Ants largely jettisoned, Adam cast around for a new angle. It was a moment in pop history when sudden changes of image and sound were respectable – even expected for some stars. Compared to today’s performers who tend to cover bandwagon-jumping with a figleaf of artistic intent, there was a refreshing honesty about this pursuit of a new look for a new season: pop and fashion were merging in a blare of colour.
Adam Ant decided on a brass section as a way to renew his impact. This was a modish choice but also a thorny one. In the early 80s horns had invaded pop to a degree rarely seen before and surely never since: they are one of the defining sounds of the era. So using them risked cliché. Initially the horn revival had been led by the likes of Dexys and the Two-Tone bands, who used their legacy in soul and ska music to add muscle and authenticity to their sound. Dexys were clearly in Adam’s mind when he put “Goody Two Shoes” together – the “pretending that you’re Al Green” line is generally interpreted as a dig at Kevin Rowland, and indeed it’s hard to work out whether the whole song is a defense of asceticism or a swipe at it.
The other wave of brass in early 80s pop had come from clubland, where harder-edged funk and latin sounds had become popular in the wake of disco. This too surfaced in the charts – Pigbag and Spandau Ballet drew on it for inspiration. So Adam needed something to differentiate himself from either scene. He found it in swing – much of the Friend Or Foe album is an invigorating and unusual mix of Burundi drumming and swing rhythms, and “Goody Two Shoes” is the most infectious example.
“Goody Two Shoes” casts Adam wholly as an entertainer – perhaps he judged that his pantomime era had driven off whichever fans had originally been attracted by his edginess and tribalism. But this repositioning came at a price. Adam himself is subdued on “Goody Two Shoes”, at least relative to those thunderous drums and jive-ready horns. His manifesto-making, previously so clear and charismatic, is confused. Worse, on this and “Friend Or Foe” itself – though they’re excellent, piledriving songs – he seems snippy and score-settling. He’s moved to songs about being Adam, from songs about how to be Adam – a crucial difference and one that surely hurt his fanbase. There were, after all, always other styles and stars to follow. But few of them had the weirdly messianic intensity and gumption of Adam in the prime of his stardom. The era of the pop ideologue and idealist was gradually slipping to its end.