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The music of Barry Adamson: a very incomplete primer

01/21/08 | by Adam | Categories: Music

I've had an adoration for Barry Adamson's music since I first encountered his "Split" on a Mercury Prize compilation CD back in 1992 in the UK. It was unlike anything else I'd heard before.

Stylistically, Adamson's a little hard to pigeonhole as his albums tend to genre-jump a lot. That said, the dominant style is what All Music referred to as "film noir". It's full of brassy instrumentals and hammond organ runs, frequently channeling 60's spy flicks, with extensive sound effects thrown in for good measure. Beyond that there are jazzy excursions, spoken word pieces (like the funny, albeit rather dark, fantasy "Vermillion Kisses", the harrowing "Gentle Man Of Colour" or the utterly brilliant sci-fi story "Here in the Hole"), cacophonies of noise like "Jesus Wept" or "Dirty Barry", or even French-pop songs like "Je T'Aime Moi Non Plus". The albums by and large are not concept albums along the lines of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon" so much as vignettes with a tremendous amount of atmosphere.

This is not background music; it demands attention. You certainly wouldn't want to play "And So I Rise" at any kind of volume at work.

Amusingly enough, for an artist with such a superb ability to generate stories and images with his music, the weakest entries in his oeuvre are the actual film soundtracks such as "Delusion" or the contributions to "Lost Highway". Perhaps it's the difficulty of to having to match someone else's vision, but the standalone ones are far superior.

So where do you start? I usually prefer beginning at the beginning which in this case is 1989's "Moss Side Story". Personally though I'd start with 1993's "The Negro Inside Of Me" which, while shorter than most, is a much easier listen. 2006's "Stranger On The Sofa" is another good entry point.

Give Barry Adamson's music a whirl (and a while -- there's lots of it and it does grow on you;) you may end up hating it but for me, there's a lot of good listening to be had.


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