"Ant Box" (3 CD Box Set, 2001)
Believe it or not, Adam and the Ants were once the epitome of cool. In 1979, to me and my school mates they were some kind of new wave Holy Grail. Stark, black and white imagery adorned the sleeves of their all too rare early releases. Worshipped by a small cult following of punk rockers, they were so underground that only one journalist in London gave them any column inches. By 1981 they were the UK's biggest group - a multicoloured musical pantomime playing to millions of schools children, and appearing at the Royal variety show and on BBC's Jim'll Fix It.
This three disc box set covers all this and beyond. The first disc is indispensible. Comprising mostly of Peel Session and demos, it covers the period 1978-1980. With songs about car crash disfigurations, Kennedy's brains being blown out, fat people, oral sex and a girlfriend with a B.O. problem, this was an era they desperately tried to bury when they later became the nation's favourites. (Some songs were so blatantly rascist that they couldn't be featured either here or on the Peel Session EP.) Lost masterpieces such as Song for Ruth Ellis, from their audition for Decca records, are featured on disc one, along with a very rare Hampstead demo among others. Unfortunately their superb debut LP (and the musical pinnacle of their career) Dirk Wears White Sox from 1979 is hardly represented at all. That aside, this first disc is still a treasure trove for those who know.
By the time you reach disc two the rot has started. Anxious for fame and success, Adam Ant took on a new manager in the form of Malcolm McLaren, who promptly sacked Adam and took the rest of the band to form Bow Wow Wow, with a new 14-year old singer Annabela Lui-win. The now bandless Adam kept the name and recruited a new group with guitarist Marco Pirropni and two drummers (in an odd mixture of homages to the Glitter Band and the Burundi sound!) Now singed to a major, CBS, the band released Kings of the Wild Frontier and with an appearance on the BBC's Top of The Pops, hit the ground running. Most of the second album is included here, along with the other hits Dog Eat Dog and Antmusic - highly original and perfect pop. The release of Prince Charming in 1981 confirmed Adam and the Ants as the biggest band in the country, but were really a band in name only. Becoming a musical one-man show, Adam Ant's videos and music became ever more lightweight and the singles Ant Rap and Stand and Deliver sounded like throw away novelty hits - music with the heart ripped out. In 1982 Adam officially went solo with the dreadful Goody Two Shoes. At this point his popularity was beginning to wane and records were selling less and less. In 1984 Apollo 9 was the last Ant single to trouble the lower half of the charts.
The remaining half of the second disc comprises mainly of minor hit singles, demos and unreleased tracks, all dated and unlistenable. Only misguided Ant fanatics will extract any listening pleasure from the third disc. I really can't say any more about it, other than it's some of the worst music I've heard. All the more gutting by knowing what a great band they once were. At around £30, you're really only getting a disc and a bit of decent music. Instead of this get the bootleg Antmusic for Sexpeople for the ultimate compilation of one of the coolest bands this side of the Sex Pistols. Disc 1 - 8/10, Disc 2 - 6/10, Disc 3 - 3/10