Barry Adamson - Moss Side Story - Review
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critics' view

Though I get heartsick & blindspot-spitting-mad at the relentless appropriation of owt vaguely kool for the nefarious demands of the shitty "inspired-by" button-pushing OST & the "cuz y're worth it, you worthless wretch" adland soul desert, I have to have a chuckle at the fact that more people know Barry Adamson's music than realise it. There was a point about 4-5 yrs back where you couldn't switch on a telly in the UK without hearing The Big Bamboozle (from 1996's Oedipus Schmoedipus) lathered over a trailer or an ad; & though his music fits snugly into a niche any media exec would class as "tasteful but funky", there's a much fuller, more satisfying & (crucially) much slyer & funnier discourse to be had with his stuff if you take the time to relax into one of his four main albums.

I'm sure Adamson wasn't the first to come up with the notion of the soundtrack for a non-existent film, but back in 1988, when he issued his first solo gambit (The Man With The Golden Arm EP, the title track of which you can find appended to the CD edition), it was still a novel venture, an idea rescued from yer Jarres & Vangelises & recast with a steely resolve. Moss Side Story forms the first episode of an "inadvertent trilogy" along with Soul Murder (1992) & Oedipus Scmoedipus, but differs significantly from the others in its sheer darkness. Each of them are intended to suggest the convoluted investigations of a cool, modern Marlowe (the conceit being that as the albums unfold,we became increasingly aware that the guy's not on a case, but investigating himself & his past in order to escape from a crisis of identity). Whereas its companions are leavened with punning narrative & backhanded humour, Moss Side Story is a plunge down into jeopardy, only bottoming out in its final moments.

For my money, the first 5 minutes or so (On The Wrong Side Of Relaxation) constitute one of THE great opening salvos to any album. A key turns in a car's ignition, & as the journey gets underway, a gradual web of radio static looms over the engine noise. You can hear voices, but the transmission's weak & the speech impenetrable. As premonitory chords begin to decorate the scene, a female voice enters (a guest spot by Diamanda Galas) & commences a queasy chatter of sighs & sibilants which could be the sounds of either sex or terror; whatever they mean, they rise ultimately into a scalpscraping eldritch howl, battered by a dissonant fanfare (the Most Beautiful Girl In The World theme which recurs at the album's close), followed by a reprise of the lonely, lonely musical theme. A blur of distant industrial grind sucks the track up into a brick wall, upon which a woman's voice solemnly intones, "There are some gentlemen here to see you, Mr Adamson…". & then we're off into a frantic chase sequence. It's a brutal credit sequence, obviously informed by Adamson's love for the unresolved tensions of Bernard Herrmann's scores, but superior even to Herrmann's celebrated "God's Lonely Man" theme for Taxi Driver in its power.

The chase sequence (Under Wraps / Central Control / Round Up The Usual Suspects) starts as a Mancini-mardi-gras, all terror supplanted by the thrill of the chase, though not without glimpses of a warning chorus. Inevitably, the chase leaves our hero lost & padding around in the dark, the music slowing to a nervous reconnaisance, like the jumpy heartbeat of someone about to be caught out. A new veil of voices cuts in, crime reports which talk of a problem "…something in the nature of a cancerous growth". The investigation flounders, temporarily clueless (Sounds From The Big House), until an encounter with some vision (Suck On The Honey Of Love), the soundtrack now a swooning lovetheme.

The next section of the album (Everything Happens To Me / The Swinging Detective) is near-as-dammit the equal of those first few minutes. A fragile piano reverie is slowly swallowed up by a metallic grind, as if our man's awakening from a narcotic sleep & finding himself under house arrest somewhere. A sax voluntary suggests a plan forming, & the track builds & builds in a John Barry fashion as escape is attempted, finally erupting into a whiteknuckle squall. As it fades, the industrial grind returns, & a haunting, siren melody suggests a pan over some devastated scene left behind.

Another frustration awaits (Autodestruction / Intensive Care), our man unable to outrun his nemesis & ending up semi-conscious in an anaesthetic haze. But one more encounter with his muse closes the quest in a curiously ambivalent fashion. The Most Beautiful Girl In The World constantly refuses to settle into an expected climax, although it does at one point swell into a gorgeous romantic chorus; instead it darts aound like a figure glanced repeatedly in a warren of unfamiliar streets, & abruptly… vanishes. The fanfare from the album's opening reappears (Free At Last), & ends on a curious blue note, leaving our man hanging.

Adamson wasn't long out of the Bad Seeds when he recorded Moss Side Story, & in a taste-test with his later albums, you can tell; there's less of the jouissance & funk (compare Autodestruction / Intensive Care from here with the identically-themed Goddess Of Love / Jesus Wept sequence from 1998's As Above, So Below for example), & occasionally you can tell it's an eighties artefact (sax by Gary Barnacle!!! Help!!!… though his tootlings here don't stray into coffetabling). It may lack the Shaftness & multi-levelled fun & games elsewhere in Adamson's work, but it's the palette that all his subsequent work draws from, & has a jagged, expressionist tone that he's only revisited briefly since. Ideal for dark-night walks on difficult days, or if you should ever find your life turning into the script from The Lady From Shanghai.

mare-C
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