Music

Barry Adamson: Know Where to Run

Know Where to Run will do little to seduce those already unwilling to wade through Barry Adamson’s spotty catalog, but in spite of a few regrettable artistic choices the album as a whole is eminently listenable, and for brief stretches even indispensable.


Barry Adamson

Know Where to Run

Label: Central Control / Proper
US Release Date: 2016-02-26
UK Release Date: 2016-02-26
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While still known to many post-punk aficionados as the former bass player for Magazine, a band whose influence far outstrips their longevity, Barry Adamson’s much more extensive solo career has typically eluded any neat “RIYL” pigeonholing. His first solo album, 1988’s Moss Side Story, set the tone early on: a concept album about a fictitious film existing only in Adamson’s head. Many of his works revolve around employing such esoteric thematic constructs to corral the man’s restless musical inclinations. Harnessing far flung inspirations which he never hesitated to exploit to the fullest, Adamson’s oeuvre has ranged from actual soundtracks for extant films to curious blends of lounge jazz juxtaposed against the latest dance fads of the time.

These aspirations have not always netted consistent acclaim; of his 1993 EP The Negro Inside Me, Allmusic’s Ritchie Unterberger wrote “one gets the sense that he's tossing out some ideas to play with in the interim between full-length scores/albums”. That criticism could be leveled at many of his works over the years, which have often felt as much like directionless pastiche as a singular artistic vision. Even his soundtrack works are routinely guilty of sounding like a man playing out his penchant for dubious lounge jazz against the forgiving themes of neo-noir fatalism.

Such inconsistency might prove fatal to lesser artists, but Barry Adamson has always had a knack for bouncing back at unexpected moments which do not necessarily coincide with a revival of his musical ethos. Mainly he just has trouble stringing together multiple salient projects in a row, a fact that works in his favor circa 2016 after a series of efforts released to mixed reception over the past decade. His score for the 2012 film Dreams of a Life came and went even quicker than the film itself, and his solo album from that same year (I Will Set You Free) met with a similarly “meh” reception. While rarely receiving downright excoriating remarks, one often notes Adamson’s critics pining for more memorable celebrations of his broad-shouldered talents.

The muse proves of similarly varied fertility on 2016’s Know Where to Run. “Cine City” is an odd attempt to bend Adamson’s more dance-friendly inclinations toward something resembling a crossover pop hit, but the stilted vocal meter is a wash, and the track’s more interesting grace notes are unforgivingly buried beneath an avalanche of antiquated beats… widescreen in intent, but “dinner theatre” in execution. Conversely, that same irrepressible percussion is the defining quality of “Texas Crash”, an extended romp through a rockabilly chase scene that ends abruptly with the titular fender-bender segueing abruptly into spy movie jazz before resuming the chase for a rousing finale. Boasting many of the same elements, “Texas Crash” exists almost as a direct remedy to the excesses of “Cine City”.

“Death Takes a Holiday” is almost as dated as the 1934 film from which it takes its name, although in this case it comes off like '90s-era Swing Out Sister with a less engaging singer, a shame as the songwriting itself has huge potential but is largely undermined by heavy-handed execution. “Claw and Wing” finds Adamson reaching backward toward the Burt Bacharach era to cloying effect, but just when you’re ready to write off Adamson’s vocal efforts altogether the winsome “Mr. Greed” finds the singer hitting his stride.

Know Where to Run will do little to seduce those already unwilling to wade through Barry Adamson’s spotty catalog, but in spite of a few regrettable artistic choices the album as a whole is eminently listenable, and for brief stretches even indispensable.

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