Adam And The Ants ‘Prince Charming’ revisitIn November 1981 Adam And The Ants released their third album, Prince Charming. Despite being a big hit, the album has spent years being looked on as the hangover after the huge success of the preceding Kings Of The Wild Frontier album and by some as that album’s lesser cousin. But as the decades roll past and the context changes Prince Charming unveils itself as another quirky work of art rock genius that justifies more than just a revisit.

By 1981 Adam Ant was like a combination of Trextasy and Beatlemania rolled into one. The dark star of the undergound debut album ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ had gone supernova and into the mainstream. The hipsters had turned on him but he was still dealing an off kilter music that managed to combine a poptimism with a dark energy.

On release, Prince Charming was a big hit slamming into the charts at number 2 but compared the astonishing success of the number one for months of the Kings Of The Wild Frontier album it felt like a flat success, the reviews were lukewarm and the band’s younger fan base were starting to move on to less interesting pop pastures. There was still enough petrol in the tank though to propel the band’s to two preceding single releases and album cuts to massive number hits with Prince Charming and Stand And Deliver but the album has spent years being looked on as a disappointment.

The pop genius of Adam was still there though and years later like a team of archeologists discovering a golden city under the ruins of a rubbled ancient settlement decades later we find an album that is as bizarre, brilliant and beautiful as Kings.

Prince Charming has moved on from Kings whilst retaining some of its hallmarks. It’s full of odd rhythms, strange songs and a perfect art-house pop that needs to be celebrated and makes it one of the great lost albums of the period despite its then big chart status.

We have already the staggering moment when Adam And the Ants went from underground freaks to mainstream Antmania and it was always going to be difficult to replicate that shock of the new value.

It’s still quite staggering how such a strange band managed to turn themselves into pure pop with a thrilling dark undertow, sex and an art school obliqueness. That whiff of cordite danger is what makes the greatest of great pop and Adam understood that and that fine line between the weird and the toppermost of the poppermost has stood his music in good stead for decades.

The narrative is now set in stone…his debut Dirk album was a monochromatic cult oddity beloved by his kung fu slippered Ant fans and the remnants of the freak fierce punk scene who gathered around the band after the Sex Pistols imploded.

Adam was the sound of the early punk squats and the freak scenes up and down the UK – those strange post-punk dark disco songs of sex and violence and post-modernism were perfect for the time. His breakthrough album Kings Of The Wild Frontier was a glorious technicolor masterpiece that was the gateway album for a whole new generation of fans.

In that early eighties pomp Adam, like Bowie, was the gateway artist who opened the doors for all kind of underground artists, musicians and authors that Adam was referencing. Goth would never have been as big with Adam or even industrial and even Britpop and beyond with many of the later generations of musicians retaining a huge affection for him. Dealing his fantastical pop and an esoteric culture hinterland he took his fans on a trip. Kings was huge and it glorious Burundi pop was carved into shape by his band of merry like the wonderful Marco and into one of the great British pop records.

Where do you go from there? Prince Charming was the swift follow-up after the brief regal reign of the banD and is yet another gem that needs revisiting. If it lacks those thrilling Burundi drums of songs like Kings Of The Wild Frontier and Dog Eat Dog off the preceding album it was because it had moved on into yet another brave and exotically strange collection of rhythmical pop perfection.

The visual themes were less piratical and were now about the dandy highwayman – the outlaw was still being celebrated as well as that glorious tradition of the English dandy. The album’s biggest hit and the biggest hit of the band’s reign was Stand And Deliver which embraced these themes – themes that hark back deep into the heart of Malcolm and Viviene and the Sex shop – that  combination of Dickensian waifs, rubber wear, dandys, pirates and outlaws – Adam was perhaps the only musician who took these themes and really ran with them – his art school background connecting perfectly with Maclolm’s themes and obsessions. He also had the charisma to pull off the genius of ridiculous – Adam understood that ridiculous is a key part of pop culture vision – those who dare win!

Stand and Deliver itself is a romping rush and the closest to the classic Ants tribal sound as it gallops along like Dick Turpin taking the loot whilst flirting with the occupants of the carriages as they took the hazardous route into London. The handsome outlaw as a combination of Robin Hood and james Dean – the outsiders outsider raiding pop’s gilded palace. The album’s other huge hit was Prince Charming which is arguably the weirdest sounding number one of all time. A mid-paced ooze of the song, it’s a tribal reaffirmation of self respect and warrior pride that Adam was so genius at. The empowering anthems that were part and parcel of his oeuvre. The classic lyrics have been tattooed onto the minds of so many of that generation who were grappling with the early teenage complexity and insecurity of life and needed that pop empowerment. The song itself, which is borrowed from Rolf Harris’s War Canoe is an example of the sheer breathtaking scope of influences Adam and Marco were dealing with – they were not hamstrung by snooty snobby cool and were as likely to be treasuring a Rolf b sides album as much as they loved the Velvets and Roxy Music. The song has huge drums and a dark heavy undertow and was driven by a strident acoustic guitar and the avalanche of sparse tribal drums – its a magnificent work.

After the debut’s astonishing success the musical themes had to be a style switch – pop gets bored quickly but somehow you have to retain the hallmarks that made you. The album kicks off with Scorpios which swiftly deals with this – ditching the Burundi beat but embracing a more Samba type percussive feel – it’s like a street party in Rio transposed to rainy day UK and it sees an even more full colourful Ants emerging musically and sartorially. Scorpios is a perfect fusion between the new Ants – the dandy full colour glam highway men as first seen in the album photo and this stretching out of their sound. The song is perfect embrace of world rhythms and a chorus that is pure Adam that harks back to the Dirk period – it also sounds like the theme tune from one of those sixties detective shows that also informed the band’s aesthetic.

Picasso Visita El Planeta De Los Simios is my favorite track on the album and one of the great Adam and the Ants songs – again it seems to fuse the dark warped humour of the Dirk period of the band and is a comfy bedfellow to older wonk songs like Puerto Rican or Young Parisians – those quirky off-kilter pop songs that the band always dealt in but with a new improved version. The song itself comes from this earlier period and the chorus is sublime and the subject matter bizarrely and beautiful barmy. There are even the deep tribal aaaahs in the backing vocals and a nice guitar line from Marco – this is such a fantastic song.

Contemporary reviews of the album complained about the lack of melodies on the album – maybe they were listening to another record? songs like Picasso are pure melody albeit unconventional. 5 Gun West is another of those hang them high western workouts like that the band loved and all the better for it. That fantasy of the Wild West was such a huge cultural shadow in post war UK. It seemed like a fantasy place full of cool clothes and big country soundscapes. Of course the cool kids like Adam quickly worked out that that native Americans were the heroes but retained a love for the twangy outlaw theme.

That Voodoo brings the pace down like Human Beings did on Kings Of The Wild Frontier. It hangs on a yearning feedback drenched guitar line switching to a big Glitter glam groove and is a song that could have fitted perfectly onto the preceding album with its updating of glam to a post tribal eighties. Mile High Club is another lost track – it features some of those fantastic layered Adam singing – vocal lines that come with so much detail as he builds up his layers that some still leave breathing space in the song. This is a trick that is really hard to pull off and adds to the quirky originality of the song that is full of great sounds and off kilter textures. It sounds like the very early demos from Kings when Adam and Marco were trying to make sense of the new ideas of combining African music, rhythms and chants into western pop – those demos are fascinating with the African chants being sung by Adam as he seeks whole new vistas and spines for songs – could Mile High Club be a hangover from that fascinating and fantastic period of pop experimentation?

Ant Rap is the song that is singled out for the most critical beating but still hit number 4 as the post album single release. Its cod rap is kinda goofy but no more goofy than Blondie’s wonderful Rapture. The sparse song is full of clattering and propulsive rhythm from the samba drumming workout the twists the then proto hip hop beat into different spaces the bands. The vocal roll call is funny and the lines ‘From the naughty north to the sexy south’ have become iconic. You can understand why Mowhok would have confounded critics at the time – it’s more like a piece of film soundtrack and a nod to the sounds and atmospheres of Native American cultures who Adam had already written to to ask for permission for their influence. It underlines just how far away Adam And The Ants were from their pop contemporaries like  Duran Duran and is classic Adam weird wonk . From its tribal chants and marimbas and lines of guitar filth and native American leanings, its Kings Of The Wild Frontier Adam reworked and reinvented for Prince Charming. It’s vocal layers are spellbinding and that marimba is a great flavour and is a welcome reminder of the kooky side of the band and a fantastic track. In the hands of another band it would have been a much hallowed John Peel session track – an example of the experimental rhythmic experiements that were going on in late night radio land at the time. The song being wedged towards the end of what was considered a teenybop record had somehow lost its true audience! It’s another high point from the album.

S.E.X.  closes the album and is return to Adam’s favourite theme in one of those sparse pieces that is constructed from a collection of great Marco guitar feedback drenched lines interspersing with a grinding disco groove creating space for Adam to build the tension towards the chorus that is like a yodel jamming with classic Syd Barret – perfect weird English pop. It’s yet another fantastic oddity and a seductive addictive slice of perfect weird pop. I’m not sure anyone else could ever make this work but the hands of The Ants it’s a perfect and weirdly downbeat end to the album and the end to the band’s glorious pomp.

There would be great records after this and bigger worldwide hits but the tribal Ants and their wam bam glam outlaw tribal pirate pomp was over after, like the band after Prince Charming.

To signify the end of this period, Adam ended the band and future releases were as as Adam Ant singular. The most bizarre period and journey of any band in British pop was now over leaving a fascinating legacy of fantastically off records to unpick for decades after.

 

 

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.

24 COMMENTS

  1. Definitely worth a relook. This is the album that as a ten year old, I’d found amongst the pile of Christmas presents my mum was hiding from me. Every day I’d sneak into her room and pour over the album cover, hardly being able to wait to hear such exotica as S.E.X. Christmas day came and I was devastated to be given a home taped copy and Ian next door got the original.

  2. I purchased Prince Charming on a 1984 college tour after I had become a late Adam Ant fan, courtesy of KROQ. It was the 2nd album I purchased after I fell in love with Strip. Talk about jumping from one Ant style to another. Well, it didn’t matter. I was entranced!! Prince Charming was my Summer morning theme song and Mowhok reached into my soul with its tribal sound. True story, I had other Black kids diggin this sound. I can remember it like yesterday, blasting “Five Guns West” & “That Voodoo” during of all things….an outdoor Basketball tournament!! Our club theme that year was purple attire and Cowboy hats. How fitting!! One of my favorite early memories of that infectious Ant Music. And I was just getting started. Better to be late to the party, than miss all the fun.

  3. Great revisit, I remember Santa leaving this album Xmas 1981 as a great present. I think it was somewhat rushed in production as Adam was as you say in full blazing supernova stardom and in colossal demand for interviews everywhere. So Prince Charming was borrowed from Rolf Harris (who in turn borrowed it himself actually). Also Picasso is I am pretty sure a heavily reworked unreleased song by Adam from 1977. So all the signs are there of not enough time to put this album together, but its still has some great songs. I think Adam himself said he may have departed from the Hussar jacket look just a little too soon, the Prince Charming look could have come in for the single release. But for over a year Adam and his Ants brought a glorious and memorable era.

    • Dave – yes – totally agree with your observations but somehow they transcended that! Prince Charming is a great song – I love it s sparse broodiness and I’m really happy they reworked Picasso – its one of my fave Ants songs…would be great if he revisited this album but staged it ina theatrical way! it would be a great west end theatre piece for a run of weeks

      • YES YES YES……a Prince Charming live production would be so amazing!!! Having seen Adam perform live lots of times, I’ve always longed for him to do this but not sure he ever will. Respect to him though for always covering Prince Charming live!! Scorpios is such a fantastic track, so empowering and that drum roll near the end….OMG….very underrated.

  4. I was a bit young at the time to understand anything about the lyrics and meanings, I was 6. But I knew I loved Adam because he was so pretty and I could dance to the album in my bedroom.
    Fast forward many years and I still have the very same album and my love for Adam remains strong if not stronger as I finally went to see him live in my hometown in 2019. I still listen to Prince Charming, and blush a bit when I remember going around singing S.E.X at such a tender age.
    A great article, thank you.

  5. Great article – nice to see this album get a bit of recognition! I feel it’s massively over-looked. I can understand why some fans were underwhelmed at the time, as some were probably expecting Kings #2, and in all fairness you could argue that “maybe” the album lacks an Ants Invasion or Killer in the Home style track. However, the ideas going on throughout the album are off-the-scale… all the crazy nuances and multi-layered vocals etc are so brilliantly complex… but packaged in a pop-style coating, rather than in a pretentious way – which is possibly (and unfairly) why it doesn’t get the credit it deserves? If late-era Bowie had done Mile High Club he’d have been hailed a genius for it I reckon!! Ant Rap is particularly often derided, and yet if you really examine the lyrics of the verses, especially the third verse (“So tired of anarchists etc…”) there are some pretty bold and massively insightful statements in there relating to Adam’s experiences of the press and other naysayers from the time. Anyway, I love this album!

  6. Well done John! You’ve hit the nail on the head. At the time (and thinking about it recently) it was a step down from Dirk. However it does deserve this reappraisal. PC the song is very clever and devoid of music. It’s a shame it’s regarded as being a silly pop song. Ant Rap I actually prefer as it’s a bold song made purely out of drums and no dafter than Rapture as you mention. For many it was the first experience of rap music from a white rock perspective (the Clash’s Mag 7 got less airplay in the UK). S&D was a different look and for me didn’t fit on the album. It should have been just a great stand alone pop single. As you mention, the great songs on the album are Scorpios, Picasso (check out the SGS demos stripped down version from late 79) and the wonderful Mowhok. There are some fillers though IMHO like Mile High Club and That Voodoo. 5 Guns West is frustrating. Starts like a silly singalong, like the one Adam had on the Cannon & Ball show, but the music and last minute of the song sound sublime. The album should have sounded darker (as per Adam’s admission) and they should have taken more time on it. The look from Kings should have been kept for an extra year. But such was the pop world at the time!

  7. Thanks, a fine read.

    I was a 12 year old ant obsessive in 1981 – t-shirts, patches, posters, the lot. Once, I even let my mum plaster me in dandy make-up before sending me down the shop for some milk! Must have been mad! Adam and the Ants was my first real cultural obsession that properly set me apart from my parents and put me firmly on the road to independence. I had no idea what Adam was singing about or what he represented, all I knew was that I loved him, I loved his music and that being an Ant Person somehow made me special.

    After Prince Charming, I would remain with him for Goody Two Shoes and Friend or Foe, but by the time of Strip and Apollo 9, I had started to feel distinctly embarrassed at having ever been so taken with such nonsense, and sold all my vinyl and dumped all my t-shirts. I kept Dirk Wears White Sox, as it seemed to fit the new sense of underground cool to which I was increasingly drawn. Oh, to be a teenager obsessed!

    Your article caused me to revisit Prince Charming after many years. It’s an interesting listen, drenched in nostalgia, with some really impressive songs (Scorpios, Picasso, Stand and Deliver) and some that I don’t care for at all (Five Guns West, That Voodoo, Mile High Club). And as for the chorus of S.E.X. sounding like Syd Barrett – yes! It never occurred to me before, but I see what you mean. It has that same feeling as Octopus, four heaven-sent chords and a note perfect vocal rolling and tumbling beautifully up and down the stairs. Same as Julian Cope’s Sunspots too (which was influenced by Octopus, of course, not Adam and the Ants!)

  8. Point that needs to be made about Dirk Wears White Sox – it was UTTERLY unrepresentative of what the Matthew Ashman era Ants were like as a band. Listen to a complete set of Decca recordings, in stereo at the correct speed with good powerful bass boost, with stomping Dave Barbe tom drums and growling dirrrrty cherry red Gibson guitar from Matthew to hear the true sound of Ants mk1.

    • Yes and a lot of the Antfans complained about Dirk when it came out. Andy Warren once suggested it should have been a double album, like a story so far and that would have been perfect as it should by then have been the third Ant album. The tracks on Dirk had all had an airing on the Zerøx Tour and in the Summer gigs though. At least we have Madam Stan representing the earlier Maff period. Still, I think PC would have benefitted by more time and some better quality tracks.

      • The Decca stuff is the same sound that you hear on live tapes of the Matthew Ants – dirty heavy guitar and stomping drums, recognizably the same drummer as on I Want Candy.
        Dirk is Adam’s failed attempt at doing “a Donna Summer record” – he wanted to make a sophisticated soul/funk/dance record. Instead it came out as a lo-fi mess of trebly clean guitar and tappy snary drums that inadvertantly became an Ur-test for minimilst indie types in the 80s.

        After the Ants finished recording Dirk, in late 79 Adam and Dave Barbe recorded a set of nine demos at Solid Gold Studios which were far more obviously soul/funk-styled – so much so that Do It Records rejected the tracks. At that point Malcy appeared on the scene so the project was shelved, but the session is a lot closer to what Adam was intending Dirk to be.

        Dirk is neither fish nor fowl. It isn’t a studio capture of the live early Ants experience (like the Decca recordings are) but it isn’t the soul/funk record that Adam actually wanted to make (like the SGS demos are) either. It’s just this very monochrome, neutered piece of early indie-schmindie that ended up inspiring lots of other monochrome neutered pieces of indie-schmindie

        • Perhaps a tad harsh, but then again, it sounds like you were around at the time and know what you’re talking about, so in that respect, I completely understand.

          To my ears, it’s an enjoyable, fairly unique slice of late 70s arty post-punk. I bought it as a young kid, a KOTWF/Stand and Deliver-obsessed 11 year old in 1980/81, pretended I liked it but didn’t really (too weird, adult and scary for my callow tastes), and gradually grew to appreciate it as the years went by and my horizons broadened. These days, it’s a bit hit and miss, but the hits are classics and drenched in nostalgia for me, which helps.

    • There are elements of soul and funk on Dirk and you can hear them on Cartrouble part 1, Cleopatra, Family of Noise, the Idea and the vocals on Tabletalk. But you were never going to get a funky album with Matthew on guitar and certainly not with Andy Warren on bass, who flat out refused to play in a funky style. The songs had been around the block a bit in some cases and they hadn’t been written that way anyway. That’s probably why Leigh Gorman was drafted in afterwards but Malcolm coming along killed all that off. The SGS demos are interesting. Picasso and Omelette from Outer Space are great but fortunately Marco helped to rework a song like Killer in the Home from virtual 70s porn background music to the powerful track we all know on Kings.

      • The real stars of the SGS demos are Adam’s funky bass and Dave Barbe’s drumming. The two Killer In The Homes are different songs entirely – the SGS demo song eventually mutated into “Navel To Neck” on the Strip album! The SGS demos still weren’t quite the perfect soul/funk record – witness Adam attempting to imitate a wah-wah guitar sound without actually using the pedal on Killer – but the intention was a lot more obvious than on Dirk – for example in the obvious choes of the Commodores “Brick House” on “Secret Art Of Learning A Language”.

        Tabletalk owes a fair amount to the slow opening section of Diana Ross’s “Love Hangover” and to Barry White’s “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More”. Also if you listen closely to the “pray for me” section of Cartrouble pt1, there is one layer of guitar that echoes the flute part of Van McCoy’s “The Hustle”.

        • As sad as it was that Adam’s friends and bandmates turned their backs on him, I think on the evidence of the SGS demos, we would have probably just got a quirky version of Dexys Midnight Runners next. Adam was already trying to go solo, so it might not have even been as the Ants. With hindsight it was a relief he bumped into Malcolm and later brought Marco on board. I like Henry, Secret Art, Omelette and Picasso. However I think Kings was a massive step forward, even though elements of some of these songs were retained. Now we could do with a proper release of these demos and other ones, along with some well overdue early footage (especially Matthew era) with sound.

          • Or it could have ended up as something similar to Orlando’s 1997 album Passive Soul. Adam did revisit the artistic ambition to make a soul/funk album later on in a big way with the two MCA albums, Manners & Physique and Persuasion.

  9. It’s about time that a proper reappraisal was written of this gloriously meandering eccentric and eclectic album, after all the years of lazy reviews that dismissed it as bland chart fodder (as you say, have these people even listened to the album) or else just dismissing it entirely and without explanation like Q magazine did in 1996.
    I’m sure you’ll get loads of abusive comments from inebriated elderly punks whinging about how sick and upset they were when this came out after all the years they spent following the band, but c’est la vie.

  10. I was 10 years old when “Stand And Deliver” came on the radio. I did not know what it was, I just pushed “rec” on my deck halfway through the song.
    The DJ had introduced the artist and song beforehand, so I had to listen to the second half of the song for almost half a year (it was summer 1981 when I recorded it)!

    Later on, the videoclip came on the tele in the Dutch programm “Toppop”, so that was how I got to know the artist’s name!

    I asked Santa Claus for the album and luckily he delivered!
    Both me and my brother were thrilled by the sound, just the sound of that album!

    Music is all about rhythm, chords and schwung (swing)…well, it has amazing drums, beautiful chord progressions and it swings!

    Later on, we would find out about “Dirk Wears White Sox” and “Kings Of The Wild Frontier”, the preceding albums which also became our favourites.

    The first album as “Adam Ant”, “Friend Or Foe”, is also a very good album, I do not like the rendition of “Hello, I love you”, originally by The Doors, but besides the title song and “Goody Two Shoes”, it has some strong songs!

    Collecting Ant ever since, I even cherish my copy of “Flexipop” with the single A.N.T.S.!

    Antmusic for Sexpeople, you might not like it now………but you will!!!

  11. PC is an ecletic offbeat arthouse album – like Roxy circa For Your Pleasure doing a West End stageshow. Full of strange noises, strange shrieks, strange beats. Strange influences too like the Comedia dell Arte. If it had not been a #2 album and parent to two #1 hit singles, if it was an obscure album, it would be considered in a similar vein to Eno’s Here Come The Warm Jets.

  12. Some people say that they couldnt get into the Prince Charming album after the previous two; but every Ant album is a concept album. I was 16 when it came out and I loved it then, and still do now!

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