published: 28 /
Uninspiring initially, but ultimately fascinating and rewarding first solo album in four years from former Bad Seeds and Magazine guitarist, Barry Adamson
A bewildering array of influences and styles informs Barry Adamson’s new album, ‘I Will Set You Free’. The first few tracks are confusing, with a distinct shift away from the funky, soulful soundscapes of many of his most familiar songs, and into straight rock or 1980s-style rock-pop.
What’s doubly unlikely about those opening tracks is that in the hands of a musician less sure of himself, less good at what he’s doing or simply just less talented, the same songs would have fallen flat, but in Adamson’s hands they sparkle with life.
‘Get Your Mind Right’, the opening salvo, is fast and rocky but fairly uninspiring and is undistinguished enough as to sound like any number of bands from U2 to Jesus Jones, but things rapidly improve. ‘Black Holes in My Brain’ is funkier and more fun, while still keeping the pace on. From the man who played bass on the Bad Seeds first four albums and on all of Magazine’s (the lithe bassline of ‘A Song from Under the Floorboards’ remains shiver-inducing) can’t help but be disappointing.
The first track to seem menacing, seedy, enticing – like a Barry Adamson song should be – is number six, ‘The Trigger City Blues’, with its moody, rainy city-scape opening chords and a few ominous notes from what appears to be a harpsichord. But before too long this too mutates, and begins to sound like something from David Bowie’s mid-career experimental album ‘1. Outside’. Glass breaks, shots are fired, the organ notes give way to heavy drums and distorted guitars and nothing is quite as it seems.
The whole album, in fact, evokes mid-period Bowie in the sense that while you’re listening to it you can almost feel the ground shifting beneath your feet, as the master musician pulling the strings changes the scene. ‘Destination’, a slinky but drum-heavy rock number, follows ‘The Power of Suggestion’, which is a breezy, light Squeeze-alike rock-pop ballad.
The effect is not particularly disconcerting – the peppy pop of ‘Turnaround’ gives way, within two tracks, to the aforementioned song noir of ‘The Trigger City Blues’, but it somehow feels like a natural movement.
That song is followed by ‘Looking to Love Somebody’. If the previous track set the scene in a dystopia, this one zooms in and shifts the focus to a seedy bar somewhere there’s a lot of neon, with a smooth-tongued charmer crooning his way into hearts and wallets.
Adamson has been spending a lot of time in films over the last few years, moving from soundtracks to writing, acting and directing. The filmic sensibility shows on ‘I Will Set You Free’, a lyric that appears toward the end of the album on ‘The Sun and the Sea’: “Bring me your dreams/you don’t know what it means/And I will set you free”. It’s the best track on the album, evoking Adamson’s past as well as his present-day responsibilities of ‘doing press’: “I glide unseen/My kingdom for your Magazine/Bring me your fears/Your mock-a-delic tears/I will set you free.”
The “I” of the album’s title appears to be both God and Adamson himself. In the inner sleeve of the CD each track is accompanied by a quote from a modern Bible translation. The one for ‘The Sun and the Sea’ is ‘Do not be afraid. I will set you free. I will send for you by name. You belong to me’.
Having set up his own record label a decade ago after splitting with Mute Records, this is Barry Adamson’s third album on that imprint, to which the press release accompanying the album makes a sly nod: “finally free from the shackles of mute obsequiousness he has created the album of his career.”
On first listen, ‘I Will Set You Free’ is uninspired, but return visits revealed its depths and its rewarding life and warmth. It’s not an easy album to love, being the sound of a man both in control and trying to push his own limits. but it’s fascinating and different and rewarding, and whether or not it’s the album of his career, ‘I Will Set You Free’, is certainly an enjoyable ride.
Get Your Mind Right
Black Holes in My Brain
The Power of Suggestion
The Trigger City Blues
Looking to Love Somebody
The Sun and The Sea
If You Love Her