To Johnny come lately types- or people like me who were too young to know about it at the time- the 1979 album, Dirk Wears White Sox is, on the face of it, the most daunting of the three albums which bear the Adam and the Ants name. Can an album really be daunting? I think the answer to that one is yes, but that description shouldn’t apply to “Dirk”. Even if it is the only Ants release that failed to induce mass hysteria in the general public.
Having grown up entranced by the sound of both the Kings of the Wild Frontier and Prince Charming albums, the best albums ever as I thought then (though I know differently now), the prospect of hearing Dirk frightened me somewhat. I can’t really say why that was. But I suspect my fear of it was rooted in a comment my mum’s friend from university, Tracey, made once made. She was a big Adam and the Ants fan too. Or at least, she was until “Kings” hit the charts. I remember being in her Tooley Street flat one day (I was about 14 at the time and I was probably going on about something most sensible people would have stopped talking about…oooh, ten years ago. Tracey cut me down with the simple comment that Kings was alright, but basically it was the moment Adam “sold out”.
“Sold out”? What the hell did that mean? I remember Trace trying to soften the blow she’d dealt a young Ant person, and perhaps guide me a little, by giving me a Young Parisians flexi-disc she’d got from some magazine or other. I can’t remember for sure now, but I reckon Xerox Machine sat on the other side of it. I’m fairly sure, either way, that I never got to play it. I do know, though, that when I got the 1993 Antmusic compilation, I wasn’t exactly blown away by the “Dirk” songs. Not when compared to the gems that featured on the two subsequent albums.
And, to this day, I would still say that the Prince Charming album is half of a very good album- you certainly can’t knock the singles. Well, maybe Antrap… But is that any worse than the rap in Blondie’s Rapture?
Anyway, fast forwarding through to a trip to HMV on Ealing Broadway some summer in the late 90’s and Sony had rereleased the back catalogue- such as it was for about a fiver for each album. For a fiver, how could I go wrong? I left the store £15 lighter, but with all three Ants CDs now in my possession. I gave Dirk a few listens but nothing really stood out. And who the hell were the other guys playing on the album? Where were Marco, Merrick, Terry Lee, Gary Tibbs (or Kevin Mooney, come to that)?
No, I knew all about the history of the Ants and how Malcolm McLaren had stolen the original Ants from under Adam and formed the, er, marginally less successful Bow Wow Wow. So I knew there was another band there, I just never knew how bloody great they would sound. It took a while, remember I’m having to retrain my ears a touch here, but gradually I became entranced by this album. So much more interesting that Prince Charming, so much more… me. Tabletalk came first with it’s “Love love love love” mantra that I believe “Dirk” devotee Robert Del Naja from Massive Attack may have borrowed for 1998’s Angel. Next came the brilliant Never Trust A Man (With Egg On His Face). As a piece of dark, yet humorous storytelling, this ranks alongside Ants Invasion for me. Aliens get mixed in a tale of everyday domestic, violence. But it’s so much more than that.
The rest of the album gradually fell into place, piece by piece. Cartrouble (Parts 1 & 2) and Kick! sound so much better back where they belong. Cleopatra is a, frankly, filthy homage to the Egyptian Queen and her capacity for sucking cocks. And lest you think I could have put that more delicately, rest assured there is always a reason, because the album closes (or the one I have anyway) with the song The Day I Met God. A song written by Adam about coming back “in the van from Milan” and meeting God, but being impressed by nothing so much as the “size of his knob”. I can only imagine how a song like that would have been recieved in 1979.
And I haven’t even mentioned the song Catholic Day. A fairly brief summation of John F. Kennedy’s time as President of the United States, gunshots included. Mentions, variously of “messin round, playing with Monroe”, “turning on the middle aged ladies” and “no more soft drugs” would not have been popular I’m sure. The line “Kennedy’s wife with his brain on her knee, poor Jackie”… well, had it been the Pistols writing that, I think Rotten and co might still be in a federal penitentiary.
I’ve gone on for long enough. Suffice to say now that I love this album. I’m not pretending every track on it is a masterpiece, but it’s certainly easy to see why any of the fans Adam garnered with this release would have been so confused by what came next. Years later, I kind of sympathise with them.