Think back to the first time you ever watched MTV.
It’s August 1981, and mugging it up for the cameras, veejay J.J. Jackson (whatever happened to that guy?!) introduces the next video. He tells you about England’s hottest new act since, ugh, the Bay City Rollers: They’re called Adam and the Ants.
They’re a bizarre group led by 26-year-old Stuart Goddard, who’s decked out in knee-high leather boots, colorful makeup and pirate garb. Goddard (alias Adam Ant) calls his lavish sound “antmusic for sexpeople.” A chorus rings in your head: “That music’s lost its taste, so try another flavor …”
Fast-forward 14 years, and Ant is crooning across America with sweet melodies, acoustic guitars, and only a hint of glam in support of his “Wonderful” comeback album (on Capitol).
“It’s a wonder I survived this long,” an unexpectedly subdued Ant said in a recent interview. “Those were crazy days and most of it very fun. I wouldn’t change anything. I’d go through the same things all over again, if I could.”
He might not want to repeat what happened to him since his last album, 1990’s “Manners & Physique.” He recorded another album but his label (MCA) refused to release it.
He was without a record deal for two years, and during that time he went through a bitter breakup with his girlfriend and his music took a back seat to a budding acting career. He has appeared in several TV series (most notably “Northern Exposure” and “The Equalizer”) and done 16 films, including the upcoming “Drop Dead Rock,” with fellow ’80s icon Debbie Harry. In it, Ant plays a rock manager (“It’s like being in a ’90s version of ‘Spinal Tap,’ ” he said).
Now 40, Ant is none worse for the wear and tear of a storybook rock career. He doesn’t look a day over 30, and he’s no longer making a fashion statement (jeans and a leather jacket will do). Likewise, “Wonderful” finds Ant toned down but still seductive and every bit as appealing as he was in the Ants’ heyday. The plaintive title track is at No. 45 and climbing on Billboard’s pop chart.
“Some people may think I’ve mellowed out,” he said, “but there are some tracks there that rock a bit. It’s just a progression for me, but I haven’t changed that much.”
For the most part, the critics have been kind to Ant’s return. Others are saying “Wonderful” is too calculating and smooth.
“I don’t read the reviews,” he said, “at least not until after the project is done. Why bother? They’re all entitled to their opinions. I can’t worry about them. I’m just out there to play my music and have fun and hopefully others are enjoying it too.”
BWF (before we forget): Ant scored three No. 1 hits in his native England (with the Ants, “Stand and Deliver” and “Prince Charming,” both in 1981, and solo in ’82 with “Goody Two Shoes”). Surprisingly, before “Wonderful,” Ant has made only four appearances on Billboard’s Hot 100 – “Goody Two Shoes,” “Desperate But Not Serious” (’83), “Strip” (’84) and “Room at the Top” (’90).
More updates: Joe Henry, Marcus King, Lily Kershaw, Poliça, Sarah Brightman, Jerry Leger, Simple Minds, Grateful Dead, etc