Play this first and see if it appeals:
Still here? good. Welcome to Barry Adamson Moss Side Story, a soundtrack to a non-existent film noir from 1989. As well as being a play on Bernstein of course, the title refers to Manchester’s Moss Side district, for youngsters and those from different shores, Moss Side is an area close to Manchester city centre. It was the hub of the city’s Afro-Carribbean community and unfortunately when I was growing up, synonymous with gang culture and violence, throughout the late 80’s and into the 90’s*. It’s where Barry Adamson, erstwhile bassist for Magazine and time-served member of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds grew up. The tagline on the cover reads:
The LP is split into three acts, which I am willing to concede may work better on one of those accursed silver discs, The Ring’s the Thing, Real Deep Cool and The Final Irony. Starting with ‘On The Wrong Side of Relaxation’ Moss Side Story begins as it goes on, in a decidedly ominous fashion; a car, some cut-up female vocals/heavy breathing, scary synths building to a crescendo, footsteps – then it cuts through into Diamanda Galas saying, ‘You have nothing to worry about Mr Adamson, I promise, I won’t breathe a word’.
From there onwards we career onwards into sped up lounge-jazz and what sounds like a turbo-driven version of John Barry. As you might expect, the tracks entwine and bleed into each other, voice samples, news reports and sound FX all contribute to a fairly nightmarish urban panorama of paranoia. I don’t mean to make that sound like this LP is hard work, or too oppressive, it isn’t, no more than a good film noir, or a grimy detective novel is; an interesting place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. There are moments of piano-led beauty in there too, tucked up amongst a brass section that swings and rolls like a low-rent burlesque show. You want dirty sax? (up against a wall, probably), it’s provided by Gary Barnacle and Joe Sax by the bucket full on ‘The Swinging Detective’. As you’d expect from a bassist’s album, there’s low-end a-plenty to get excited about too, Adamson takes care of that as well as a myriad of other instruments and all the details. Various Bad Seeds and their accomplices such as Mick Harvey, Roland S. Howard and Anita Lane crop up in cameo roles too. If I had a criticism it’s that I could have done with a few more snippets of dialogue grated into the mix occasionally.
There isn’t a huge amount to write about Moss Side Story, it needs to be experienced – possibly more so than a soundtrack to an actual film, because you have no memories of visuals to colour your imagination. My favourite method is to stick it on in a darkened room with a glass of something nice to hand and let my mind just wander (wonder). By the time you get all the way through ‘Suck on the Honey of Love’, ‘The Swinging Detective’ and ‘Autodestruction’, to the closing ‘Free At Last’, you really have been through a journey and a half and not one with a pat happy ending either. There’s sex, violence and escape here, but none of them give much respite.
I found out, by doing this, that Moss Side Story came with an inner sheet with a story, my cheap eBay copy didn’t and I’m not tempted to track one down either. I know the story I’ve made up for the music and I’m not sure I want anyone else’s interpretation vying with that. If I want to hear an old man in a sharp suit with a cold smile, blood running into a drain, a young tough drinking a memory away and a surly stripper in a red dress with a broken nose then I will.
I find it amazing that this was Barry Adamson’s first LP, it just seems like such an audacious record to have made and to have pulled off. I love the fact that by making this record Barry Adamson dragged himself up to a position now where he has done a fair amount of film work (The Lost Highway amongst others) and landed a song in the game Alan Wake. All his stuff that I’ve heard is good, particularly his high-octane ska ‘007, A Phantasy Bond Theme’.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, for now Mr Adamson has nothing to worry about.
*although it seems like an area much regenerated and rejuvenated now, on the up again.