes to pop, “style over substance” is an enduring criticism: almost as powerful as it is dumb. So often pop plays a shell game with the ideas – using style as a mask or code to make sure the right people get the substance; or using the excuse of artistry to get away with the most outrageous leaps in style. “Stand And Deliver” is a stylist’s manifesto in lyric and sound, and in the record’s worst line – “Deep meaning philosophies where only showbiz loses” – Adam buys into the binary himself and betrays a certain fretful conservatism. Why not turn philosophies into showbiz, like the rest of the New Pop was doing? (It hadn’t done the Beatles or McLaren any harm, after all)

But even as Adam sang that line he wasn’t living it: the rest of his song was busy turning showbiz into philosophy. By most accounts Adam was too uptight to fit into the New Romantic, Blitz Kid scene, but this song takes its spirit and turns it into slogans you could understand in the playground: “I spend my cash on looking flash”; “It’s kind of tough to tell a scruff the big mistake he’s making”. Adam is singing about the joy of dressing up, of let’s pretend – grabbing a look or sound and living it. The tribal double drums from his breakthrough singles stayed but the image changed, Native American chic replaced by 18th century loot: highwaymen, Georgian blades, pirates. And that fed back into the sound – instead of the unyielding Burundi patterns of “Dog Eat Dog” or “Kings Of The Wild Frontier”, the rhythms in “Stand And Deliver” are full of flourishes and gallops.

The result was intoxicating, thrilling. Already a star, and a canny, watchful star when it came to his business, Adam Ant must have known that his first new material of ’81 had a good chance of going straight in at the top. To his credit he made a record that deserved to. Later he would play the pantomime card too often, but on “Stand And Deliver” he pitches the costume drama just right – a riot of colour and a tiny hint of danger. Seeing the video I knew this record was more of an Event than anything I’d heard before.

Certainly “Stand And Deliver” is built as an event, from the horns that announce it to the savage “Yah!” that ends it. The thing that strikes me about it now is how fast it is: at a rough estimate it’s topping 140 bpm and it feels like a steeplechase, punctuated by those stick-clashing breaks and accompanied by war whoops. These cries and hollers added needed and marvellous colour to Ant tracks – the man wasn’t a great melodist or harmonist – and also reinforced the impression that being an Ant was a wonderful job, a life of brigandage and comradeship. At the climax of “Stand And Deliver”, the faux-tribal calls of his previous hits are suddenly shifted into the 18th century setting with the gloriously idiotic chant of “fa diddly qua qua!”. Not for the last time one is struck by the loyalty of the resolutely un-dandyish Marco Pirroni et al. as they sang along, but it was so worth it.

What did it mean? It meant Adam Ant had flair and balls and a sense of the absurd. It meant he was a star. The little boys understood: for me everything about “Stand And Deliver” – the music, the look – was brilliant. The moment Adam Ant crashed through the window above the banqueting hall was the moment I became quietly obsessed with pop. I have never had the confidence or dress sense to be a dandy highwayman, but if it’ll have me I’d still pledge my allegiance to the Insect Nation.

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Comments

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  1. 76
    Lex on 16 Apr 2009 #

    To me, it’s the difference between dressing up as the court jester, and dressing up as the queen. Both are ostensibly ridiculous, but one is geared towards inspiring AWE, but the other just invites fruit-throwers. Mariah’s diva antics and Beyoncé’s alter ego and T-Pain riding an elephant may seem silly, but they’re still all about being better – better than themselves, and better than you.

    Also, all the counter-examples listed so far have a huge element of seriousness to balance the silly costume or concept or whatever – chops or emotional realness or success or whatever. Tori Amos breastfeeds a piglet, but in the name of Very Serious, Cathartic Art – which she pulls off. T-Pain has production nous which he’s turned into a serious money-making machine. Mariah says she’s eternally 12, but she’s made her name with ballads which demand serious emotional identification with her. That’s what Adam Ant lacks – I don’t see the point of his foolishness, and I don’t hear what he’s taking seriously, and nothing about ‘Stand & Deliver’ makes him better.

    I don’t think risking ridicule is necessary for greatness either – it can be done (usually not so much by risking ridicule as sidestepping it entirely), but most people just can’t pull it off, and I would include Adam Ant in that. Kanye might be a good example here – the more he risks ridicule, the worse his music gets.

  2. 77
    Matt DC on 16 Apr 2009 #

    “the present-day checklist of things a profressional singer and showperson is expected to be good at

    but there was NO SUCH agreed-on checklist in 1982”

    I’m not sure I really hold with that even though I wasn’t there at the time – eg any number of acts that spun out of Motown. Unless you hold there’s a present-day agreed on checklist even now which I don’t agree with.

    The difference I think is looking like a loon within carefully-defined parameters (Sasha Fierce) and looking like a loon fullstop and pulling it off or otherwise. I suspect a lot of music Lex likes fits into the latter category and whether or not the artist is pulling it off in his eyes comes down to plain like or dislike of the music. Elephants in room here being Michael Jackson and Prince who looked utterly shamelessly ludicrous whichever way you slice it – eg DRESSING UP LIKE ZOMBIES ffs.

  3. 78
    Matt DC on 16 Apr 2009 #

    The difference is also the same difference between wobbly 80s cardboard sets and rubber monsters and full-on 00s CGI-and-explosions.

  4. 79
    SteveM on 16 Apr 2009 #

    This seems to me exactly the same as trying to argue/reason with G3ir about music (the definitions of/the possibilities within). Exactly.

  5. 80

    matt: within different substreams there were different pre-established checklists, certainly — but there absolutely wasn’t an agreed-on dominant stream (in 1981, i mean; there was an interregnum, of two or three years, when it wasn’t clear what the dominant stream was going to be) — “agreed-on” is the point to emphasise, and this is an argument about dominance

    at the time, adam DID pull it off: now, well, you can say his shtick “doesn’t stand the test of time” (easy proof, you and lex think he’s rubbish), but such a test is a concession that undercuts exactly the value lex finds in his current beloved music — that it ISN’T aimed at seeing the blessing of history (hence why he personally is so unbothered by his lack of knowledge of pop history: it isn’t an issue to him), it’s aimed at seizing the stage and holding the audience spellbound NOW

    so what’s interesting is why such variant aesthetics — give or take the overlap, which in my opinion is more than lex can see or hear — have at different times been ones that hold people spellbound: i o’t much mind the answer “because people in the old days were rubbish, now they know better”, i think it’s a necessary delusion of the young (and dear god it was a delusion i paraded when i was young and xmas dinner was roast pterodactyl and ALL THINGS WERE GOOD) (get off MY lawn!) but it’s a delusion you can only evade the dispelling of by dying young

    (my further argument is that the “best of time” aesthetic produces deep badness in anything in its thrall — it makes for dreary, pompous art more concerned with symbols than tactile effect and content, but that’s a bit of a digression here i think)

  6. 81
    Matt DC on 16 Apr 2009 #

    Haha my dislike of him is entirely down to the music but I will defend to the death his decision to dress up like a highwayman and ponce around.

  7. 82

    i can pretend that 80 is clearer — nay, decisive — w/o the typos, can’t i? work with me ppl

  8. 83
    Lex on 16 Apr 2009 #

    Well yeah, my dislike of AA is less because he dresses like a fool than because he sounds like one, but it does seem that they’re both coming from the same place – which is why I’m objecting to Adam Ant as overall popstar package, or at least his take on it. It’s similar to why I’m annoyed by Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and La Roux nowadays – so much effort put into looking stupid, so much pretentious nonsense to justify why you’re wearing a banana outfit/not wearing pants, and – crucially – so little musical quality. Ultimately, the music of all the other artists we’ve mentioned would work with or without their costumery, which is just attractive ornamentation – w/Gaga, La Roux and Adam Ant especially, you feel that it’s all dependent on the heavily-signposted “craziness”.

    Another reason I object to the idea that risking ridicule is necessary for greatness is that it does a huge disservice to those artists who manage to be great without ever once contemplating the idea that they should look foolish and caper around – Mary J Blige, Sade and Ne-Yo come to mind.

  9. 84
    Lex on 16 Apr 2009 #

    Actually I just realised what ‘Stand & Deliver’ ACTUALLY reminds me of – it’s Kate Bush’s ‘Sat In Your Lap’ if it was somehow made really terrible and clumsy, and performed by an idiot instead of a genius.

  10. 85
    Tom on 16 Apr 2009 #

    #83 there is an element truth in this Lex but remember that this is the dawn of the video age: Adam was one of the first to really work at making image and music mesh, and this was a thrilling thing to be doing and the music ‘working with or without the costumery’ was UTTERLY not the point, indeed AGAINST the point. (This essentialist argument is basically the same as “the test of a good song is whether it sounds good on acoustic guitar” anyway).

    “the devil take your stereo and your record collection” – Adam is at least partly on Lex’s side here.

  11. 86
    Tom on 16 Apr 2009 #

    Also Lex please rush and hear “Ant Rap” ;)

  12. 87

    just because ne-yo doesn’t contemplate looking foolish doesn’t mean he doesn’t! (and sade is the world’s most boring stick-up-her-arse pop-star [who was actually pretty good] in pop history)

    if kate b is about anything, it’ about not caring if you look (or sound) silly!

    fundamentally lex is building a prison — or a stocks — for himself: when he reaches age [insert number here], VER KIDZ will come along and mercilessly mock everything he loves as irrelevant incompetent useless rubbish from the dark ages and him as a useless bypassed old grandad WHO KNOWS NOTHING just like that bewhiskered gimmer simon reynolds they’ve heard tell of, then they will play their future-music on the bus loudly and lex will be SAD bcz he hates it and what happened?

  13. 88
    SteveM on 16 Apr 2009 #

    Adam Ant neither looks (highwayman and prince costumes both 100% awesome) nor sounds like a fool (no more than any pop punk-derived vocalist) but the jester (summoned by supposedly awe-inspiring Queen) analogy does otherwise work. I think the other important point is that his music was likely to be a great deal more appealing to kids than every other artist mentioned in this argument) none of whom are really comparable because of the time distance and that they’re doing something quite different in pop.

    That suggests a lack of sophistication in his work, which would be fine as sophistication is hardly a requisite of youth-orientated pop (not that his music and ideas ever struck me as poorly produced or realised in several cases). My inclination to defend him stems largely from that plus the obvious personal attachment and memories which are as important as anything else (although granted I place more value on childhood musical memories than on the “mistakes” made in adolescence).

  14. 89
    Tom on 16 Apr 2009 #

    Yeah SteveM makes a good point in that the idea of pop appealing to children via thrill-power, in the same way a comic or a kids book or adventure cartoon might, has almost completely vanished: music aimed at the 8-10s now is imitating “young adult” fiction not adventure fiction – it’s a preview of teenagerdom (or adulthood).

  15. 90

    i am not a fan of the idea of cycles in pop culture, but i wonder if there is a kind of cycle for the return (and subsequent disappearance) of tot-pop as a value? (cf also capt.sensible and his tiswas-stylings?) (and madness, whose entire thing is a melancholic nostalgisation of themselves as kids and the passing of that world)

    what i mean is that, every now and then, a self-identified “generation” reaches a liminal collective age where it’s useful and instructive and fun to annoy their elders and contemporaries by being excited by things that remind them of the things they liked BEFORE they became grumpy horny teenagers

    there’s a lot of stuff in mid-60s pop which exhibits tot-value — then a lull, really, till the early 80s

    in-between there are peaks of the fetishisation of suave adulthood (which are often equally brittle and shortlived)

    er yes, except THERE ARE NO CYCLES IN POP, so er

  16. 91
    Tom on 16 Apr 2009 #

    AQUA

  17. 92

    plus there’s a whole rave sub-genre isn’t there? granpa-brain has set in so i can’t recall its name (“charlie says…”)

  18. 93
    Mark M on 16 Apr 2009 #

    What’s vaguely interesting about Lex’s position* (let it be said again that he is a GREAT BIG ROCKIST) is that it formed a major strain of ’80s pop cultural thinking – there were lots of people who indeed felt ridicule was something to be scared of, and ruled that we must all strive to be timeless and believers in craft and quality and listen mostly to Curtis and Marvin with a side order of Coltrane and to dress like Miles** circa 1958… one improbable result of this being Absolute Beginners, the movie, and another being the welcoming on to the pop scene of pompously high-minded teens like Tanita Tikaram.

    *You do know that almost everyone else ever finds Tori Amos inherently ridiculous, don’t you Lex?

    **As it happens, I am broadly in favour of most men having a go at dressing like Miles in 1958, but a) can see the cultural dangers of such a restrictive approach and b) it normally goes horribly wrong, as it did in the late ’80s, and you had 17 year olds heading out to clubs looking like estate agents.

  19. 94
    SteveM on 16 Apr 2009 #

    I think my reaction to AA at the time, as a 4 year old (that sounds so absurd every time I write it ha ha*), was immediate compulsion and the afore-mentioned thrill-power spectacle. Definitely a sense of ‘I want to be like that’ and it’s hard to imagine anyone else at that point having the same effect (it was a level up from bloody Shakey that’s for sure). Obv Jackson (was already) and would be (i think of Billie Jean as my official intro to he, but MOTWWGT) in a different league but at that young age it would be harder to appreciate just how and why (if anything there may have been a sense of feeling closer to Brit pop acts of the time which helped whereas MJ was more thrillingly foreign – but this is more something that just came thru in the videos). All of which renders much criticism of his ‘musical competence’ largely irrelevant to me at least, but does make him/this Great Pop (Art). Ah subjectivism.

    *But srsly ’82 was a strange and eventful year for lil me for v bad and wrong reasons including nearly dying in a house fire plus parents divorce. Perhaps subconsciously that all made the memory of AA’s theatrical tomfoolery an aspirational beacon (and one of the earliest of many).

  20. 95

    (i have to say — as someone currently very “busily” engaged in a big important essay on what jazz meant in the UK in the 8os [good and bad] — there is something distinctly weird and exciting about the fact that some of the most useful discussion for me to be reading as i write has been two successive adam ant threads! antscension!)

  21. 96
    lonepilgrim on 16 Apr 2009 #

    as someone who grew up with Steve Priest of Sweet wearing a WW I German helmet with lip gloss and eyeliner I found Adam Ant’s image to be quite restrained.

    I’ve just dug out some copies of The Face magazine from 1982 and PLSC is right at #80 about how wide open the debate was about what was going to be the next dominant story.
    In the September 82 issue Robert Elms tries to stake a claim for what he labelled a ‘Hard Times’ ,back-to-basics, aesthetic that abandoned the excess of the New Romantics and the zoot-suited followers of Kid Creole and others. Levi jeans and t-shirts are the preferred clothing and the musical roots cited are Gil Scott-Heron, John Coltrane, Fela Kuti and Curtis Mayfield.
    The same issue features Imagination adopting a hit-the-gym look, Kevin Rowland in Gypsy mode, Culture Club and Bananarama in bold prints and ABC in tweeds.

    Musicians have always dressed up – some more bizarrely than others – but Adam foregrounded the process as a call-to-arms to encourage his audience to leave their drab lives behind.
    And, as I think I mentioned earlier I’m pretty sure Prince nicked the regency look of the Purple Rain era from Adam.

  22. 97

    haha yes “hard times” omg i had forgotten that fad (my old copies of the face are all shelved out of easy reach): cue big fashion-shoot of cute boys in expensive ripped jeans!

  23. 98
    SteveM on 16 Apr 2009 #

    ‘hard times’ doesn’t sound too bad either! but then all of the aforementioned things seem good to me and that there was no dominant style strikes me as high-ranking exhibit wrt why it was such a good time for pop.

  24. 99
    Tom on 16 Apr 2009 #

    Weren’t the biggest benefactors of the hard times thing Wham!?

    (Sorry Bunny)

  25. 100
    Mark M on 16 Apr 2009 #

    Bob Elms, bless him… endearing on the radio and completely aggravating as a writer or worse, a TV talking head.

    The key bit in the Hard Times piece runs “Youth Culture now represents not a rebellion but a tradition, or rather a serious of traditions that date back to the advent of the teenager… How can you rebel against the generation of Coltrane or Brando or MacInnes? What we have is a heritage you can draw succour and inspiration from.”

  26. 101
    AndyPandy on 17 Apr 2009 #

    …and his (Robert Elms’s) biography started so unbelievably well (for the first hundred pages or so I thought it was nigh on perfect) and then to put no finer point on it sort of went crap.Although on the London and south-east pre-house dance underground he definitely knows his stuff. And although he hated acid house and everything after it didn’t stop him coming out with the classic description of the house/rave explosion as “the revenge of the suburban soul boy”.

    I thought the ‘Hard Times’ concept was pretty laughable though and his intoning of bad poetry before early Spandau Ballet concerts although in the latter case when I heard it on a CD it was so laughable it made me genuinely laugh!

  27. 102
    Mark M on 17 Apr 2009 #

    Re 101: Elms seems to suffer from a weird lack of perspective – they were talking about the 1970s on his radio show the other day and it was the usual “in the 70s we ate Smash and now we eat all this interesting stuff”, which is more than partially true, of course, but what he couldn’t grasp was that his trajectory – council estate to well-fed media establishment figure – was rare and personal*. I.e., some of us/our parents were eating brie and avocados in 1974 and plenty of people now (& were long before the current downturn) are living primarily on oven chips. Haven’t read his book, but it would make sense to me if it lost steam at the point where it switched from where he shared his fashion experiences with tens of thousands of other kids in outer London – and moved on where he imagines the rest of us were also writing for The Face and shacked up with pop stars…

    *This is quite common in the self-made, who like to credit sheer hard work rather than luck or skill as being the difference between themselves and those left behind, but you might expect something different in an LSE grad with intellectual interests.

  28. 103
    Mark M on 17 Apr 2009 #

    Also re 101: although the Hard Times article is frequently ridiculous, it does identify a couple of trends that would become important throughout decade: one being the look that eventually crystalised into the white T-shirt/Levis/DMs uniform; the other being, as discussed above, the sense that it was unlikely and foolish to presume that his generation was going to come up with anything better than Curtis and Coltrane, and so our best bet was to mint our versions, so all hail Terence Trent D’Arby and Courtney Pine…

  29. 104
    AndyPandy on 17 Apr 2009 #

    102: yes that’s bang on the slide into mediocrity in his book correlates more or less exactly with his accession to West End tastemaker.

    If we’re talking about lack of perspective however from a similar milieu Stuart Maconie takes some beating.In the pile of shite that is ‘Pies and Prejudice’ (my excuse for reading it being that my Lancastrian girlfriend bought it me to wind me up!)he portrays himself as this member of the North Western proletariat adrift in a sea of insufferable South-Eastern avocado scoffing snobs. Seemingly failing to comprehend that its the age old influx of ‘apirational’ newly middle-class people (including media-types like him) that give London and the south-east just the demographic he spends the whole book getting worked up about…

    And failing to see that (going on there being approximately 20 million people in the south-east)that at least 10 million of these people would see a university educated, broadsheet-reading media-type like Maconie as “a fahkin posh bastard” Wigan origins or not…

  30. 105
    Andrew F on 7 May 2009 #

    Isn’t White T-Shirt/Levis/DMs a skinhead thing poking through into fashion (that Persil ad/the Weetabix Skins that I thought I’d dreamt)?

  31. 106
    Mark M on 7 May 2009 #

    Re 105: Hmmm… That would make sense, as it involved many of the same basic elements, although the jeans were a very different cut and down the Wag we’re talking DM shoes as opposed to big boots; on the other hand, I hadn’t even mentioned the bomber jackets, which both groups shared, and braces…
    But all I can say is that it never read as skinhead, especially as it usually went with a reasonable amount of hair, on the top of the head at least, if not the back’n’sides.

  32. 107
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 7 May 2009 #

    i had a plaster model of the weetabix skinhead who looked most like swellsy — it came with a kit and paint and everything

    my sister broke it (i forget if accidentally or by way of art critique)

  33. 108
    Tim on 8 May 2009 #

    So which of:

    – small girl
    – squeaky little boy with flared nostrils and midland accent
    – lardy football fan
    – specky
    – distinguishing-featureless ur-weetaskin

    looked most like Swellsy?

  34. 109
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 8 May 2009 #

    he was called dunk

  35. 110
    Erithian on 17 Aug 2009 #

    Channel 4 Top 100 Watch: haven’t done this for a while so will catch up. In the official list of the top-selling singles in the UK in the first 50 years of the singles chart, “Stand and Deliver” was placed 83rd, apparently a mere 15,000 sales shy of a million.

  36. 111
    Brooksie on 19 Feb 2010 #

    Haven’t got much to add here. Don’t agree with the comparison to modern R & B artists with their multi-million dollar backing and their ego-as-music self-aggrandising. No, Adam doesn’t fit in the ‘slickness’ of the modern world, but I’m willing to bet if he came along today he’d have the same visceral impact that he did then, 14 year-olds would still love him, and he’d probably stand out more because of the homogenised nature of the charts of recent years. He was big back when there was stiff competition in the top ten from all types of music.

  37. 112
    Brooksie on 23 Feb 2010 #

    Oh, and this – Lex # 83:

    “w/Gaga, La Roux and Adam Ant especially, you feel that it’s all dependent on the heavily-signposted “craziness””

    Adam was nothing like them. He never dressed up to be ‘wacky’, and everything he wore came straight from history (part of his appeal), unlike the impractical clothes of the “Look at me” artists you mentioned. By lumping them together I’m really not sure you’re getting him.

    This – Lex # 84:

    “Actually I just realised what ‘Stand & Deliver’ ACTUALLY reminds me of – it’s Kate Bush’s ‘Sat In Your Lap’ if it was somehow made really terrible and clumsy, and performed by an idiot instead of a genius.”

    Except that S&D predates SIYL, and the drumming on the latter was clearly influenced by Adam and the Ants who were the breakout group of the day. And there is nothing else similar about the songs at all. In fact, I don’t really think the drums are all that similar; S&D has heavier more rhythmic drumming to the more clear-cut off-kilter drums of SIYL.

  38. 113
    Mo0g on 12 Apr 2010 #

    I think the “problem” with looking back at Adam’s image around this time, more specifically Prince Charming, is that to a casual observer it looked, well, childish. At the time however I dont think generally to adults it did, as adults then were used to the whole glam rock, and prog rock images. To kids and young adults it came like a bolt from the blue and there is no doubt his image was a big factor.
    However, were you fortunate to buy S&D, you would have found ‘Beat my Guest’ on the flip side. Had you bought Prince Charming (single) you would have found ‘Christian Dior’, Antrap had ‘Friends’ on the b-side. All these songs were re-recordings of Adam’s earlier songs, and once you listened to these your world would never quite be the same again. Kiddie pop they were most definitely not.

    On face value S&D was/is a great visceral pop song. Marco (Pirroni) once told me there are something like 17 guitar tracks, an 80’s wall of sound. Perhaps people who dont “get it” might try playing it just once more with the volume up to 11. You’ll hear something a little different to Lady Gaga. You’ll hopefully see what thousands of 40+ yr olds *still* see in the music!

  39. 114
    Tom on 12 Apr 2010 #

    I’ll do that if you turn the volume up to 11 on “Bad Romance” Mo0g ;)

  40. 115
    Colin on 22 Jun 2013 #

    The video for Stand and Deliver was directed by Mike Mansfield, famous for saying “Cue the Rollers” (or whoever) on Supersonic. The video also features a young Amanda Donohoe.

  41. 116
    hectorthebat on 9 Oct 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Woxy.com (USA) – Modern Rock 500 Songs of All Time (combined rank 1989-2009) 1151
    HarperCollins GEM (UK) – Single of the Year 1949-99 (1999)
    Wanadoo (UK) – The 20 Best Songs of the 80s
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Sounds (UK) – Singles of the Year 15

  42. 117
    Cumbrian on 19 Feb 2015 #

    I always thought I was born under the sign of Making Your Mind Up but on going to the new OCC site to see what the rest of the chart looked like when I was born, I discovered that actually I am under Stand And Deliver (probably something to do with me mixing up week ending and week commencing in the lists I have looked at). I don’t know why I feel an irrational pride in this – but I do like Stand And Deliver an awful lot more than Making Your Mind Up, so score one for me. I’ll take the smiles where I can get them.

  43. 118
    Mark M on 3 Oct 2015 #

    Maybe I should be sticking this in the 1986 round-up section, but seeing as I mentioned the film itself (#93) and quoted Robert Elms mentioning MacInnes and we discussed the birth of a particular British (London? – though see footnote) strain of retroism, I thought I’d plug my reaction to seeing Absolute Beginners on the big screen (at the NFT) here. I know that Lord S is particularly allergic to Julien Temple, for understandable reasons, but there is a lot more to enjoy in the film than I remembered.

    Not mentioned in my review is the Q&A afterwards, which featured a ranting Temple and an endearingly tearful Kensit, who had just watched the film for the first time since 1986 (she made a couple of references to ‘Chris Sullivan, who is no longer with us’ prompting audience shouts that he is alive and well. Presume she was thinking of Steve Strange*. Anyway, all very entertaining.

    *Didn’t realise that Strange and Sullivan were both Welsh.

  44. 119

    I remember Richard Cook saying that the first 20 minutes were genuinely amazing, more daring and more successful than any similar film, and then it began to fall apart. I’d tend to blame McInnes — Temple was still untested and inexperienced at this stage, and as you say, getting the project together was an impressive stunt in itself — and the book it’s based on is flimsy to the point of being unreadable today. The plot needed to be treated more the way Adam treats the archetypes of highwaymen or panto, basically just assuming everyone already knows them and barrelling through to the content he was interested in. (My dislike of Temple is as a documentarist, really: Earth Girls Are Easy is fine.)

    Also (obvious point): curse of Bowie. Quite good in Man Who Fell to Earth, where he’s an alien anxiously playing at being a human, when he doesn’t really understand humans, so his terrible acting is in character.

    I would like to see this again though. Like ZTT’s Slave to the Rhythm LP (and indeed Adam) it’s an index of how the first half of the 80s failed to sustain itself into the second half. It wasn’t for lack of ambition, it was — roughly speaking — lack of acquired craft (especially when it comes to acting).

  45. 120
    Mark M on 3 Oct 2015 #

    Re119: I read Absolute Beginners in the nasty film tie-in edition in ’86. Haven’t read it since – think I read City Of Spades in the ’90s. Remember enjoying both (a lot more, for reference, than I ever enjoyed Kerouac), but that’s a long time ago. MacInnes has definitely faded from view. I’m pretty sure that when Paolo Hewitt wrote his curious acid house novel in the mid-’90s he insisted that the hepcat narration was in homage to Sam Selvoin’s The Lonely Londoners, not MacInnes.

    I always remember the start of the film as being exciting. What worked for me at the NFT but hadn’t previously were the Ray Davies/Pimlico sequence – a Madness video on the grandest scale – and, crucially, the riot, which always seemed like the final fatal flaw before.

    The dame has one good moment in the film, where he dips confusingly out of strident mid-Atlantic into south London. He’s a weakness, though, even if I like the (style-inappropriate) theme song. Your point about better suited to playing non-humans gives him something in common with Scarlett Johansson, possibly.

  46. 121

    “a lot more than kerouac” = “a lot more than dancing barefoot on a floor scattered with lego bricks” :)

  47. 122
    Phil on 3 Oct 2015 #

    an index of how the first half of the 80s failed to sustain itself into the second half. It wasn’t for lack of ambition

    I think you can tell a lot from the sexual politics of a film – or perhaps you can just tell whether I’m going to like it or not – and AB, as I remember it, was pretty woeful on that front. (Crepe Suzette!) But to be honest I don’t remember much more of it than the “Selling Out” number, which blurs together in my mind with an awful Arena drama doc from around the same time about “the rise of the ligger”, which featured Alix Sharkey & thus in turn blurs together with Sharkey’s awful band Stimulin, who were going to be the new Kid Creole for about five minutes before everyone realised that Sharkey was actually tone deaf. (Mind you, so is Kieran Hebden from what I hear, and it hasn’t held him back.)

    So no, not for want of ambition.

  48. 123
    Tommy Mack on 3 Oct 2015 #

    Lord S @ #121: what do you dislike about Kerouac? Just that I’m reading On The Road at the moment and must say I’m quite enjoying his prose even though it is just a bloke and his shiftless womanising mates driving back and forth across America.

  49. 124
    Mark M on 3 Oct 2015 #

    Re122: Selling Out isn’t one of the better numbers in the film – it’s more than a little on the nose – but it is sung by the great Slim Gaillard, so I’m probably inclined to give it a pass.

    I’ll give you that it isn’t particularly great on women – the only unambiguously positively portrayed women are the lesbian madam/pimp Big Jill and, for her brief time on screen, Cool’s* sister. Suzette (Kensit) is weak and cries too much in her non-musical scenes, but Ann-Margret confident in the musical ones. As I argue in my review, all the characters are basically types anyway, regardless of gender, sexual inclination, ethnicity…

    *Cool being the Miles-like trumpet player/Colin’s neighbour.

  50. 125
    AMZ1981 on 3 Oct 2015 #

    Completely off topic but I can recommend Kerouac’s first novel The Town And The City. It captures American history in the years leading up to and just after WW2 and the forming of the generation who would sow the foundations for the counter culture revolution but never share in it themselves.

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