stranger on the sofa

barry adamson - stranger on the sofa
barry adamson is a cool, very dark, cat.

ok, i know that sounds dorky, and yet for the style of music he produces, it seems appropriate. what he creates is an anachronism; it seems to belong in the 50s and 60s, with gangsters and frank sinatra and femmes fatales sporting 38s and lipstick-laden smiles that kill. at the same time, his noir sensibilities are balanced with a wink and a nod by his playful, tongue-in-cheek lyrics, which are in turn countered by a darkness and cynicism that run deep. there is a modern awareness in everything he does, a black-gold thread woven throughout his enigmatic tapestry.

if all of this sounds a bit contradictory, a bit like the tension that can exist between people with great similarities, yet great chasms between them, then i’m hitting the mark. barry adamson’s world is murky, with no clear winners and losers, no answers, only big, fat, little, ugly, beautiful questions. his music somehow seems to encompass and expose our beauty and strength and humor, and at the same time, our weakness, our frailty, our depravity.
how could music possibly do this? i’m not sure, but somehow, i believe barry adamson manages it.

his music fuses a broad array of instruments (synthetic and otherwise), lyrics that alternately amuse and horrify, and musical styles that span generations. he surprises from one track to the next, making us go from dancing in the kitchen to sulking in the toilet. convention is an unknown; he does what he wants, what he thinks will help him describe the human condition.

people are hard to describe. their capabilities are broad, their feelings are deep and unknown, their possibilities are endless: happiness, sadness, rage, ambivalence, idiosyncrasy, self-absorption, empathy, philanthropy. i would venture that many musicians try to tap into one or two of these wells; some try to touch a few more; others try to wrap it all up in a picture that is both beautiful and ugly and incomprehensible, yet understandable. i think this is what barry adamson is trying to do. i may be totally wrong, but it’s still fun to listen to.
oh wait…i just realized i was supposed to be doing an album review.

his new album, stranger on the sofa, is an effort that i would say is pretty much in line with previous outings (e.g., oedipus schmoedipus, as above, so below). a few tracks are standouts for me (here in the hole, who killed big bird, dissemble), although i may stand alone in this regard (see, for example, the review on Pitchfork for a somewhat different opinion than i’ve voiced above).

barry adamson is a singular voice, in the sense that no one else sounds like him at all (at least, not anything i’ve heard). skewer him for his experimentalism, his occasional misses, his oddities; despite his failings, i still believe he creates captivating and engaging melodies like no one else. i may not listen to his music every day, but i would listen to him before 95% of what else is on the market.

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One thought on “stranger on the sofa

  1. chooky

    I’m surprised you didn’t point out Barry’s history. He first started playing with Magazine (the punk band. He then moved on to play with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (pre-goth?). These two are fairly well known. But he also strangely played for Visage (kind of a blend of Boy George in style and Gary Numan in sound while accomplishing neither). I can kind of understand why the latter part of his history is ignored (hidden?).


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