Barry Adamson is perhaps best known for his role as secret weapon in Magazine and (briefly) the Bad Seeds, two bands already quite secure in their menace. Adamson’s solo material, ten albums strong, likewise dwells in the murky and packs an almost pervasive air of deviance. Although some of Adamson’s more recent output have had intimations of lightness—a few moments on 2002’s King of Nothing Hill and even more on 2008’s Back to the Cat spring to mind—these are nothing in comparison to his latest release I Will Set You Free, an album that is at times alarmingly accessible.
That I Will Set You Free begins in a more garage-rock vein than its jazzy predecessors is a clear sign that this will be no rehash of past releases. These sharp stabs of rock crackle up now and again throughout the album, with first single “Destination” being the noisy, handclap-indulging victor. Although the looser songs here bear the same streaks as those Nick Cave and a few of his Bad Seeds cohorts released under the Grinderman moniker, there is nothing outstandingly dirty about these tracks. While lacking a bit in terms of range, Adamson has a smooth enough voice to ensure he will never sound too sloppy. The album’s adventures in more reckless sounds could come off as jarring in the hands of a lesser artist, but Adamson thankfully has enough swagger to save the day eight times over.
I Will Set You Free takes other detours, most notably into the territory of slightly new-wavey pop. Adamson did, after all, play a part in Visage’s ‘80s hit “Fade to Grey”, so trying his own hand at this sound is not as initially shocking as could be. “Turnaround”, in particular, is a love song with nary a trace of portentousness. Who would ever have guessed a jazz devil such as Adamson could sing lines like, “I kick the air / I can’t keep on my feet for smiling” and come across as convincing? Even more startling is “If You Love Her”, which feels just slightly removed from Burt Bacharach’s more treacly material. Mostly, however, an air of danger is hot on the trail of Adamson’s compositions. A song like “Looking To Love Somebody”, despite its sentiment and soul groove, has a fair amount of faithlessness lurking just beneath its surface.
The cleverness of Adamson’s words shine throughout the album, a potentially self-referential “My kingdom for your Magazine” in “The Sun And The Sea” being a particularly nice touch. The surface innocence of “The Power of Suggestion” is brought to a welcome halt by Adamson imparting that his friends never come calling because “they’re busy whistling Dixie and packing cocaine.”
Just as Adamson does a fair amount of lurking as a sideman, his songs are endlessly morphing to tailor to a listener’s states of mind. By letting a few slivers of sunlight in and slightly loosening his tie, Adamson has effortlessly moved his songs into a different area while still keeping proceedings going at the slickest of clips. Whatever comes next for Adamson, the “consummate professional” side of his persona will surely remain untarnished.