If life was a movie, Barry Adamson would be living large. He's the mysterious, lonely man in the big house at the top of the hill -- a guy with a big black car and a knack for turning ladies' heads. He's the badass gangster with a heart of gold, or the international jewel thief who'll steal your girlfriend, or the only guy you can trust in a dark, shadowy city full of dark, shadowy people. And he's just been crowned The King Of Nothing Hill
. That's real ultimate power, baby.
Of course, Adamson's life isn't anywhere near as glamorous as the film noir fantasies his music so brilliantly evokes -- we're talking about a guy who's gone four years between albums due to a series of hip replacement surgeries -- but it's fun to pretend, and Adamson's music is a pretender's dream come true. A few minutes of The King Of Nothing Hill transformed my boring walk to lunch into a scene from a Guy Ritchie movie -- I felt like I owned the town and everyone in it. You've got to love a record that can do that.
Nothing Hill continues Adamson's transition -- call it a zoom-in, if you want to sustain the metaphor -- to smaller, more personal stories. He's always been good at technicolor action spectaculars, but he's dwelling more on details these days, and lighting his intimate musical dialogue scenes in warm, earthy tones. There's more soul than jazz in Nothing Hill's mean streets; despite the disc's ever-present spy-vs.-spy swagger, Adamson clearly remembers that James Bond likes girls far more than gadgets. Accordingly, tracks like "Black Amour" and "Twisted Smile" are built on a foundation of boudoir ambiance (though in "Black Amour"'s case it's tongue in cheek), with inevitable nods to sixties French pop, orchestral disco excess and Marvin Gaye-style seduction-soul.
Whether he's pulling birds or running from the bad guys, Adamson seems more self-aware here than ever before. Similarly heightened perceptions may have helped to reduce contemporary action films to half-hearted parodies, but Adamson's acknowledgement of his world helps to make it a friendlier place -- without compromising the vividness of the shared cinematic experience. It makes the urgency of "Twisted Streets"' protagonist's plight more viscerally entertaining, and adds a bit of fun to the balls-out evil-orchestral swagger of "When Darkness Calls". "Le Matin Des Noire" could easily be left over from Adamson's work on David Lynch's Lost Highway, and "The Crime Scene" packs an entire underworld drama -- gunshots, airplane fly-overs, urgent footsteps, staccato rhythms, dialogue fragments, police sirens and a climactic showdown -- into six minutes.
Is Adamson gently spoofing his image on opener "Cinematic Soul"? It's a handy play on words, as descriptive of the music as it is of the man himself. He's clearly happy with his place in the world, to the point of being reborn newly hopeful, as "Cinematic Soul" is a joyous celebration of everything that makes his music magical: whucka-whucka funk guitar riffs, grand orchestral swells, noodly organ melodies, bone-breaking rhythms, passionate vocal rants and choruses so powerful and rhythmic that they make you dance in your seat. You can always count on a bassist like Bazzer to deliver the best ass-shaking rhythms, and "Cinematic Soul" could even make a room full of Republican senators dance. Adamson's ten year-old son even joins in the fun late in the song, and his guest appearance is the silliest, warmest thing Adamson has ever done.
Filmmakers, take note: The King Of Nothing Hill boasts a couple of killer "closing credit" songs. The whimsical "That Fool Was Me" would make a great ending for a romantic caper comedy, while the icier, sexier "Cold Comfort" deserves to evict whatever's currently planned to accompany the credits of Die Another Day.
We've all wished that our lives could work out as concisely, simply and satisfyingly as the ones we watch on the big screen. Needless to say, The King Of Nothing Hill won't pay your bills, score you a flash car or a big house or a movie star girlfriend/boyfriend. When the disc stops playing, you'll still have that scary brown stain on your living room carpet, icky mildew on your shower curtain and another new scratch on your car's passenger door. But for sixty-two glorious minutes, Barry Adamson can add a little danger, a little glamor and a little seamy excess to your humdrum existence. The King is Dead. Long Live the King.