Music is like an ocean. If you are frolicking near the shore, you might see certain unremarkable lifeforms – the kind everyone sees, like minnows darting around, and other commonplace things, like plankton, or sea scum. We might equate these lifeforms with mainstream music – found in droves and unremarkable.
Indeed, some people stay in the shallow waters of mainstream culture because they are safe and easily accessible, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get in your boat and head out into open water for a different kind of experience.
If you go out far enough out, where its remote and with perhaps some dark clouds on the horizon, you can put on your diving suit and dive into the deep black depths for some adventure. This, of course, is less safe (which is why most don’t do it) but you might see something a bit more interesting if you do this.
Musically speaking, Barry Adamson is one of those unusual entities you will only see if you are swimming deep below the ocean’s surface, just seeing what you’ll find down there. Yes, that’s right, his incandescent head may float out of the darkness and scare the shit out of you.
Ok, we can dispense with the “sea creature” metaphor now, and talk about Barry Adamson the musician – the human person with the live beating heart and the mind full of intense, brooding music.
The reason for our abstract metaphor is partly because Barry Adamson is a fairly abstract and complex dude. He is absolutely a legend in some circles, and completely unknown in others. This leads to a weird dichotomy that even he must experience, where some people are in awe of his long list of musical achievements, while others have never before heard his name.
So, why do we bring him up? Because, if you are more than just an average listener, he is an artist worth noting. He has been in a number of legendary bands, including post-punk pioneers Magazine, as well as playing in the Bad Seeds with Nick Cave, collaborating with David Lynch on Lost Highway, and as a mastermind behind a slew of his own infamous solo recordings.
One thing that characterizes Barry Adamson is “dark”. Much of his music is quite playful, but also quite dark as well. You might even call some of it “raunchy”, which is not a usual descriptor for music these days. Stripper music. Hmm.
In this article, we wanted to choose 5 of our favorite Barry Adamson tracks to introduce you to the man and his music, if you have not previously been introduced. FYI, this will not be in chronological order – instead, we are just bouncing around to different projects he has been a part of over the years and giving you our thoughts on certain tracks. Let us commence…
Something Wicked This Way Comes – Lost Highway Soundtrack
This is one of those moments where Barry Adamson, like the Loch Ness Monster, came to the surface briefly, long enough for a few cameras to capture some grainy video footage before the monster descended back down into the impenetrable lochs. This is to say, the Lost Highway Soundtrack did reach some mainstream ears, and exposed Barry Adamson to a whole new audience. Still, because we are talking about David Lynch here, and so to call this album a blockbuster would be slightly misleading.
David Lynch was clearly a fan, and Barry Adamson made several contributions to this album, which was released in 1997. “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is an interesting track in his catalogue, because it is almost unnervingly “happy”, especially once you watch the movie and also if you are familiar with Barry’s other work, you know that smooth, upbeat songs like this aren’t exactly his usual fare.
Still, one can only love this track. Its a gorgeous combination of various influences, from dub music, to lounge, to bossa nova and jazz. It also features a slick little snippet of Massive Attack’s “Blue Lines”, for those keeping track.
This song is, quite literally, soundtrack music, which you can almost trace back to what we will listen to next (but is from further into the past), which is something off of the classic album Moss Side Story, a fan favorite and one of ours too.
Under Wraps – Moss Side Story – Solo Record
Moss Side Story is the album that put Barry Adamson on the map as a solo musician, and forever cemented his association with both film noir and instrumental soundtrack music.
This album was apparently made to be the soundtrack to a non-existent film noir, and that’s exactly how it sounds. It is a highly conceptual album in nature, and musically quite rich and diverse, featuring various disparate elements pulled together to form something that sounds both old and new at the same time. Take any track on its own, and it still works.
Years later, this was also the album that caught David Lynch’s attention, and word has it he was quite complimentary to Adamson about the album. While working on Lost Highway, David literally called up Barry and told him he’d been listening to the album for 10 hours straight, and wanted to work with him. Adamson, oddly enough, was wheelchair bound during this phone call but took the job.
This track, Under Wraps, is a perfect example of what makes this album great, as it shows the true character of Barry Adamson as a unique and experimental musician with a vision. Also, when taken in the context of his previous work at this juncture, meaning his involvement with both Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Magazine even earlier than that, there is an obvious trajectory where, in its own way, this album serves as culmination and a major accomplishment.
Tupelo – The Firstborn Is Dead – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Going back even further in time from Moss Side Story in 1988, here we find Barry Adamson playing with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds on Tupelo in 1985, contributing musical elements to help form the sonic identity of the band.
Obviously, Nick Cave has his own sonic signature, but it is only enhanced but the dark musicality of Barry Adamson, who is a multi-instrumentalist and who played a variety of things on the album where this song comes from, The Firstborn Is Dead.
Coming from his background as an outsider and a punk rock oddball, Barry’s entry into the Bad Seeds just made weird even weirder. Of course, by this point in time, the Birthday Party had already happened, so there’s that to factor in as well. Nick Cave and Barry Adamson have been lifelong collaborators, and so this song is taking us back a ways.
One thing that springs to mind when you hear music like this is that it is quite visceral. Not all musical attempts to capture that feeling of actual real paganistic tribalism, regressed futurism, along with a healthy amount of gut-churning discomfort, but these guys were kings of this type of misfit sound.
In Other Worlds – Know Where To Run – Solo Album
Suddenly we zoom up to the present time, and we find Barry Adamson still drenched in the macabre and the vaguely unsettling. After all of this back peddling into the past, we felt the need to highlight some of Adamson’s new work.
If you listen closely, you can hear the familiar elements of Barry Adamson’s sound still very much represented – jazzy forms, minor key synths, impeccable grooves, and whatever else lies inside within the mystery of his sound.
You might notice here that the production is heightened compared to what we’ve already heard, but this is really nothing new. Over his 10+ solo albums and wide variety of other projects, Barry Adamson has had the ability to turn up the clarity on his recordings or fuzz them out at will for a long time now.
What is infinitely cool about Barry Adamson’s sound, with this being a great example, is his mastery over each sonic element. Having had a thorough experience with all of the instruments you hear in this track, Barry has great musical intuition on each, and so when he presents us with one of his productions, you hear the perfectionist at work. We must say, it is always good to hear new stuff from this man.
Shot By Both Sides – Real Life – Magazine
If you are a fan of bands like the Buzzcocks and Joy Division, you’ll probaby dig Magazine, which was the 70’s post punk band where Barry Adamson played bass.
Shot By Both Sides was one of their first releases, off of the Real Life LP from back in 1978. The album is a post-punk classic, and that’s not just us saying that – its a generally accepted fact of life at this point.
Even as the band was very raw and ramshackle, there is diligent musicianship at work, and fairly developed song arrangements for a punk band. Barry Adamson, in the thick of things with Magazine at this time, contributed plenty to the band’s dark and chaotic sound.
In fact, you may want to get your hands on some Magazine and start your journey there, as it can take you in any number of directions musically, but we do recommend you follow Barry Adamson’s musical thread from this point onward, as it won’t take long before the man’s legacy of dark and edgy songs and soundscapes are laid bare before you.
As dark as it is, Magazine is somewhat of a “fun” band to listen to – at least for us!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this 5-song musical meandering throught he works of Barry Adamson.