album // I Will Set You Free
central control international | lp+cd/cd/dl cci019 | 30/01/2012
Barry Adamson released the confidently-titled I Will Set You Free, his ninth solo album, on his own Central Control International label at the tail end of January 2012. The release followed an intense three years of shifting directions for Adamson, including writing his first piece of fiction (Maida Hell, included in the London Noir collection, for which he won the Best Short Story prize at Italy’s Piemonte Noir festival), releasing the highly lauded Back To The Cat album, returning to the stage with his first band, Howard Devoto‘s Magazine and releasing his first short film, the disturbing Therapist. During the interview accompanying Therapist, Adamson described feeling like he was treading water in the studio ahead of shifting his attention to the film project, creating music that was more or less Barry Adamson-by-numbers, inadvertently leading to a sense of nervousness about his latest album.
While it would actually be quite nice to hear a cinematic Adamson on record again, it’s evident from I Will Set You Free that recreating the dark mood of his earlier solo self is just not where his head is right now. The album only contains one piece that remotely evokes that forgotten vibe in the clever sound design of ‘The Trigger City Blues’, which includes sampled rainfall and gunshots interspersed with electronic pulses and squirming synth tones. Those poignant, dark alley whispered vocals of yesteryear Adamson usher in bluesy guitar riffs and opening-credit-sequence industrial hip hop beats. ‘The Trigger City Blues’ makes you think of the music to the scene in a heist movie where the bad guys and getting prepped for the big bank job, donning masks and sticking the guns in the unmarked van.
I Will Set You Free was crafted by Adamson (bass, vocals, programming) with Ian Ross (drums), long-standing collaborator Nick Plytas (organ) and Bobby Williams (guitar). Horns come from Sid George (trumpet), Steve Hamilton (tenor sax) and Harry Brown (trombone), a trio capable of turning out pretty much any jazz mood required by their band leader. In the main, I Will Set You Free continues the mood of albums such as Stranger On The Sofa, where Adamson as a front man and vocalist really came to fruition, here striking a balance between the outright acid rock of tracks like ‘Destination’ (released ahead of the album as a free download) with more emotionally sentimental pieces like ‘If You Love Her’. The contrast between the stately croon of the latter with the motorik-meets-white-hot punk of ‘Destination’ provides a neat overview of an album that finds Adamson operating at both extremes, between the loverman and the serpentine voodoo priest perched atop the dangerous, nihilistic bloodymindedness that characterises ‘Destination’.
Further explorations into dark rock come with the opener, ‘Get Your Mind Right’, which finds Adamson pitching in with a vocal somewhere between David Bowie’s archness and the stream-of-consciousness lurching of Shaun Ryder, augmented by typically frazzled organ from Plytas and glam drumming from Ross. In a nice stylistic shift, ‘Stand In’ is a wide-eyed Eighties-referencing towering pop track, replete with a nice elongated synth section that feels like Yazoo covering Kraftwerk; okay, so it feels nearly twenty years too late for a John Hughes movie, but it has a big sound and a catchy chorus that will stick in your head long after the track has finished its emotional motions.
Of the ballads, ‘Turnaround’ is probably the highlight, being an ephemeral, lysergic ballad shimmering with emotional outpourings. Adamson as a crooner is one of the most surprisingly confident aspects to his still comparatively recent development as a singer, finding his honey vocal enveloped with serene acoustic guitar and washes of dreamy synth strings.
Some of I Will Set You Free‘s best moments come in the form of two downright fonky tracks, ‘Black Holes In My Brain’ and ‘The Power Of Suggestion’. The former is delivered in a relaxed, jazzy vibe that for some reason reminds me of George Michael (don’t ask why, but for once it’s not a bad association) and a stretched-out bassline which could have been lifted wholesale from Marvin Gaye’s ‘Inner-City Blues’. ‘Black Holes In My Brain’ feels like a more organic Soul II Soul or another of those eclectic soul-jazz-hip-hop collectives from around the same time, all lumpy beats and soulful breeziness. ‘The Power Of Suggestion’, meanwhile, is sexy and upbeat, imbued with a summery warmth and sublime jazz piano lines. The track shuffles out over thick, chunky beats and and contains a theatrical swing that feels like it would suit a remake of Bugsy Malone.
I Will Set You Free has an embedded self-assuredness that suggests Adamson can turn out a leftfield rock album pretty much in his sleep these days. Whilst irritating reviewers like this one may well pine for those noir days of cinematic classics like Moss Side Story, there’s no denying that the path that Barry Adamson is singularly marking out for himself right now will continue to be littered with obfuscations, contradictions and further questing within his future projects, whatever they may prove to be. The press release talks of Adamson being released from shackles, and that is exactly how this album sounds; free, effortless and typically idiosyncratic.
First published 2012; edited 2016
(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence